Bad building gas installation service nearly kills residents


The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) brings quite frequent prosecutions against people who trade as gas installers or service agents despite not being registered with Gas Safe, as is required by law. This is a (thankfully) rarer instance where a registered engineer failed to meet the required standards of care and he nearly caused the death of at least one, if not more, people.

In April 2013, 27-year old Greg Ranson was given the job by the landlords of servicing a gas-fired warm air heater at their ground-floor flat in Sproughton, near Ipswich, Suffolk. A new tenant, William Tumilty, (59) was due to move in the following month.

It was not necessary to use the heating over the summer so it was not turned on until November: but when he did use it, Mr. Tumilty was taken ill at once, and then again when he tried it the following day.

Worse still, on the third day of use the heating timer clicked on automatically at 4 pm: around 7 pm Mr Tumilty lost consciousness and collapsed in his hallway. He remained there all night, but fortunately he regained consciousness at around 7.45 am on the following morning.

Meanwhile in the maisonette directly above, a young couple and their 2 year-old child also suffered the gas fumes and had to be treated in hospital.

Registered engineer fails to clean unit

This was all due to an escape of gas containing lethal carbon monoxide. The leaking fumes should never have occurred if the heater had been serviced correctly. Mr. Ranson, as a registered Gas Safe engineer, should have known better.

The HSE investigation that followed found the problem to stem from dust in the heat exchanger unit. This was blocking the flue and stopping the harmful combustion gas from escaping safely. Clearly the service should have brought this to light, and the heat exchanger required inspection and cleaning: but in fact it appeared the unit had remained untouched for some years.

When commenting on the case, the HSE Inspector (Anthony Brookes) admitted that “fortunately cases like this are rare but they illustrate the care and diligence required on the part of qualified gas engineers to ensure gas-fired appliances are safe to use. People can die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, and, by his negligence, Mr Ranson could have caused the death of Mr Tumilty and his neighbours.

Suspended prison sentence

At Ipswich Magistrates’ Court, Greg Ranson of Ipswich (who trades as Ranson Plumbing and Heating Ltd.) received a prison sentence of 18 weeks, but it was suspended for 18 months.

He also has to pay compensation of £1,500, divided among three people who suffered from his negligence. There are also prosecution costs of £813. He pleaded guilty to one breach of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.

Those who are involved in building safety, particularly in renovating an maintaining older properties, should know the importance of proper servicing. If in doubt, a guide can be found here.