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Baby's death lands heating rules in hot water

The government is reviewing Part G of the building regulations relating to heating and hot water systems to determine whether rules can be re-written to prevent deaths like Rhianna Hardie's.
Ten month-old Rhianna Hardie was killed in 2006 when scalding hot water poured into her cot after a water tank exploded in the attic of her council home.

The heating and hot water systems at Rhianna's house was controlled by two electric immersion heaters. A thermostat failed on the system and water continued heating up. This backed up into the plastic cold water tank in the attic. Boiling hot water soon filled the cold water tank and poured through the ceiling on to the sleeping infant.

Coroner Michael Rose said the problem with an outmoded thermostat which allowed hot water to flood the cold water tank could have nationwide implications with other homes in danger from the same fault. The houses' heating system, widely installed in houses in the 1950s, is found in council and private homes.

The department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) is undertaking a review of Part G of the building regulations. A CLG spokesman said 'The review of Part G of the building regulations that is currently in progress will deal with all aspects of hot water safety. The review started in summer 2007 and we expect to publish a consultation paper this spring [2008]'.

The review is being taken forward by a formal working party constituted through the Building Regulations Advisory Committee.

The working party members include a building control manager from an authority close to Taunton, the NHBC Building Control Services, the House Builders Federation, a building practitioner with an interest in meeting disabled needs and a building practitioner involved with public buildings.

Taunton Deane Borough Council was aware of government's 2004 guidelines to replace immersion heaters of this type in council houses when they broke down, but since the immersion heating system in Rhianna's home was never routinely tested, no faults were detected.

Parents of the dead baby backed the coroner's call for a change in the law requiring old electric thermostats in domestic hot water systems to be replaced with failsafe devices.

A spokesman for the council said: 'The council has virtually completed the installation of the latest thermostat in the 4,680 homes with similar systems'.

The new thermostats are fitted with a safety cut-off to stop continuous re-heating of water in the event of thermostat failure.

'We have not hesitated to undertake this programme of replacement, even though there is no legal requirement under any legislation or British standard', the council added.

The National Landlords Association (NLA), which represents almost 14,000 landlords, has issued guidance for landlords on how to spot the signs of faulty thermostats.

The Health and Safety Executive director for Wales and the South West, Terry Rose said in a statement 'The coroner has made specific observations about communications between central government departments and local authorities, and he will write to the department of communities and local government. HSE will consider these points'.
14 January 2008

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