Around 1.1 million gas jobs are carried out every year by illegal fitters who aren’t properly qualified, putting householders at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, gas leaks, fires and explosions, a government body has warned.
A study[i] by Gas Safe Register, the nation’s only official gas registration scheme, found that illegal gas fitters installed over 186,000 gas cookers, 147,000 boilers, 75,000 gas fires, 32,000 gas meters and 645,000 gas pipework over one year.
Gas Safe Register has a team searching out rogue fitters and has investigated almost 5,000 illegal gas jobs in recent years, finding that 3 in 5 were in an unsafe condition. A worrying 1 in 5 were deemed to be so dangerous that the appliance had to be disconnected immediately.
The team has found that three-quarters of victims had employed the tradesman based on the recommendation from a friend, family member or by other contractors. Just under 1 in 4 had found their fitter through an advert, wrongly assuming they were legal and registered. In no cases did the householder check the fitter’s credentials, despite it being a legal requirement for an engineer to be on the Gas Safe Register.
Gas Safe Register research[ii] further found that 16% of people would trust an engineer if they said they were registered, rather than checking their ID card. The majority of people admit they are generally trusting of people and that when it comes to determining who to trust, the most common thing they look for include politeness, good eye contact and a nice smile.
The consequences of relying on an unregistered engineer can be deadly. Unsafe gas appliances can produce a highly poisonous gas called carbon monoxide (CO). Gas Safe Register research has found that around 1 in 5 people are unaware that carbon monoxide cannot be seen in a room, and 2 in 5 have no idea that the gas is odourless. According to the Health and Safety Executive in the past three years, 22 people have died and there have been nearly 1,000 injuries related to gas incidents.
Jonathan Samuel, chief executive at Gas Safe Register, said: “Far too many people are letting unregistered gas fitters into their home and putting their families at risk. We are urging people to trust the triangle. Look for the Gas Safe Register triangle on you gas engineer’s ID card - thousands of people already do - and make sure you’re getting your gas appliances checked every year.”
Max Schenker from the Wirral lost his brother, Robert Schenker aged 31, to carbon monoxide poisoning. Robert had an old chimney in his house which was quite weathered so he hired a builder to rebuild it. The chimney was connected to the flue pipe on Robert’s kitchen boiler and unbeknown to Robert, the builder dropped mortar down the chimney, blocking it.
After switching the boiler back on Robert complained of feeling unwell but had put it down to the few beers he’d drunk the night before. Feeling under the weather, Robert retired to bed, but was found dead by his girlfriend when he didn’t answer her calls.
The Health & Safety Executive inspected the scene as a matter of best practice because gas was suspected as the cause of death. Fresh mortar was detected in the chimney and when the inspectors tested the boiler, they found it took just seven minutes for carbon monoxide fumes to reach Robert’s bedroom after the system was switched on. The house was declared a crime scene and the case was handed over to the police.
The builder was convicted of manslaughter; receiving a 3.5 year prison sentence, reduced to 2.5 on appeal. Max, who has since taken over his brother’s business, said he was always aware that CO was a silent killer but hadn’t realised the extent of the danger.
Having experienced the devastating effects of CO first hand, Max comments:
“I would advise others to stop and think about the risks. Don’t cut corners and make doubly sure that any work being carried out on your house, especially if connected to your boiler, is carried out by a regulated builder or registered engineer.”
To keep you and your family safe, follow Gas Safe Register’s top tips:
For more information or to report illegal gas work, visit www.GasSafeRegister.co.uk or call 0800 408 5500.
[i] Study commissioned by Gas Safe Register. Interviews with 575 individuals who advertised as undertaking work which might include gas fitting, conducted November 2014-February 2015.
[ii] Research carried out by Gas Safe Register. Interviews with 3,000 householders, conducted October 2014-March 2016.