Building contractor fined after family exposed to carbon monoxide danger

Morris and Spottiswood Ltd, a Glasgow based building contractor has been fined for a catalogue of failings that left a family exposed to potentially fatal carbon monoxide fumes.

Glasgow Sheriff Court was today (2 September) told that the danger came to light in June 2010, when the owner of a flat in Glenkirk Drive, Glasgow, was concerned about headaches her ten-year-old son was experiencing.

The 30-year-old mother, who was pregnant with her second child, suspected the gas fire in her living room may have been responsible and asked a friend, who was a registered Gas Safe engineer, to check it.

He found the space behind the fire was filled with debris and then realised the chimney had been removed and debris from the demolished chimney had accumulated behind the fire. The fire was condemned, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was notified and an investigation was launched.

The court heard that Morris and Spottiswood had tendered to Glasgow Housing Association to carry out renovation work on the block of flats, where there was a mix of owner-occupiers and tenants.

The project, which started in September 2008, included the removal of redundant chimneys to reduce future maintenance costs. Morris and Spottiswood Ltd sub-contracted the work to remove the chimneys, but had failed to provide sufficient direction and supervision to the sub-contractor.

The family involved had been living in the flat since 2006. The gas fire was in place in the house when they purchased it.

The court was told that the flat was visited at various times in early 2009 by a Morris and Spottiswood Ltd site foreman, a client-tenant liaison officer and a gas engineer to check the appliances when the householder’s partner was home, but he, the partner, said he was not told the chimney was to be removed.

The foreman had recorded that there was an electric fire in the property, when in fact it was a gas fire that was in the living room, which required the chimney for a flue.

The function of the gas fire was further compromised by the debris that had fallen down the chimney during its demolition and removal, as well as the chimney being capped.

This combination of circumstances resulted in the carbon monoxide which would have been produced on any occasion that the gas fire was used, spilling back into the living room. This could have been fatal at high or prolonged exposure.

Morris and Spottiswood Ltd, of Helen Street, Glasgow, was fined £60,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 between 22 September 2008 and 20 March 2009.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Helen Diamond, said:

“This was, for the family, a potentially fatal combination of circumstances. But thankfully it appears they did not suffer a high degree of exposure.

“It was Morris and Spottiswood Ltd’s decision to remove the chimney at this property, based on checks made by a site supervisor who had no specific trade.

“A young family was needlessly put at risk because the company fell considerably short in its duties as principal contractor. It failed to ensure a competent person was employed to determine whether properties had a gas or electric fire and then failed to provide sufficient information, instruction, training and supervision to the sub-contractor.”

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