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June 25, 2013

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Foster family exposed to deadly gas after shoddy renovations

A local authority in Wales has been fined after a woman and her foster children were exposed to carbon monoxide in their home following renovations.

Newport City Council contracted a home-improvement company to carry out a loft conversion at a house in Bettws in November 2010. As part of the work, the company had to relocate a boiler into the new loft space and replace the flue from the gas fire.

After the work was completed, the householder, who lived at home with four adolescents, complained the boiler wasn’t working properly and was leaking. She arranged for an independent engineer to examine the work.

The engineer found the pressure-relief valve hadn’t been connected and confirmed the boiler was leaking. He advised the householder not to use the equipment and contacted Gas Safe Register, which sent an officer to investigate.

Gas Safe discovered the boiler was not correctly fitted and the flue from the gas fire had been capped just below the level of the loft, allowing carbon monoxide gas into the loft space. It was classified as ‘immediately dangerous’.

The HSE subsequently launched an investigation and learned that the council had instructed the householder to contract the company without researching into the firm’s competence. The authority has a list of approved contractors but did not supply this list to the householder, or notify its own internal department, which normally deals with such work. The council also failed to monitor the work.

HSE inspector Dean Baker 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.
€ᄄ”The shoddy and careless work by the contractors could have cost the lives of a family with young children. Anyone carrying out work on, or near a flue should get the advice of a Gas Safe registered engineer before starting work.”

Newport City Council appeared at Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court on 24 June and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £20,000 and was ordered to pay £11,000 in costs.

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