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Community service for unsafe gas installation

A self-employed Lockerbie builder has been given a Community Service Order after he carried out unsafe gas installation work at a house near Dumfries

Kevin Graham was carrying out general building and plastering work at Greenbank Cottage on the outskirts of Ecclefechan during the Spring and Summer of 2009. The owner of the property bought a gas fire, which Mr Graham offered to install as he said it was relatively easy to do and had done so in his own home. Mr Graham was not a Gas Safe registered engineer.

The Gas Safe Register is the official compulsory registration scheme for gas engineers in Britain. It is illegal to carry out domestic gas works for gain or reward without registration.

After Mr Graham had installed the gas fire, it was used regularly until January 2010, when the owner of Greenbank Cottage called a local plumbing and heating company to ask them to look at the fire as he had noticed a smell of gas.

A competent and qualified gas engineer with the firm carried out a visual check of the fire and also noticed a smell of LPG. He identified a gas leak at the back of the fire and immediately prohibited its use. The company then raised their concerns about the fire to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

On 19 February 2010, a Gas Safe Register Inspector visited the property and found that the fitting connecting the gas supply to the fire was loose, causing LPG to leak. The 11-metre supply pipe had also been unsafely installed, as it had been routed around the property without any support, putting stress on the soldered joints of the pipe, which also would have led to gas leaking.

The investigation also found that the flue from the fire wasn’t functioning properly so there was a risk that smoke and fumes could re-enter the property when the fire was in use.

Mr Graham had also left unsealed gaps within the builders opening of the fire and used wood and expanding foam within the builders opening, which had a very high probability of causing a fire. He also left the gas fire unsecured to the fire surround, leaving it unstable and making it possible for fumes to escape further.

Within days of the Gas Safe Register inspection, the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice against Kevin Graham stopping him from carrying out any work on or to gas fittings or service pipe work.

At Dumfries Sheriff Court today (11 October 2011) Kevin Graham, of Westside, Eaglesfield, Lockerbie, was given a 240 hours Community Service Order after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 Regulation 3(3) and 26(1) and Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Russell Berry said:

“In carrying out this work while not registered and competent to do so, Mr Graham put those living at Greenbank Cottage at risk not only from carbon monoxide poisoning but also from fire and explosion.

“On average, 20 people each year die from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by poorly installed, maintained or ventilated gas appliances and flues. Many more become seriously ill and in extreme cases, prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can cause paralysis and brain damage. In this case, the occupiers of this house were very lucky indeed not to have suffered any medical ill effects.

“Any business or sole trader who carries out work on any domestic or commercial gas appliances without being on the Gas Safe Register is breaking the law and potentially putting lives at risk.”

Paul Johnston, Chief Executive of Gas Safe Register said:

“We work closely with the HSE to investigate unregistered gas fitters and welcome successful prosecutions such as this.

“Unregistered gas fitters can present a real risk, not only in terms of potentially leaving gas appliances in an unsafe condition which could cause carbon monoxide poisoning, fire, gas leaks or even potentially explosions, but also leaving people out of pocket if they have to have the work put right.

“All gas engineers have to be Gas Safe registered - it’s the law. We urge everyone to take care and be gas safe by only using registered engineers for any gas work. You can check if an engineer is registered by visiting www.gassaferegister.co.uk or calling 0800 408 5500.”