Building firm in court over carbon monoxide risk to pregnant woman

A building firm has been fined after an eight-and-half-month pregnant woman and her husband showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning at their home in Kirkby.

Topflite (North West) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that the flue for a gas fire had been blocked by rubble during a loft conversion in a neighbouring semi-detached property on Lauder Close.

Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard that the building work had been carried out by the company, which trades at Topflite Loft Conversions, in the summer of 2013. A few months later, on 31 October 2013, the woman, who does not want to be named, turned on the gas fire in her lounge for the first time that winter.

She spent most of the afternoon and evening in the lounge with her friend, who was also pregnant, and later her husband. The couple went to bed at 11pm but overnight the woman was vomiting and had flu-like symptoms.

She spent the following day in bed and her husband also felt nauseous all day. They suspected they may have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and contacted a Gas Safe registered company.

The firm found that the flue in the cavity wall between the two properties, which allowed fumes to escape through a vent on the roof, had become blocked by rubble. The company therefore issued a warning notice preventing the use of the fire, and the homeowner alerted HSE.

When an inspector visited the neighbouring property, she found that a steel beam installed in the loft had broken through the flue and caused it to become blocked.

Topflite (North West) Ltd, of Steeley Lane in Chorley, was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £1,276 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 26 February 2015.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Jacqueline Western said:

“A pregnant woman and her husband were put at risk of suffering carbon monoxide poisoning because Topflite allowed a flue to become blocked while carrying out a loft conversion in a neighbouring house.

“It’s vital that builders carefully consider the risks of any work they do in people’s homes, and that includes the impact it could have on attached properties. The work should have been properly planned so that the new steel beam could be installed without affecting the flue.

“Building firms have a legal duty to ensure the lives of both their workers and people affected by their work are not put at risk as a result of their actions. Topflite failed to meet that requirement and found itself in court as a result.”

More information on health and safety in the building industry is available at HSE Health and Safety in the Building Industry