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October 7, 2010

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Pub chain given massive fine for “shocking” gas-safety failings

A major pub chain has been fined £300,000 after a landlord died from carbon-monoxide poisoning, and 474 other pubs were found to be at risk.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Paul Lee was the landlord of the Aintree Hotel in Bootle, Merseyside. On 12 November 2007, he was found unconscious in the pub’s living room by a cleaner. He died later in hospital due to a heart attack, which was caused by a lack of oxygen.

An investigation found that he turned on a gas fire in the room the previous evening and fell asleep. Mr Lee had lived in the pub for less than a month and was unaware that the fire had not been serviced since 1979. The chimney was completely blocked and carbon monoxide gradually built up in the room and starved Mr Lee of oxygen, until he was left unconscious.

According to the HSE, the owner of the Aintree Hotel, Enterprise Inns plc, should have ensured that annual gas-safety inspections were carried out at 868 of its pubs, which have leases shorter than seven years. But only 394 had valid gas-safety certificates and a large number of the remaining 474 pubs were found to have gas fires that posed an immediate danger.

In January 2008, the HSE issued an Improvement Notice, which required Enterprise Inns to arrange for a gas service to be carried out at all of the pubs that didn’t have safety certificates.

HSE inspector Iain Evans said revealed that the firm had received a written warning in 2001, following a fire at one of its properties in Birmingham, which highlighted a systematic failure to implement annual gas-safety checks.

He said: “It is shocking that a major pub chain failed to ensure regular gas safety checks were carried out at more than 400 of its properties. As a result, one man has been killed and hundreds of other lives have been put at risk.

“Tests we carried out on the gas fire at the Aintree Hotel showed that the workplace limit for exposure to carbon monoxide would have been exceeded within five minutes of it being turned on, and would have reached a level known to be fatal within an hour.

“What makes this case so tragic is that Mr Lee’s life could have been saved if Enterprise Inns had continued to obey the written warning it received about gas safety six years earlier, instead of falling back into old habits.”

Enterprise Inns appeared in court on 5 October and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £19,000 towards the costs of the prosecution.

In mitigation, the firm said it has now created a system to ensure that annual gas-safety checks are carried out every 11 months. It has also implemented a policy that prevents property being leased until a gas service has been undertaken.

A company statement said: “We would again like to express our sincere apologies to the family and friends of Mr Lee for his tragic death. There was a number of factors that contributed to this incident in systems, processes and human failings. Since 2007, working closely with the HSE, Enterprise has done everything possible to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again.”

After the hearing, Mr Lee’s sister Sharon said: “Since Paul’s death nearly three years ago, there is still anger and disbelief among his family and friends that it was entirely preventable.

“Paul’s death will, very possibly, save the lives of others in the future, but it should not have taken the loss of his life to highlight the wider failings of Enterprise Inns. We are fully aware that Enterprise Inns is now compliant with gas-safety legislation, but companies must not put other people’s lives at risk by allowing similar lapses to occur in the future.”

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13 years ago

Since Brewers sold off there pub chains. The Money men have bought and sold them each ‘owner’ cutting there overheads to maximize a profit. Squeezing best price from maintenance providers. Best price being the cheapest which is uneconomical to achieve acceptable service levels resulting in such tragedies as described.

The resulting fine should have been the equivalent of a years profits and 10% year on year thereafter until proven systems are in place a warning to other greedy exploiters.

13 years ago

I work in this field as an H&S manager for one of the maintenance firms that David describes.

He is absolutely correct, the pub chains play at being compliant, they bring in H&S managers, external advisors, asbestos management companies and CDM co ordinators and their word is law.

Some of the above leave a lot to be desired and if you challenge them on something you are labelled as troublesome.

It really is a nightmare & with this sort of justice meeted out there will be no improvement

13 years ago

Sincere apologies for ignoring a safety notice for six years! (hollow sentiment)

One might wonder about the competency of the person they appointed under the Management Regs to advise the company on H&S.

£300,000 is a minor dent in their proffits and is less than it would have cost them to annually inspect 868 pubs so I suspect the Finance Director thinks this was a success and a risk worth taking (or am I being too cynical!)

13 years ago

Given that the firm had a written warning in 2001. It seems that there was no follow up and no sharing of information of Enterprise Inns non-conformity to gas regulations across respective agencies. If this had of been done and stronger action taken in 2001 then this poor unfortunate man would still be alive today. Enterprise Inns are guilty but they are not the only ones. Local agencies should follow up and pursue companies like this. The fine etc is too little too late.

13 years ago

Once again we have corporate failings with no individual/s facing censure. Lets hope the 2007 Act is fully exercised in any future failings. £300,000 for a life needlessly taken, this should been much much higher!

13 years ago

Sadly we see yet another example of a blatant diregard for the law and the safety of employees.
Having already been warned in 2001 that things were not right there is no excuse.
How many i wonder does a company have to kill for a director to get sent to prison?
After all each pub only has to raise £367 each to cover the fine and costs.

13 years ago

I don’t think the competency of their appointed person is really relevant. As an independent consultant I very frequently advise employers how they are deficient in meeting their duties (and offer suggestions as to how they might improve).
I was never under any illusion that they would always do as advised and have, on one occasion, felt obliged to terminate my contract as there was no point if they simply ignored advice and my ‘discoverable’ reports could be used against them in court