OFTEC evidence leads to conviction

Paul Rose, technical director, OFTEC
Paul Rose, technical director, OFTEC
A carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning fatality in Suffolk underlines the importance of ensuring that all heating appliances are serviced and maintained by a registered technician, OFTEC said after giving evidence at a recent court case.

Following the death of Annette Coe in December 2012, OFTEC was called to inspect an open-flued boiler installation at her home in Ipswich, which had been serviced just 47 days before the accident by Peter Sykes, an unregistered technician from Hadleigh.

The inspection highlighted a number of serious shortcomings during the annual boiler service including failure to report non-compliant aspects of the installation, failure to replace oil lines that were cracked and showed a date code of February 2000, and failure to clean the heat exchanger, baffles, and burner fan housing and impeller.

Most serious of all, both flue gas test points on the installation were seized, suggesting that combustion had not been checked. The boiler was isolated as an ‘immediate risk.’

Further investigation at other properties visited by Mr Sykes revealed more instances of substandard and dangerous work. These included a gas appliance although Mr Sykes, aged 68, was not Gas Safe registered.

Following a trial at Norwich Crown Court in June, at which OFTEC’s technical director Paul Rose appeared as an expert witness, Mr Sykes was found guilty of health and safety failings although not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence. He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service.

Speaking after the trial, Paul Rose said: “This tragic case illustrates how vital it is for all work on heating appliances to be carried out by a registered competent person. Had the installation in Mrs Coe’s home been properly maintained, this sad death could have been avoided.

“Laws are already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure CO alarms are fitted in all places where carbon-burning appliances are installed but the same legislation is yet to be passed in England and Wales. This position needs to change.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive, around 40 people die each year in England and Wales as a result of accidental CO poisoning. A further 4,000 are admitted to hospital with symptoms which can lead to brain damage and strokes.