Guilty Plea Following Gas Explosion. Choose your Contractors Carefully!

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HSE v Kay

Facts

A gas fitter has been sentenced following a major explosion in Irlam which injured ten adults and five children, and left a 73-year-old woman with severe burns.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Paul Kay after carrying out a large-scale investigation into the explosion in Salford on 2 November 2010, which destroyed three houses and caused extensive damage to several others.

An HSE investigation found that Mr Kay had carried out work at the property the day before the explosion as part of a project to install new kitchens in several houses on the Irlam estate.

The 30-year-old had needed to disconnect the gas meter so that it could be removed from the bottom shelf of an old sink unit. He then stacked up six bricks on the floor and rested the gas meter on them before reconnecting the gas supply.

A forensic examination of the gas pipes at the house also found that a lead pipe leading to the meter had been connected to a brass pipe several years earlier, using a piece of metal solder just 2.5mm wide. This left the joint in a fundamentally weak condition and was identified as another cause of the explosion.

However, investigators were unable to establish exactly when this work took place, or who carried it out. HSE was therefore unable to bring a separate prosecution against the person responsible.

Held

The investigation concluded that when Mr Kay left the gas meter unsupported on a pile bricks, this may have widened a fracture in the joint and allowed gas to slowly seep into the property overnight.

Paul Kay, of Slater Street in Warrington, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 by failing to make sure the gas meter was properly supported.  He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £500 in prosecution costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Philip Strickland said:

“Paul Kay’s actions increased the risk of the explosion, which destroyed three houses, damaged several others and injured 15 people, including Marie Burns.

“If registered gas engineers do not meet their legal duties they can expect to be held account for their actions. They must apply their knowledge and skills on every job and make sure appliances and supplies are left safe for people to use.”

Mr. Kay was hired by Hill End Plumbing and Heating Ltd, of Oldham. He no longer works for the firm, which has since changed its name.

Hill End Plumbing was a sub-contractor of Bolton-based G&J Seddon, the main contractors used by City West Housing Trust for refitting kitchens on the estate where the blast happened.

Comment

Whilst the HSE decided only to prosecute the gas fitter responsible for the botched job, property owners, housing authorities and anyone who uses contractors need to consider carefully the circumstances in which they may be exposed to the risk of prosecution, under S 3 HSWA 1973, when they are let down by the actions and inactions of their contractors and subcontractors. You need to satisfy yourself (as far as you reasonably can) that you choose a contractor who can do the job safely and without risk to health. The safeguards you undertake will depend on the type of the job and the risks involved.

For more information, help or advice please contact Jonathan Dunkley on 0191 211 7918.