This year's Gas Safety Management Conference has called for an increased awareness by senior management in social housing of their corporate manslaughter responsibilities, as well as more robust procedures and policies for the maintenance and audit of gas appliances.
At the conference 180 gas managers, who are collectively responsible for 1.5 million homes across the UK, heard from a line-up of top industry speakers.
Organised by CORGI Technical Services, the conference also brought together members of the Association of Gas Safety Managers and the Inter Authority Gas Forums.
Keynote speaker David Kidney, who is chair of the Carbon Monoxide All Fuels Action Forum and a former MP and DECC Minister, said: "Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a dangerous, silent threat. The response of all in social housing must be to be smart, effective and united. We need to raise awareness with both tenants and staff to help change behaviour. Gas safety regulation needs to be extended to ensure that CO deaths and injuries are stopped."
Chris Bielby MBE, the first President of the Association of Gas Safety Managers, went further: "I believe that CO alarms should be mandatory for all properties that are the responsibility of Housing Associations," he said. "Maintenance of gas appliances by qualified engineers is the key and the correct policies and procedures must be in place to ensure they are properly maintained and audited. CO alarms are also crucial – there is much more that can be done to raise awareness of the dangers."
Bielby was joined by Stacey Rodgers of the Dominic Rodgers Trust, who gave a very moving account of her tragic experience 10 years ago when her 10 year-old son died of CO poisoning from a leak from a downstairs flat. She is now a passionate campaigner raising awareness of the need for installing CO alarms.
The important issue of corporate manslaughter was addressed by Sally Roff of DAC Beachcroft, who has been involved with the preparation of responses to the Corporate Manslaughter Bill.
"Knowledge and awareness of responsibilities at a senior level within social housing are key," she said. "It is not a defence to say that you didn't know about what is happening in your organisation or that you didn't know of your responsibilities. A court would presume you have that level of knowledge. Only three companies have ever been convicted of Corporate Manslaughter, but one judge has made it quite clear that any company that was convicted would have the level of fine set at such a height that is would ensure the company went out of business."
During the inaugural National Inter-Authority Gas Forum session, Kevin Winship, technical safety manager for CORGI Technical Services, drew delegates' attention to a specific issue that was creating concern – the responsibility of landlords for fires and cookers within properties, including those belonging to tenants. "Landlords have duties on any appliance that the tenant cannot legally remove as well as any that has been left by a departing tenant," he said. "Unsafe equipment needs to be rectified or removed before a new tenancy starts. Putting in place best practice processes, having a thorough understanding of the regulations and ensuring maintenance procedures are carried out correctly will mitigate the risks that could be encountered."
Claire Heyes, Joint chief executive officer of CORGI Technical Services, addressed the key role gas managers play in delivering safe gas work to social housing tenants and organisations. "Having the correct gas-safe policies and procedures in place, in particular through regular maintenance, inspection and an increased awareness of the issues through regular updates and training, will increase safety in all areas within social housing," she said.
"Gas managers are skilled, knowledgeable, committed and responsible people," she continued. "We set up this conference to help develop the profession, allow managers to discuss topical issues, share thoughts and experiences and to determine the actions to be taken forward as an industry. We are delighted with the response – there was a real buzz to the Conference and an enormous appetite from all involved to build on this for the future."