The downstream gas sector covers activities relating to the supply, installation, maintenance and decommissioning of natural gas systems. This includes gas fittings, appliances and flues in both domestic and commercial premises.
The work activities of this sector have the potential to affect a wide range of people, from those installing, servicing, maintaining or repairing gas appliances and other gas fittings, to suppliers and users of gas, such as landlords and their tenants.
Landlords have a legal duty to ensure the safety of gas appliances, pipework and flues in the properties they let through inspection and maintenance, although some fail to do so. Ensuring that landlords are aware of their gas safety responsibilities and act appropriately is essential to reduce incidents.
There is no single body that represents the many groups within this sector. Stakeholders range from large dutyholders and trade associations to appliance retailers, charity groups and professional bodies. Each of these has a different role (both actual and potential) in helping to drive forward improvements in this sector.
Architects, designers and builders can also have a significant impact on gas safety. If gas safety principles are understood, then they may be designed and built into properties at an early stage, reducing the potential for issues (such as concealed flues) to arise in the future. Sector Skills Councils, colleges and training providers for trades associated with gas work have a key role to play in ensuring there is an understanding of the interface between gas safety and building design.
Risks to workers mainly arise from hazards associated with installation and maintenance work. However the key focus of this sector strategy is protecting gas consumers, including tenants of domestic properties, who may be directly affected by acts / omissions of engineers and / or landlords. Incidents can put members of the public at risk from carbon monoxide exposure, fire / explosion, or asphyxia. The consequences of a single incident often have significant impact and attract much media, public and political concern.
The Department of Health has the lead for long-term health issues associated with low-level exposure to CO and has conducted research on the symptoms with the aim of improving awareness by health professionals.
A decrease in the numbers of large gas industry organisations has brought a subsequent loss of apprenticeship schemes, which has the potential to impact on competency levels and associated lack of ownership / responsibility for ensuring safety.
Recent prosecutions have shown that some operating in this sector are prepared to breach regulations by undertaking gas work while not on the statutory register and without the necessary competency. There are also instances of registered engineers operating outside the scope of their competency, with the potential to result in incidents affecting members of the public.
Another priority for securing gas safety is ensuring that consumers have suitable information to be aware of gas-related and CO risks and how to protect themselves. It is important that consumer-facing organisations (such as appliance retailers) are engaged in delivering key messages on gas safety, especially to less-aware groups such as students and the elderly.
Legislation places specific duties on those who install, maintain and use gas systems, including engineers, consumers and landlords. Primarily this is through the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and Gas Appliances (Safety) Regulations. These regulations do not extend to certain premises such as mines, factories and agricultural properties.
Enforcement of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations (GSIUR) falls to the general enforcing authority, eg local authorities covering work in commercial premises such as restaurants and shops and HSE covering manufacturing, nursing homes and domestic / residential premises. HSE does not undertake proactive inspection of domestic premises.
The UK Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and Local Authority Trading Standards Departments have primary regulatory responsibility for product safety in domestic gas appliances under the Gas Appliances (Safety) Regulations. These regulations are derived from the European Gas Appliances Directive and enforced by BIS, through Trading Standards Departments. The requirements of the Directive are also applicable to commercial appliances for which HSE is the enforcing authority through GASR.
The Gas Safe Register, operated by Capita Gas Registration and Ancillary Services Ltd (CGRAS) under a Service Concession Agreement with HSE, is the statutory registration scheme for the industry. It undertakes inspections of work carried out by engineers and has the power to apply sanctions if it discovers any defects.
All engineers have to be registered with Gas Safe to legally undertake gas work in Great Britain. HSE is responsible for monitoring CGRAS's delivery of this service and for providing advice to other government departments on matters regarding work-related gas safety.
Gas Safe Register has the remit for raising consumer awareness of gas safety risks and for facilitating the provision of technical advice and guidance to engineers to raise standards.
Increasing the awareness of consumers to understand gas-related risks and the actions they need to take to protect themselves remains a priority for this sector.
All gas engineers are required to demonstrate their ongoing competence to undertake gas work by completing Accredited Certification Scheme (ACS) assessments every 5 years. Successful completion is a prerequisite for achieving / maintaining registration with Gas Safe Register.
Effective regulation of this industry through reactive enforcement is important to deter negligence and unsafe gas work. An appreciation of wider issues such as the effects of emerging technologies is also necessary to effectively manage new, associated risks.
Appliances are becoming more complex as they evolve to meet energy conservation demands, increasing the levels of skill required for safe installation and maintenance. As well as providing information to consumers and engineers, manufacturers and suppliers are challenged to build safety into their appliances to alleviate the reliance on specialist skills.
Consumers, gas engineers and landlords have sufficient knowledge, skill, competency and awareness of gas safety risks and carbon monoxide dangers in order to take appropriate action to protect themselves and others who may be affected by their actions.
To take account of wider issues that may impact on domestic gas safety and act to influence these at an early stage.