Builder's chimney work put family at risk

A family was exposed to deadly carbon monoxide fumes after building work on a chimney caused a blockage in a flue.

Builder Wayne Marshall, trading as Marshall Enterprises Home Improvements, of St Hillary Drive, Killay, Swansea, had been employed to carry out repairs to a joint chimney by householders at a property in Dulais Road, Seven Sisters in March 2010, but he left an amount of rubble blocking the flue of the neighbouring property, leading to a leak of carbon monoxide.

Neath Port Talbot Magistrates' Court heard that neither Marshall or his subcontractors informed the neighbours, Steve Everett, his wife and daughter, that work had started so they had not turned off their boiler at the bottom of the flue.

The blockage of rubble restricted ventilation for the appliance causing incomplete combustion and the creation of carbon monoxide.

When the family returned home from work they heard their carbon monoxide alarm sounding and had to ventilate their house, leaving windows open all night.

Wayne Marshall pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3 (2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £1,500 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector, Stephen Jones, said: "This incident could have resulted in multiple fatalities. Anyone in control of rebuilding and renovation works, especially to chimneys and any flues, must take reasonable steps to establish what appliances, such as fires and boilers, are attached to them.

"They must make arrangements with everyone who may be affected to notify them when building works start and finish. This will allow time for the appliances to be extinguished.

"While the work is ongoing they must take reasonable steps to prevent anything from blocking the flue such as debris that may lead to a lack of ventilation and the possibility of carbon monoxide gas arising.

"Thankfully the family had the foresight to buy and fit a carbon monoxide alarm, otherwise they may have entered their home unaware of the danger and eventually been overcome by fumes."

Further information on the dangers of carbon monoxide can be found on the HSE website at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/gas/domestic/co.htm

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