This website uses non-intrusive cookies to improve your user experience. You can visit our cookie privacy page for more information.

Let's Talk Gas Safety

Welcome to the HSE podcast.

This month we look at the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and speak to Sarah Hill from Gas Safe to talk about their latest campaign.

Oh that's absolutely crucial that consumers know who to engage to do gas work, ensuring that they're registered, that they carry an ID card and that they're registered to do the work that the customer wants them to do.

But first, here's a round up of other health and safety news.

A Chelmsford plumber who was caught carrying out illegal gas work by the BBC's Rogue Traders programme has been jailed after ignoring a previous order to stop. In 2008, HSE received a complaint about the work of Andrew John Carslake, who was trading as Aqua Plumbing. He was served with a prohibition notice warning him not to carry out any more gas work unless he registered with Corgi - now the Gas Safe Register - or unless he was supervised by another registered gas engineer. But Mr Carslake ignored the notice and carried on working, until he was caught on camera by the consumer affairs programme. The Gas Safe Register is the official list of gas engineers who are registered to work safely and legally on gas appliances and there's more on them later in this edition of podcast.

A focus on preventing major offshore incidents is leading some companies to neglect the general maintenance of their oil and gas platforms. That's the key finding of an HSE report into external corrosion management. HSE is warning that ongoing maintenance to such things as walkways, pipework and valves is vital in ensuring the day to day safety of workers, and can make all the difference in the event of a major incident.

HSE is currently undertaking a further programme to inspect external corrosion on poor performing rigs.

Meanwhile, following the Gulf of Mexico incident and the US Commission report into it, HSE will be undertaking a joint review of the UK's oil and gas safety and environmental regimes with the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. HSE is also preparing to respond to the recommendations made by the Select Committee for Energy and Climate Change in its report regarding safety arrangements offshore and will contribute these to the Government response. There will be more on this in future podcasts.

HSE still wants your views on its new online risk assessments for small, low risk shops and charity shops. In light of the Government's report into the health and safety system, HSE has devised these tools to help businesses carry out risk assessments more easily and quickly and avoid unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy.

The consultations - and the risks assessments themselves - can be found at hse.gov.uk/consult/live.htm. You've got until the 8th March to comment on the one for small shops and until 16th March to give your views on the tool specifically for charity shops.

Similar online risk assessments have also been developed for offices and classrooms.

Now the Gas Safe Register is the only official list of gas engineers legally able to perform gas work on gas appliances. It is overseen by HSE which is the regulator with responsibility for gas safety.

We caught up with Sarah Hill, from Gas Safe to talk about their latest campaign.

Sarah, you're from Gas Safe. People may remember the Gas Safe Register as CORGI - that changed a few years ago, didn't it?

That's right. Almost two years now. 1st April 2009. Obviously new focus, new brand. The brand is here to stay.

And that's quite a distinctive yellow brand, isn't it? People will now be seeing the bright yellow triangle with the black writing "Gas Safe" and that's quite distinctive, isn't it?

Yeah, it's really clear. We've had very positive feedback from engineers that it does exactly what it says on the tin.

And as well as getting it across to engineers you're also trying to get that branding across to members of the public, people who are hiring engineers to work on their gas appliances?

Oh that's absolutely crucial, that consumers know who to engage to do gas work, ensuring that they're registered, that they carry an ID card and that they're registered to do the work that the customer wants them to do.

Tell me about the card then, what does that actually do?

The card has a photograph of the engineer on it, it's an identity card it names the registered business and on the back of the card it has a list of the areas of work that that engineer's qualified to work in.

Because obviously there can be quite a range and obviously some people do some things and some people do the whole lot, don't they?

Absolutely, it would be entirely at the engineer's discretion which particular discipline they chose to focus in but it's most important that they are competent and registered in the area of work that they intend to carry out.

Because obviously carbon monoxide still remains a threat, doesn't it?

Yes it does and I think part of our work is to explain to the general public you know firstly who they should be engaging to do gas work, the tell-tale signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, how they can avoid that. An example would be if there is excessive sooting or staining around the outside of an appliance, excessive condensation or ragged yellow flame as opposed to a blue perky flame on a boiler or a gas cooker. That would raise concern so it's time to contact an engineer to say you have concerns.

So those are all sort of evidence of potential carbon monoxide being present because obviously the gas itself is colourless, it's odourless, you can't detect it yourself directly can you?

No, no you can't. It's commonly confused with "I can't smell anything, I don't have a gas leak, therefore I don't have a problem". And of course you can't see, you can't smell and you can't taste carbon monoxide.

So apart from those signs you've talked about, the condensation, the potential soot, the flames that aren't burning brightly and bluely, the ragged flames you've spoken about I'm guessing also that you would also encourage people to buy carbon monoxide detectors, wouldn't you?

I think firstly have appliances checked on an annual basis and as an excellent second line of defence an audible CO alarm I think is incredibly important, yes.

