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Building company fined for putting childminder and children at risk

Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
9th January 2017
Building company fined for safety failings

A building company and its director have been fined for breaching Gas Safety law after putting a childminder and children in her care at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Plastic and Wood Specialists Ltd built a structure, that the childminder used to shelter sleeping babies and young children, around the flue outlet for the boiler. A carbon monoxide alarm sounded in the home and the gas supply was later disconnected by an emergency engineer from National Grid. 

Northampton Magistrates’ Court heard that a gas boiler flue that had been previously installed in the childminders home was made unsafe by the structure as it affected the safety of the boiler. 

HSE’s investigation found that the structure should not have been constructed in a way that partially enclosed the boiler flue. The flue should have been extended before the structure was completed. If dangerous levels of carbon monoxide had built up when these vulnerable children were in the structure there could have been multiple fatalities. 

Plastic and Wood Specialists Ltd pleaded guilty of Regulation 8(1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 were fined £40,000 with £1,419.10 in costs. Company director Alan John Wager pleaded guilty to Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was given a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months with £1,419.10 in costs. 

HSE Inspector Jenna McDade said: “Builders should be aware of the dangers arising from enclosing or partially enclosing a flue. As with this case, they would be at risk of breaching gas safety regulations even if they are not gas fitters. It is important to understand the risks before undertaking the work.” 

Phoenix comments:

“Every year in the UK, more than 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to around 50 deaths. After carbon monoxide is breathed in, it enters the bloodstream and mixes with haemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body), to form carboxyhaemoglobin. When this happens, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen, and this lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail and die. Because carbon monoxide has no smell or taste, occupants can be unaware they are breathing in this dangerous gas. Even though the builders were not gas engineers, they should have been aware of the dangers of enclosing boiler flues, risk assessed the activities of their work and educated their employees regarding the potential hazards. This incident could have resulted in a tragic number of fatalities had the HSE not investigated”.