Massive fines for carbon monoxide failures

Two construction companies have been fined more than £700,000 for work which allowed carbon monoxide into a building because live flues were mistakenly blocked.

Wates Construction Ltd and RJ Fitters Ltd both pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – Wates were fined £640,000 with costs of £20,862.52.

R J Fitters Ltd were fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,431.28.

The work covered the removal of cowls on redundant flue pipes. Cambridge Crown Court was told a mistake was made in relation to the correct floor level, so a live flue was blocked. Scaffolding was put up outside a 13-storey block of flats without marked lift levels and the external wall of the building had no markings to identify floor levels or flat numbers. Workers from R J Fitters were given a diagram marked with the redundant flues and were expected to find the redundant flues amongst live flues.

The problem was discovered when a CO monitor sounded the alarm and residents investigated – the boiler which was damaged was turned off, avoiding serious health consequences.

The Health and Safety Executive investigated and found that the two companies did not manage the project’s risks properly – they could have marked the levels on the scaffold and the levels/flat numbers on the external wall of the building. The redundant flue pipes and live flue pipes could have been marked to differentiate them, and other action could have been taken which would have avoided any pipes being blocked.

Peter James, a Partner in the Harrison Clark Rickerbys’ regulatory team, said: “This work posed a terrible risk to the building’s occupants – blocking up a flue in this way could have led to carbon monoxide poisoning resulting in death or serious injury.

“Health and safety considerations extend to all those involved in large construction projects including Principal Contractors, sub-contractors and those planning the works.”

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Peter James
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