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Bogus gas contractor fined after poisoning pensioners

23 Jun 10 A gas installation contractor has been fined after carrying out illegal fitting work which led to an elderly Edgware couple being poisoned by carbon monoxide in their home.

A gas installation contractor has been fined after carrying out illegal fitting work which led to an elderly Edgware couple being poisoned by carbon monoxide in their home.

The Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Dermot Healy, trading as D Healy Plumbing and Heating, of Bushey, Hertfordshire, for not being registered while carrying out gas work and for not holding Competence Certificates, needed for certain types of gas work.

Healy pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 at two separate addresses. He was also prosecuted under Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was fined £500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,500 at the City of London Magistrates' Court.

The court heard that on the morning of 20 November 2007, an elderly couple were at home in Penshurst Gardens, Edgware, Harrow when the wife, feeling lightheaded, lasped into unconsiousness on the sofa. Her husband also suffered dizziness and nausea before partially collapsing.

The couple managed to alert a relative who called an ambulance which took them to Barnet General Hospital where they were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Their home had a gas-fired Lennox warm-air unit which had been in operation since 1961, despite it being reportedly condemned by gas engineers 12-14 years before the incident, but without the gas supply to the house being shut off.

Healy, a gas-installer by trade, was asked to re-comission the unit and undertake annual service checks. The door to the boiler cupboard door was replaced by contractors, five years before the incident, and did not have any air-vents. Shortly afterwards Healy installed a plastic vent cover.

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Fourteen days prior to the incident, on 6 November 2007, Mr Healy serviced the unit and no recommendations were made.

Following the incident, a British Gas investigation showed that the air unit cupboard had insufficient ventilation, and the flue was also of an insuffient length with two 90-degree bends, restricting the escape of exhaust gases to the outside. Negative pressure inside the cupboard resulted in gases being drawn down into ducts in the unit.

HSE inquires found that Healy serviced the boiler of another relative of the elderly couple, in Canons Drive, Harrow. This boiler was installed in 2002 and no difficulties were experienced after Healy had serviced it in June 2006. On this occasion, Healy serviced the boiler while not being CORGI registered.

Further enquries found that Healy had held a CORGI registration from February 2001, but did not renew it when it expired in March 2005. Healy had never received refresher training nor held the required Competence Certificate to carry out work on these units. By working without the necessary registration, safety checks and documentation, he clearly exposed clients to a serious health and safety risk.

HSE inspector, Charles Linfoot, said: "The couple in this instance were lucky, but the outcome could so easily have been a tragic one."Healy was paid by his clients to carry out an annual servicing of an old, deteriorating boiler only 14 days before they were taken to hospital with acute carbon monoxide poisoning.

"This work was fairly minimal, and was done on an informal basis. However, he acted illegally in that he was an un-registered gas engineer and carrying out work he was not qualified to do."

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