Houses destroyed in explosion caused by unsafe gas work
A self-employed joiner has been sentenced to 300 hours of community service after a gas cooker, which he installed illegally, exploded, causing more than £580,000 in damages to four properties in Scotland.
Alex Irvine was hired by John and Emily Reid to install a new free-standing gas cooker at their home in Kirklands, Renfrew, on 31 March 2009. Irvine told Mr Reid that he was not qualified to undertake gas work, but said he was capable of doing the job. Mr Reid agreed to pay Irvine £60 to do the work.
After removing the kitchen unit and worktop, Irvine cut a copper pipe to remove an old gas hob. He cleaned the end of the cut piece and attached a flexible, rubber hose. The other end of the hose was attached to the new cooker before it was pushed back against the wall.
On 17 April 2009, Mr Reid heard a noise in the kitchen, which he thought had originated from the oven, although neither he nor his wife could smell gas. When he went to investigate he heard a noise at the back of the cooker that sounded like gas escaping. He opened the grill door and pulled the cooker out about six to nine inches. It is thought he may have caught the ignition switch, which led to an explosion.
Mr Reid and Mrs Reid suffered burns to their hands, arms, neck and face as a result of the explosion, but managed to escape the property. Mr Reid required a skin graft on his right hand and Mrs Reid’s eyebrows and eyelashes were burnt off and have still not grown back.
The explosion caused extensive damage to their home and to three neighbouring properties. Three of the houses were so badly damaged they had to be demolished and rebuilt. The total cost of the damage has been estimated at more than £580,000.
The HSE’s investigation found that Irvine was not Gas Safe registered and had never been accredited to carry out gas work. It was the opinion of HSE experts that the cooker hose had been the source of the gas leak and explosion.
The hose was trapped between the appliance, the floor and side unit, and it had become kinked when it was pushed against the wall. Tests revealed a split at a middle point in the bend of the hose, which allowed gas to leak out.
HSE inspector Russell Berry said: “In carrying out this work while not registered and competent to do so, Mr Irvine put those living in this property and those nearby at risk.
“Thankfully, Mr and Mrs Reid escaped with their lives, but were badly injured, and four properties were seriously damaged as a result of the explosion, which was a direct result of the unsafe condition that the gas cooker was left in.”
Irvine appeared at Paisley Sheriff Court on 3 August and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.3(1), reg.3(3), and reg.5(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service.
After the hearing, Gas Safe Register chief executive Paul Johnston said: “In the right hands, gas is safe, but gas work should only ever be undertaken by a suitably qualified and competent Gas Safe registered engineer.
“In order to become Gas Safe registered, gas fitters have to demonstrate their competence to recognised training and accreditation bodies, and the public should always ensure that whoever is carrying out gas work can prove they are registered.”
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