Now that's different from the little black spots that we're probably quite familiar with from the past. Those little kind of cards that people put up by their appliances, they're really not going to cut the mustard, are they?

It's not going to wake you in the middle of the night and that's what you need. You need something that's going to make a noise so you know what's happening.

What's the big campaign you're running at the moment? I understand that you're targeting over 65s. Why have you focused on that particular group?

It's important that we cover everybody but having said that we carried out some research and it seemed that the over 65 age group seemed to be less aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning so we've really focused on that particular area. We've worked quite closely with Age UK, they were really helpful in developing literature that was really aimed at that particular target audience, perhaps slightly larger font. Our campaign is based around word of mouth so at tea and coffee mornings there are often topics of discussion, why not spread the word about gas safety messages for instance.

So what kind of things are you practically doing as the campaign?

We've been going out and speaking to people and talking to them about their gas safety concerns. We've been telling them how they can avoid employing the wrong people to do gas work, some of the measures that they can make sure that they've employed someone that's registered and how they can check.

That kind of direct form of communication, getting out and meeting people and talking to them face to face it really seems to make a difference for this particular age group, doesn't it?

Yes, there's nothing like word of mouth. We've found getting into the community and talking to people in their environment, we've had really positive feedback.

So obviously you're going out to a certain number of events but I'm guessing also you want people to pass on the message once you've gone home, as it were?

Absolutely, this is a really important topic and I think if it really matters to you you do pass things on, and that's what's happening.

Now I went out earlier today and I spoke to some people on the streets of Birmingham to find out what concerns they had about gas safety, what they knew about carbon monoxide, what they knew about the Gas Safe register and we're just going to play a few clips from that.

I'm asking people if they've heard of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Oh yes.

Is that something that concerns you?

It is. I live in a flat so I'm quite happy about where I am but I do understand it kills people if things aren't properly ventilated and so forth.

We've got alarms at home. Inside the living room and up the stairs.

If you were going to get someone in to work on a boiler or a gas fire, how would you make sure they were up to scratch?

I think I would get one of these chappies who comes and checks it over properly to make sure that it's perfectly alright.

Normally they have a card or maybe a badge.

Well he would need to show me a Gas Safe label or certificate or whatever.

So, yes, he comes along every year and checks it out. And as a matter of fact I think he's due fairly soon.

Sarah, what kind of concerns are you hearing when you're out and about talking to people?

Confirmation of who to employ to do gas work. Where you find out whether someone's registered, how you check that they're registered. You can of course do those things in a variety of different ways. You can contact us by telephone, it's a freephone telephone number that we'll give out, or on the website which is www.gassaferegister.co.uk and you can check that the engineer is registered.

If someone doesn't have an engineer that they've used before they're likely to ask a friend for a recommendation, aren't they?

That's right, yes. And again, it's important to check that whoever is recommended to you is registered.

Having had a quick look at the register, you can put your postcode in, can't you? And that shows you people in your community and gives you the distance from where you are to where they work.

That's right, you could for instance if you wanted someone to work on a gas cooker for instance if you pop in your postcode and the type of work that you want carried out it would give you a number of engineers in close proximity to where you are. Or you could do it the other way, you can check, if you already have an engineer, you can check to make sure that they're registered.

If you want to check that's someone's registered. You've seen the card, what do you do? Do you take the number off the card and put it into the website?

Yes you can do that or you could give us a call and we can check that for you.

These kind of things, people can sometimes let them slip can't they? Even if someone's retired, if they're over 65, people are still busy and it can be difficult to factor these in, can't it?

Well those years whip round really quickly, I've done it myself so I think it's important to put a big circle on the calendar, to say, you know, the 12 months is up, I need to organise a service or certainly to have my appliances checked annually.

Now we've talked quite a lot about householders, people who own their own homes, are responsible for their own appliances, gas cookers, boilers, whatever. When it comes to landlords there is a legal requirement on landlords to do this, isn't there?

Yes there is. There's a requirement to make sure the appliances are checked on a twelve monthly basis. And that the tenant has a copy of the landlord's gas safety record. That will just ensure that the appliances have been checked, it will have the name of the engineer that carried out the work, and that should give the tenant some comfort that that's been done.

So what should people do if they want to find out more. You've got the website. There's quite a lot of material on that website. What kind of things have you put up there?

There are some videos, there's a variety of different ways to talk you through the process. It really is a very easy website to use. And there are some case studies there. So there's a lot of information abut CO poisoning. A myriad of different ways to make sure we really get messages out there to ensure that we're taking full advantage of the fact that we have a register in the UK.

Sarah Hill from Gas Safe, thank you very much for talking to us. That website address again is gassaferegister.co.uk and the phone number is 0800 408 55 00.

Visit the transcript for this podcast episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts for more information about the issues discussed in this interview.

If you've got anything to say on gas safety let us know at hse.gov.uk/podcasts or click on the feedback link at the bottom of any HSE web page.

Updated 2011-08-31