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Building maintenance failings led to pensioner's death

1 Jul 11 A North East housing association has been fined for inadequate building maintenance that led to a pensioner dying in his home from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Gentoo Group Ltd, of Emperor Way, Sunderland - formerly known as Sunderland Housing Company Ltd - was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after 80-year-old George John Rutherford was found dead in his Penshaw home in 2007.

Newcastle Crown Court heard father-of-two Mr Rutherford had rented the property in Allendale Crescent for many years, but died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning on 17 June 2007. An inquest was held in November 2008 when Coroner Derek Winter recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Mr Rutherford's landlord Gentoo Group Ltd was charged with failing to properly maintain the coal fire at his home.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 5 (1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and was fined £40,000 with £25,000 costs at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday (30 June).

After the case, HSE principal inspector Bruno Porter said: "The judge accepted that although it cannot be said that Mr Rutherford's death occurred as a result of the company's breach there was at the very least a 'not insignificant risk of death'.

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"The judge added that this was not an isolated breach, on the contrary it appears that this was a 'continuing systemic failure'. However, he bore in mind that the company has a good health and safety record and as an organisation take health and safety and the safety of both employees and all tenants very seriously.

"The risk of dying from carbon monoxide exposure caused by a faulty solid fuel appliance is estimated to be up to ten times higher than that from a gas appliance but the risks are generally not as well known.

"As with gas appliances, burning solid fuel such as wood, coal or smokeless fuels, poses no danger as long as certain simple precautions are taken. The appliance needs to be installed and maintained correctly, and used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

"Landlords and providers of social housing must make sure that solid fuel appliances are regularly maintained - chimneys must be swept regularly and they must make sure the tenant is capable of, and is actually carrying out, any safety-critical cleaning.”

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