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Health & Safety compliance in rented homes

publication date: Oct 19, 2007
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A New Regime for Domestic Gas Safety 07/06/2007

In March 2007, Health and Safety Minister Lord McKenzie announced a new scheme to improve domestic gas safety. The announcement came after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) appointed consultants to undertake a review of the gas safety regime arising from the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. The review concluded that public awareness about the risks of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from gas appliances is unacceptably low.

Extent of the CO hazard

Initial findings from work undertaken into the extent of the CO hazard by University College London indicates that 23% of homes had one or more defective gas appliances; 8% of homes were judged to be at risk of dangerous CO levels; 45% of homes had received no information on the dangers of CO; and a higher prevalence of problem appliances was found in the homes of vulnerable people (young, old, those in receipt of benefits). Further details of this work can be found on the HSE website.

The new regime

The new regime will be overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and delivered by industry via a reformed gas installer registration scheme. A single provider will be appointed to run this new scheme, which will be responsible for driving and coordinating industry action to raise public awareness of gas safety; provide new incentives to registration (such as simplifying the registration process); and possibly have new limited enforcement work.

Benefits for gas consumers

Continuing improvements in standards of gas installation work. Improvements in gas consumer safety generally through improved information on the risks from gas and advice on the practical actions needed to stay safe. Reduced risk from illegal gas registration work through new industry action to tackle the problem. Further information can be found on the HSE website.

HSE issues Safety Alert on scalding risk from domestic hot water systems

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a safety alert aimed at homeowners, tenants, landlords and the plumbing industry following two strikingly similar fatal incidents in the last four years where a large volume of near boiling water poured through bedroom ceilings onto occupants sleeping below.

The purpose of the alert is to raise awareness of a rare but potentially serious scalding risk from domestic hot water systems which include a fixed all-electric or part-electric immersion heater in conjunction with a plastic cold water storage cistern or ‘tank’ located in the roof space.

Homeowners and landlords should pay particular consideration to those systems over ten years old, or where they may have concerns over the quality of the installation or repair work carried out. An overheating immersion cylinder will normally show warning signs so serious incidents are likely to be extremely rare. There are also a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the risk:

● Occupants should be aware of warning signs (such as excessive noise from the hot water cylinder) indicating possible thermostat failure and overheating of the water in the cylinder;
● Storage cisterns should be installed on an adequate supporting base. The incidents that prompted this alert occurred primarily because the plastic storage cisterns were not supported across their entire area. In other words, the base of the cistern protruded over the edge of the base support board. (See the alert for further information.)
● A safety cut-out feature, independent of the immersion heater thermostat, can be fitted to limit the temperature of the stored water, should the thermostat fail.

The risk is greatest when cisterns are located above bedrooms. This is most likely in houses built between 1945 and 1975. Often these homes have, or used to have, a back boiler. If the cylinder is located in a bedroom it is probable that the cistern may be directly above it. Whenever a galvanised (metal) cistern is replaced by a plastic one, the thermostat to the immersion heater should be examined and preferably replaced by one with a safety cut-out.

Specific information on British Standards for domestic cisterns and advice on warning signs, such as excessive noise coming from the hot water system, are included in the alert. It can be found on the HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/services/localgovernment/alert.htm

Notes

1. A 30-year old woman died on 30 May 2002 after an incident on 10 June 2002 in Penzance, Cornwall. An HSE investigation took place as the incident occurred in housing association managed property. A coroner’s inquest was held 1/2 July 2003 - Verdict: accidental death. HSE decided not to take any formal enforcement action.

2. A ten month-old baby died on 12 December 2006 after an incident on 19 November 2006 in Taunton, Somerset. The HSE investigation is ongoing as the incident occurred in local authority managed housing stock. As a result of the investigation HSE served an Improvement Notice on Taunton Deane Borough Council. The Notice requires the Council to undertake action in relation to hot water systems at other similar council properties to verify that they comply with the relevant safety standards. The Council has been co-operating with HSE at all stages of its investigation and the Improvement Notice builds on some of the Council’s own proposals for improvement.



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