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Council fined for carbon monoxide leak at community centre

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council has been fined for a carbon monoxide leak from a gas boiler at a community centre.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the local authority after members of a bridge club using the Westlands Community Centre in Whitfield Avenue called the fire service to deal with a suspected gas leak.

Fenton Magistrates' Court heard fire fighters found extremely high levels of carbon monoxide escaping from the flue in the loft and evacuated the building.

Sections of the flue had come apart and the potentially lethal gas had built up and started to flow through an open trapdoor into a storeroom off the main hall.

HSE's investigation into the incident revealed that the contract for maintenance and annual safety checks of all gas appliances in the 38 properties owned by the council, including nine households, had lapsed 12 months previously.

The court also heard that the 30-year-old boiler at Westlands Community Centre had not been checked for nearly two years before the incident on 30 March 2009.

Newcastle Borough Council pleaded guilty today to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 5 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £25,550 costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Lynne Boulton said: 'Every year, about 20 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning, invariably due to gas appliances not being properly serviced and checked for safety. Many more become ill with long-term health problems. This incident could have had much more serious consequences, particularly as elderly people and children, who are more vulnerable to the effects of this dangerous gas, use the centre regularly.

'All property owners must make sure their gas appliances are checked each year by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Organisations such as local authorities, which own a large number of properties, must have robust management systems in place to monitor safety critical contracts. It is unacceptable that members of the public were put at risk by Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council's failure to take proper measures to protect them.'

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5 December 2011


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