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COUNCIL HELD TO ACCOUNT FOR CONTRACTOR ERRORS

Competence unchecked and work not monitored on extension project

Newport City Council has been fined after building work at a house exposed a woman and her foster children to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in November 2010.

During loft extension work by contracors on behalf of Newport City Council a boiler was moved and flue replaced. Both were left in an ‘immediately dangerous’ condition with the potentially lethal fumes escaping into the loft space.

Cwmbran Magistrates heard (24 June) that the householder agreed to modifications to her home with a grant from the council to accommodate foster children.

A company was contracted for the job which included the relocation of the boiler into the new loft space and replacing the flue from the gas fire. When the householder complained the boiler was not working properly and was leaking the work was examined by an independent engineer.

The engineer found the pressure relief valve had not been connected and confirmed the boiler was leaking. He advised not to use the equipment and contacted Gas Safe Register, who sent an officer to investigate.

Gas Safe found the boiler was incorrectly fitted and the flue from the gas fire had been capped just below the level of the loft, allowing poisonous carbon monoxide gas into the loft space. It was classified as ‘immediately dangerous’.

Checks on competence and monitoring were missing

HSE investigators found that Newport City Council instructed the householder to contract the company without checking their competence or monitoring their work. The council did not follow its own procedures for choosing contractors. The authority kept a list of approved firms but did not supply the list to the householder and did not involve the department which normally dealt with such work.

Newport City Council pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £20,000 and was ordered to pay £11,000 in costs.

HSE Inspector Dean Baker, speaking after the hearing, said:

“Newport City Council failed in their obligation to the family to ensure that the contractors they were paying to do the work were able to do it competently and to monitor the work being carried out on their behalf.

The shoddy and careless work by the contractors could have cost a family with young children their lives. Anyone carrying out work on or near a flue should get the advice of a Gas Safe Registered engineer before starting work.”

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