Quick thinking carbon monoxide alarm purchase saves family

hseA Staffordshire gas fitter has been handed 240 hours of unpaid work for failing to identify defects on a boiler that left a young family with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, just one day after they took their newborn baby home.

Stafford Magistrates’ Court heard that the family – Chris Humphries, 27, Lucy Deavall, 23, and their two-year-old daughter – had been suffering with headaches and dizziness over a number of weeks in May 2013.

They had begun to notice a pattern and, on 24 May, when their newborn daughter was just two days old, their older daughter started vomiting. Suspecting they were experiencing symptoms of the deadly gas, they went out and bought a CO detector. Within an hour of putting in the batteries, it activated so the family went to hospital where they were found to have elevated levels of CO in their blood.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found registered gas engineer Mark Adam Whitfield, 33, of Burntwood, had carried out a landlord’s gas safety certificate examination at the house in Mesnes Green, Lichfield, when it was unoccupied on November 26, 2012. However, he failed to spot evident defects with the boiler and flue.

Mr Whitfield returned to the property several times the following April and May once the house had been let, but repeatedly failed to spot the problems.

The first bend in the flue was on top of the boiler when it should be more than 500mm above the top of the boiler. Also, the end of the flue was not correct and there were signs of condensation and staining inside the boiler, which were likely to have been visible when the gas safety check was conducted in November 2012.

Mr Whitfield pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was handed a 12-month community service order with 240 hours’ unpaid work. He was ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £1,185 and to pay £1,000 compensation to the affected family.

HSE inspector, David Brassington, said:

“This was a vicious storm of circumstance. Since the baby had been born the family were using the boiler more than usual to heat the house, both for the baby and the amount of visitors they were getting. It was that increased use of the boiler, coupled with another onset of illness, which made them suspect they were being poisoned.

“Mark Whitfield’s failures over a series of visits exposed the family to significant risk to their health whenever the boiler was in operation. As a qualified gas engineer he should have identified the faults, classified the boiler as “at risk” and initiated remedial works.

“The actions of qualified gas engineers are paramount to the safety of gas users. There are approximately 12 fatalities a year arising from CO poisoning from gas appliances that have not been properly installed, ventilated or maintained. Mr Whitfield is extremely fortunate that this family did not add to that number.”