Basic construction error results in £25k+ in fines after tenant nearly poisoned


Ref. HSE v Chesterfield Borough Council [2012]

In a case that came to fruition just before Christmas 2012, Chesterfield Borough Council has been ordered to pay more than £25,000 in fines and costs after a near cataclysmic construction error almost cost the life of a tenant.

A contractor working on behalf of the Borough Council was carrying out work on the roof of a house on Stand Road, Newbold. The contractor advised the council that the chimney was leaning and in danger of collapse.

As a result, Chesterfield arranged for the chimney to be removed and the stack capped and closed off.

Unfortunately, by capping this chimney they also closed off the route for gas and combustion products to be removed safely to the external environment from both the fire and the boiler, which were both operational within the property. Gas flowed back into the property through the fire into the lounge and internal environment, where an unsuspecting tenant resided.

Only six weeks later, in October 2011, Chesterfield carried out an annual gas safety check on the property (read our article on recent developments to these checks here) and discovered the problem, fortunately averting any long term affects to the resident.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Chesterfield had the working gas appliances at the property listed on two separate databases, indicating that they should reasonably have been aware of the appliances. The council acted negligibly in failing to check them.

The HSE added that at no point was the presence of the live gas appliances mentioned to the roofing contractor, thereby relieving them of any liability in the matter. The contractor did what was required and the subsequent invoice detailing the work was paid by the council without question.

Chesterfield Borough Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for failing to maintain its property in such a way that the tenant was not exposed to the risks associated with carbon monoxide.

Chesterfield Magistrate’s Court fined the council £18,000 and ordered them to pay costs of £7,534. The HSE inspector for the case, Scott Wynne, is reported to have commented:

“It was pure luck that the tenant did not suffer any serious effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. This was probably due in part to the particularly warm weather at that time of year which meant the tenant often had the windows open and only used the gas boiler for hot water.

“Chesterfield Borough Council was in a position of trust. It had a duty of care to its tenant but because it did not properly consult its own records or do any kind of follow-up checks once the stack had been removed, it failed in that duty.

“It was also extremely fortunate that the annual safety inspection was due at that time. If it had been due later in the year the tenant may not have survived to tell the tale.”

A stroke of luck for the tenant and a warning to councils and other bodies in positions of trust:

Construction works, however small, must be done thoroughly with due care and attention and with thought to the wider impact to the building as a whole.

If you are a landlord or a tenant requiring construction works at your property, a trained and experienced Chartered Surveyor can make sure everything is done to the required standard and that other aspects of the property are not adversely affected. Even the simplest building is a complex jigsaw, and hiring a professional will help avoid interlinked problems like those in HSE v Chesterfield Borough Council.

The network of Independent Chartered Surveyors can be accessed at this link.

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