Home improvement company fined for potentially lethal work

Two partners in a home improvement company have been fined after building work at a house exposed a woman and her foster children to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The company, run by Janusz Wojcik and Phillip Thomas, was contracted to carry out loft conversion work at a property in Bettws, near Newport, on behalf of Newport City Council in November 2010.

As part of the improvement work the company had to replace a flue from the gas fire, which they left in an ‘immediately dangerous’ condition with the potentially lethal fumes escaping into the loft space.

In a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Cardiff Crown Court heard today (25 September) that the householder had agreed to modifications to her home with a grant from the council to accommodate foster children. 

The householder, who lives at her home with four adolescents, had concerns about the quality of the work carried out by the company, and found that there were faults with the plumbing system. Gas Safe Register, who sent an officer to investigate, found that the flue from the gas fire had been removed from just below the level of the loft, allowing poisonous carbon monoxide gas into the loft space. It was classified as ‘immediately dangerous’. 

HSE’s investigation identified that the partnership did not obtain advice from a Gas Safe registered engineer before the chimney and flue were removed. The gas fire was still connected and used during the winter resulting in potentially deadly carbon monoxide gas building-up in the loft space.  

Janusz Wojcik, and Phillip Thomas, partners of P Thomas and J Building and Home Improvement Specialists of Lochaber Street, Cardiff, each pleaded guilty to a breach of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations. Both defendants were fined £1,500 each. 

HSE Inspector Dean Baker, speaking after the hearing, said: “Janusz Wojcik and Phillip Thomas failed in their duty to ensure the gas fire was made safe before they removed the chimney and flue. 

“The shoddy and careless work by the contractors could have cost a family with young children their lives. Anyone carrying out work on or near a flue should get the advice of a Gas Safe Registered engineer before starting work to ensure it is made safe. It is never acceptable to assume that a gas appliance will not be used after a flue has been removed”. 

The householder, who does not want to be named, said: “The council approached me with a view to having a loft conversion to help with fostering. The contractors they chose for the job were not competent and put me and my foster children at risk. 

“My son started complaining of headaches and feeling sick and I put it down to him playing computer games, not carbon monoxide. When the Gas Safe Register Inspector found that the flue had been removed I realised just how lucky we were.” 

Further information about gas safety can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/gas/index.htm

Notes to Editors 

1.          The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk 

2.         Regulation 8 of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states: Regulation 8 (1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states that: “No person shall make any alteration to any premises in which a gas fitting or gas storage vessel is fitted if that alteration would adversely affect the safety of the fitting or vessel in such a manner that, if the fitting or vessel had been installed after the alteration, there would have been a contravention of, or failure to comply with, these Regulations. 

3.      Regulation 8 (3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states that: “In relation to any place of work under his control, an employer or a self-employed person shall ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the provisions of paragraphs (1) and (2) above are complied with.” 

4.    The partners in the home improvement company involved in the case will be prosecuted by the HSE at a later date. 

5.         HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press.

Article source: http://press.hse.gov.uk/2014/home-improvement-company-fined-for-potentially-lethal-work/