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Gas Safety Trust warns of need for parity in engineer training

All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group in process of reviewing varying training timelines to ensure more “level playing” field for gas appliance installers

The chairman of the Gas Safety Trust has identified the quality and length of some engineer training mechanisms as a critical issue to be addressed to improve safety in implementing and maintaining gas heating systems.

Chris Bielby, who also serves as industry liaison for supplier SGN, raised concerns about the current short duration of some engineer training courses that means some individuals could become gas engineers in a number of weeks. He argued that others were studying for years to become registered engineers at the same time.

Mr Bielby argued that it was possible for a gas engineer to find themselves with all the relevant papers to undertake work, yet with little to no practical experience before starting work.

“It seems ludicrous to think that these short courses can give someone the same skills and competence compared to someone who has undertaken a full two-year course,” he said.

Mr Bielby noted that the All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group was in the process of holding an inquiry on the issue of training with the aim to develop an evidence based to push for government to create a level playing field around skills assessment.

The Gas Safety Trust chair also cited Downstream Incident Data Reports that it had funded from the last two years as highlighting the vulnerability of old people to CO exposure. In cases where a fatality may have occurred from CO poisoning, non-serviced appliances such as boilers were implicated.

Fatality stats

The recently released Downstream Incident Data Report for 2015/16, which compiles accidental cases of CO poisoning in British households from mains natural gas of piped LPG fuel, recorded 20 incidents over the period. Five of these incidents resulted in fatalities, which all occurred between September 2015 and January 2016, according to the findings.

Four of the deaths were attributed to individuals over 60 years of age and the use of piped natural gas. The other recorded fatality was an 18-year-old male that occurred as a result of an LPG space heater.

Downstream incident data for the previous 12-month period recorded four fatalities as a result of CO poisoning. All four incidents were attributed to people aged 80 or over.

Mr Bielby said the findings leant weight to concerns about the vulnerability of older people to CO exposure and potential poisoning.

 He said, “This chimes with other work we are funding elsewhere which is identifying vulnerable older people and those in fuel poverty as particularly at risk.  We would urge people to make sure that their appliances are serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer and that an audible CO alarm tested to the standard EN 50291 is installed as a second line of defence.”

Following on from the publication last month of the government’s Clean Growth Plan strategy, which also outlines new boiler standards to monitor performance, Mr Selby’s calls will appear timely.

“I believe that time is right for government to hold a boiler replacement scheme, which would improve not only gas safety but also improve energy efficiency and help the government achieve its carbon reduction targets,” he said.

This year’s Gas Safety Week, which took place between September 18 and September 24, played up the importance of broader heating industry and installer support for education schemes. These schemes would promote the proper use and maintenance of gas heating systems as a means of tackling potentially hazardous developments such as CO poisoning.

Gas Safety Week also saw a cross-party selection of MPs lending support to possible legislative change that would mandate CO alarms into new build and rented properties.

Mr Bielby said that the Gas Safety Trust has also participated in an inquiry held by the All Party Parliamentary CO Group over implementing alarms to detect presence of the gas. The process has recommended that rented properties in England and Wales must have audible CO alarms that are tested to the EN 50291 standard. This would bring regulations in line with laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“This would bring clarity for landlords as well as make rented homes in England and Wales as safe as those in Scotland and Northern Ireland,” added Mr Bielby.

He added that the trust would continue to try and bring together knowledge and data to support the gas appliance industry and regulators in campaigns focused on safety.

“We do that through the research and data collection we fund directly, through the workshops we facilitate, and through our CO Portal,” said Mr Bielby.

“Although some of the research we are funding is yet to finish, we are optimistic that our research will feed into the policy debate, improving safety regulation and legislation as well as improving the procedures and ways of working within our industry and the medical and healthcare fraternity.”

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