Jumping jack flash, it’s a (blog about) gas!

The safety of our homes has been highlighted a number of times in recent months and years, with fire safety problems being identified in tower blocks and a wide range of health and safety issues being identified in the private rented sector.  Gas safety has also come
under scrutiny with the reporting of a number of deaths being caused by poor gas installations leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

However, looking over a longer period of time, gas safety is an example of good regulation and there have been significant reductions in the number of life-threatening incidents.

A new report on carbon monoxide trends from the Gas Safety Trust analyses information obtained from the CO incident database for the lengthy period from 1996 to 2010.  Fatalities have reduced from 21 in 1996/97 to 4 in 2009/10 and non-fatal injuries have reduced from 142 to 115 in the same period.

This is a success story.  But even so 4 deaths is 4 too many.  The report outlines a number of areas where further improvements could be made.  First, the highest risk group is those over 70 years of age, who are 5 times as likely to die as a result of a CO incident as others.  Secondly, although the risk faced by private tenants has reduced substantially over the period, it is still 50% greater than that faced by either owner occupiers or social tenants.  Thirdly, the proportion of incidents involving older central heating boilers (over 20 years old) has been rising steadily and is now around half of all incidents.

The report sets out a clear agenda to be followed.  Elderly gas users and those with older
systems should be considered for concessionary measures to help them (occupiers or landlords) to replace and/or maintain their gas appliances.  Mandatory annual safety checks and certification on appliances has plainly been hugely important in improving the record of the private rented sector, but the report recommends that the next target should be a requirement not just for an annual check but for annual servicing.  The report also recommends that more should be done to prevent unregistered operatives from undertaking gas work as ‘the number that have been cited by incident investigators remains stubbornly high’.

Effective regulation, setting high standards and rigorously enforcing them, has achieved
a huge amount in this field in the last 15 years.  It is an excellent example to use to rebut
those who constantly complain about ‘health and safety’ and ‘red tape’ being too burdensome.  It is also an excellent model to use in tackling other serious hazards in the home.

The report concludes that the ‘industry’s continued efforts and vigilance in promoting best practice and safe gas usage in the domestic sector should therefore be rigorously maintained.’  Indeed, but there may also be a need for further action by government to
finally crack the remaining issues.

(with apologies to the Rolling Stones)

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