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Morris & Spottiswood fined £60k after family exposed to gas fumes

3 Sep 13 Glasgow-based contractor Morris & Spottiswood has been fined £60,000 for leaving a family exposed to lethal carbon monoxide fumes.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard yesterday (2 September) that the danger came to light in June 2010, when the owner of a flat in Glenkirk Drive, Glasgow, was concerned about headaches her 10-year-old son was having.

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 & Safety Executive (HSE) was notified and an investigation was launched.

The court heard that Morris & Spottiswood had carried out renovation work on the block of flats in 2008-09 for Glasgow Housing Association. Work included the removal of redundant chimneys to reduce future maintenance costs. Morris & Spottiswood subcontracted the work to remove the chimneys, but had failed to provide sufficient direction and supervision.

A Morris & Spottiswood foreman had somehow recorded that the flat at issue in this case had an electric fire but in fact it was a gas fire, 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.

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This combination of circumstances resulted in the carbon monoxide that 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 & 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 & 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 subcontractor."

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