HVP attended a Gas Safe investigation to find out how the Register works to protect homeowners, and promote the use of registered engineers

By law, all engineers undertaking gas work in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, and Guernsey must be competent, hold up to date and appropriate qualifications, and be registered with Gas Safe Register.

Anyone carrying out gas work who is not registered with Gas Safe Register is breaking the law. This includes registered engineers working outside the scope of their qualifications, a previously registered business continuing to work without registration, and gas fitters who have never been registered.

Engineers who carry out work illegally put both themselves and the homeowner at risk. In extreme cases, unsafe gas work can lead to injury or death as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, explosion, fire or leak.

Gas Safe Register investigates around 700 cases of illegal gas work every year, of which over 62% are deemed to be unsafe, at risk or immediately dangerous, and it’s this that pushes the Register to do everything it can to prevent illegal gas work.

If illegal work is reported to the Register it is quick to attend the property and make it safe, as well as filing a report with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for prosecution purposes.

Investigations of illegal work

“The Register’s top priority is keeping the public safe from unsafe gas work,” said Barrie Edgar, head of field services for Gas Safe Register. “Once the need for an illegal investigation has been identified, we work with the customer to organise the investigation and attend the site within 10 working days wherever possible.”

Gas Safe Register’s regional investigators inspect gas installations in line with the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) regulations, industry standards and the manufacturer’s instructions. This includes checking for:

· Any damage on or around the gas appliances

· Gas escapes

· Whether the chimney/flue is compliant

· Adequate ventilation

· Safe operation of the appliance installed by the unregistered person.

If the installation is unsafe they will seek to gain the homeowner’s permission to make it safe or turn off the appliance.

Investigators do not have any enforcement powers, however, if the homeowner refuses they must produce a warning advice notice and advise the homeowner of the nature of the safety concern and the remedial action required to be taken by a suitably qualified registered engineer.

“In certain circumstances the investigator will advise the emergency service provider who has powers of entry and can enforce that the appliance or appliances are turned off and isolated from the gas supply,” explained Mr Edgar.

“However this is extremely rare as our investigators are specifically trained in liaising with customers about why an appliance may need to be turned off and the consequences of continuing to use appliances where unsafe gas work is found.”

Either way, the homeowner is given a copy of the investigator’s report, outlining the problems and all remedial action to be taken.

The Register’s remit under the HSE is to monitor gas work, not to carry out repairs to the unsafe gas work found, as this would be seen as taking work away from registered businesses.

The investigators impress upon the homeowner the importance of getting a registered engineer to complete the work, and let them know they can visit the Gas Safe Register website to find a suitably qualified local registered business.

“Over 3,000 investigations into illegal gas work have been carried out since 2009 and the number of installations we find that are unsafe is quite alarming,” said Mr Edgar. “It’s imperative we get the message across to the public about using a Gas Safe registered engineer who holds the correct qualifications for the work to be undertaken, and that they check the Gas Safe ID card. This provides evidence that the individual is registered and details the scope of gas work that they are qualified to undertake.”

If the Register identifies that an unregistered person undertook the gas work, they may have broken the law, specifically the Gas Safety Regulations and the Health and Safety at Work Act. As the Register does not hold any enforcement powers, it provides a report for the HSE and other enforcement agencies, such as Trading Standards, which they can then use to press charges.

Registered businesses

Something that always surprises me, as was the case on the investigation I attended, is that a registered engineer would be willing to sign off work for an unregistered, illegal engineer.

If a registered business signs off on unregistered gas work, they effectively take responsibility for the work that has been done, which means it is their responsibility if there are any issues.

It can also lead to sanctions from the Register and possible prosecution by the HSE.

Keeping the nation safe

Gas Safe Register is there to enforce the competencies of its engineers and keep the British public safe. Fitters who are yet to register with Gas Safe, or engineers whose registration is due for renewal, are advised to register immediately to avoid working illegally and possibly facing additional fees.

If you suspect that work has been carried out by an illegal gas fitter, you can report it anonymously via the website or by calling 0800 408 5577.