BURGON'S BLOG: Gas needs to be respected

Published:  23 April, 2012

Guest blogger Robert Burgon says a gas engineer's recent three-year prison sentence for manslaughter after a 'botched installation' must be a wake-up call to other tradesmen.

The tragic death of a 24-year old woman which led to the manslaughter conviction is yet another case in so many over the years – all of which were preventable.

The UK has had a statutory system of gas registration since 1990 and there is little doubt that levels of competence and awareness are better now than they were in the years prior to the government approving CORGI (now Gas Safe Register) as the registration body.

Having been closely involved in the negotiations which led to the creation of the statutory requirement that all businesses working on gas for gain must be registered (and employ suitably-qualified staff), I well remember the strength of argument within the industry about the need for statutory registration as a way of resolving a significant problem. It is regrettable that, over 20 years later, we are still seeing deaths from poor gas installations every year.

Prior to the change from CORGI to Gas Safe, it was estimated that there were still tens of thousands of unregistered businesses working with gas in the UK. If that claim was anywhere near the truth, then that is appalling. It is, however, not easy to be precise about the number of people who blatantly break the law – they are unlikely to advertise this fact.

However, unregistered installers are only one part of the problem. The person convicted in the recent case was described in the press as 'registered', which means he had at some time demonstrated his competence and qualifications. However, the errors which he is reported to have made, and which led to him committing manslaughter, were by no means trivial and his actions were described as “gross negligence” by the judge sentencing him.

Not all of the blame for the ongoing fatal incidents can be placed at the hands of installers. There must be occasions when consumers themselves have knowingly employed someone who is not registered and whose competence has not been tested and proven. Irresponsible decisions like that, possibly made on the grounds of cost, are as bad as someone carrying out a botched job.

Initiatives such as Gas Safety Week in September are an excellent way of drawing attention to the importance of ensuring that gas work is done well. Tragic cases like this one will also raise awareness, but we must all hope that it won’t be too long before the number of incidents drops dramatically.