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July 22, 2011

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Plumber given suspended prison sentence for gas explosion

A HSE inspector has branded a plumber as “incompetent” after his actions helped cause a gas explosion at a house, in which a pensioner suffered serious burns while rescuing his nine-year-old granddaughter.

The incident took place at John Davies’ bungalow in Willenhall, Wolverhampton, on 18 December 2010. Mr Davies contacted plumber, Peter Naylor, to fix a leak in the kitchen. Naylor identified that the leak was coming from a faulty stopcock, which he accessed by removing the gas meter. He used a spray to freeze the pipe and stop the water leak, so that he could fit a lead lock between the stopcock and the water pipe. But while he was doing this, the pipe thawed and water began gushing out on to the floor.

Naylor went outside the bungalow to turn off the water supply, but once back inside he was unable to find the lead lock. He then left the house to buy a replacement fitting. While he was gone, Mr Davies mopped the floor and switched on a halogen heater to dry it. But unbeknown to Mr Davies, the gas meter was leaking gas, and the heater acted as a source of ignition, which caused a small explosion. He rushed to turn off the electric cooker but this caused a bigger explosion, which set his clothes on fire.

Mr Davies ran outside and rolled in the snow to put out the flames, before rushing back inside to rescue his granddaughter and his dog, who were in the back room of the property. He managed to save both of them but also suffered 21-per-cent burns to his face, neck and hands. He spent six days in hospital and required a skin graft to his left arm and hand. Both the child and the dog were unhurt, but the bungalow was so badly damaged by the fire that it has subsequently been demolished.

The HSE’s investigation found that Naylor was not qualified to carry out gas work and was not registered with the Gas Safe Register. He had failed to check to see if there was an electrical charge coming from the meter when he removed it, and failed to attach a temporary continuity bond to prevent sparks while the meter was removed. He should have also carried out a tightness test to check for leaks, and ensured that inlet and outlet pipes were covered by caps.

HSE inspector Pamela Folsom said: “This case is a warning to unregistered individuals that they should never undertake gas work under any circumstances. Anybody who carries out work on meters, boilers, hobs, ovens, fires, or any other gas appliances without being on the Gas Safe Register is breaking the law.

“Mr Naylor believed he had sufficient basic knowledge to work with gas, but he was not authorised to do this and did not follow proper safety precautions. His incompetence caused an explosion that could easily have been fatal, and the resulting fire left Mr Davies with serious burns and a home so badly damaged that it had to be demolished.”

Naylor appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court on 18 July and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.3(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and was given a ten-month suspended prison sentence. He was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and pay £2000 in costs.

In mitigation, Naylor said he had no previous safety convictions and deeply regretted the injuries and damage that resulted from his actions. He told the court that he did not appreciate the enormity of the gas work he had carried out and, as a result, he failed to realise that he needed to be on the Gas Safe Register to remove the boiler. He no longer works and asked the court to consider his lack of financial means during sentencing.

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