15 December, 2009
In December 2009, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought a successful prosecution against Severn Vale Housing Society Limited and a plumber contracted by them to carry out work on a boiler in a tenanted property. An explosion then occurred and the tenant was tragically killed.
The incident occurred when the tenant lit a fire for the first time since the boiler had been decommissioned in 1999. The work had not been carried out properly, as the boiler had not been fully drained of water. When the tenant lit the fire, the residual liquid was heated, generated steam and led to pressure building up which caused the explosion.
It was said by the HSE that this type of back boiler (which sat behind open fires) was commonly installed in private and public housing in the twentieth century, when coal was the primary source of domestic heat. It is thought that some properties still have such appliances, some which may have been replaced or decommissioned by councils, housing associations and homeowners in the resulting years.
Severn Vale Housing Society Limited was found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in that it failed to act in a manner which reasonably ensured that the tenant was not exposed to risks to her safety. It was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,500 at Gloucester Crown Court.
The plumber who was contracted to carry out the work by Severn Vale was also found guilty of breaching the same legislation and was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,500.
Both the incident and prosecution should alert landlords and other relevant parties to the potential dangers of back boilers which have been decommissioned and left in tenanted properties. Any individual or organisation who thinks that there is such a risk in existence should never light a fire in the fireplace and should seek professional advice immediately.