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Issue of flues in voids must be addressed

Both the Health and Safety Executive and the Gas Safe Register have recently raised awareness of a major safety concern regarding gas boilers with flues running internally through a void space.

The HSE did this through its Safety Alert: Gas Boilers - flues in voids and the Gas Safe Register via its Technical Bulletin 008 and 017.

To specifically deal with this problem a working party cross-government group has been formed, and this summer registered social landlords (RSLs) have been asked about this issue and whether they have been able to identify any flues of this type.

The issue is as follows: some properties may have gas boilers fitted on internal walls that have flues routed through void space (for example, between the ceiling and the floor above), where there is no inspection hatch.

This means the condition of the flue cannot be visually inspected. If the flue is not in good condition, it can result in high ­levels of carbon monoxide being produced by the boiler, with ­potentially fatal consequences for residents.

Resident awareness

Of course, both the suitability and effectiveness of the flue and the duty placed on landlords to have this checked are covered in detail in the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.

The problem is that residents may be unaware of the route of the flue, since it is hidden from view. They may also confuse any staining on the ceiling caused by a faulty flue with a leak from a water pipe.

Design advances by manufacturers since around 2000 have meant that longer flues are now possible, so boilers can be sited on internal walls.

Properties newly built between 2000 and 2007, especially flats, are of particular concern along with those that have been refurbished during this period.

One approach to tackling the problem is by raising awareness with everyone involved, such as customer services, tenants, housing officers and contractors, through the circulation of newsletters, meetings, toolbox talks and articles like this.

Another is to identify new-build properties of this age using the housing stock database, inspect them and then fit inspection hatches (which comply with all relevant British Standards and current regulations). If there is a large number of properties, there would have to be a sample in the first instance.

Finally, as a matter of day-to-day quality control, carry out pre-, post- and work-in-progress inspections on gas works and flues.

Using an updated inspection checklist, which specifically refers to the problem, relevant properties can be identified as a matter of course. These in turn may point to others (which, for example, may have been constructed at the same time, on the same estate).

Evans Joojo-Richards MBA is a gas and mechanical engineer for a housing association and an NVQ assessor