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July 23, 2008

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Principal contractor ignored advice on carbon-monoxide hazard

A major construction firm, which failed to act on a warning from a sub-contractor about a carbon-monoxide hazard, has been found guilty of failing to ensure the health and safety of those affected by its work.

Wates Construction Ltd, of Leatherhead in Surrey, was fined £7000 with £2491 costs by Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 18 July, after it pleaded guilty to a charge under s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. The prosecution was brought by the HSE following roofing work carried out by sub-contractors working for Wates, the principal contractor for the works, on a number of bungalows in Rednal Road, Birmingham, between 30 June and 13 September 2006.

The court heard that the integrity of warm air flues, which vent through roof ridge terminals, was discovered to have been disrupted in 11 of the properties, potentially causing a build-up of lethal carbon monoxide in the loft space. A CORGI-registered sub-contractor had warned Wates about the need to check the flues after the roofing work had been completed, but the principal contractor failed to do so.

Speaking after the case, investigating inspector Mike Ford said: “The dangers of damaging flues are well known in the building and refurbishment trade. Such dangerous work, as that seen in Rednal Road, puts lives at risk from carbon-monoxide poisoning.”

A Wates spokesperson said: “This incident happened two years ago and we immediately made fundamental changes to the way we carry out roofing repairs. We regret the incident. Safety is one of our key values, and we have taken this issue very seriously in order to ensure it never happens again.”

Every year, around 25 people die from carbon-monoxide poisoning caused by appliances and flues that have not been properly installed or maintained. On the back of this case, the HSE issued a warning to construction firms to check the safety of gas flues, following any roofing work.

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