Whistleblower leaks fears over gas safety

FEARs about gas safety in properties managed by Scottish Borders Housing Association (SBHA) have been raised following two incidents reported during the last month.

The Selkirk-based social landlord confirmed it received two enquiries, and a source within SBHA described to us the nature of the two incidents, arguing both potentially put tenants’ lives at risk.

In one incident, which occurred in Caddon Court, Innerleithen, on November 29, a gas fitter discovered DIY pipework on a gas main entering an SBHA property. It was initially thought the tampered pipe was supplying other flats, though that later proved not to be the case.

“[The gas fitter] immediately informed head office, but nothing was done,” claimed our source. “This should have been reported to the National Grid. The minute someone said ‘I suspect someone’s tapping the gas mains’, they should have had a taskforce in there to find out what’s going on. But they did nothing.”

Our source claims it took SBHA 12 days to check if the DIY gas pipe was safe: “Anything that poses a danger, a foreman should be there within two hours.

“They didn’t understand how serious it was. There are young families in Caddon Court – around 20 houses. The pipe might have held, but who knows? Anything could have happened at any time. It’s the tenants who come first, and their safety. [SBHA] have a duty of care to their tenants, and their employees. They need to review their procedures.”

But SBHA denies it delayed, telling us: “The investigation began on the day the report was received.”

Director of technical services, Alan Vass, told us last week: “[It] was identified by a member of staff at a routine safety check of an empty home and has been referred to Scotland Gas Networks. Actions to be taken will be confirmed once their conclusions are received.”

After we requested an update this week, SBHA support services planner Debby Gillett told us: “Assurance has now been given by Scotland Gas Networks that there are no safety concerns in relation to the pipework or meters located at the empty home and that no further action needs to be taken.”

In another incident, which occurred in Larchbank Street, Galashiels, earlier in November, it is claimed an SBHA foreman asked a gas plumber to move an internal gas meter to make way for kitchen units. The SBHA gas plumber refused to alter the meter on the grounds he was unqualified to do so, and it was illegal.
Our source told us: “It is against the law. You need a special ticket to work on the mains side from Scottish Gas. If you’re without a ticket, you can’t touch it. Nobody is qualified in SBHA to do it.”

Despite this, the source claims the foreman then asked another, younger, SBHA gas plumber, who was also unqualified, to alter the meter, but feeling under pressure, they did so reluctantly.

When TheSouthern described the incident to Gas Safe, the UK body of registered gas engineers, a spokesperson expressed concern about pressure being exerted in the workplace.

They said: “If [the altered meter] had killed someone, it would have been the gas plumber’s responsibility, not the foreman’s. They certainly need to review what’s going on there.”

According to our source, SBHA management were informed of the incident weeks before they interviewed the men involved on December 10, and didn’t send a qualified professional to check the alteration was safe until December 14.

“Anything like gas, you should be right onto it – it can kill you,” our source said. “It’s in our policy – we have to attend in two hours. This incident could have killed someone. It put the workers at risk and the tenants at risk. It shows a lack of care. In our disciplinary proceedures, any breaches in health and safety is gross misconduct.”

Gas Safe agreed, saying: “The landlord should investigate straight away. If they do not, they are going against their legal obligation, and duty, to keep tenants safe.”

But SBHA denied any delay in its response.

“The report was received outwith working hours, the investigation began the next working day,” a spokesperson told us.

Mr Vass confirmed: “The issue was raised by an SBHA employee and is under review. Initial independent checks have confirmed that there are no concerns regarding safety of the gas supply in the home. We are reviewing the circumstances and will take appropriate action as required.”

TheSouthern understands the investigation is still ongoing.

Mr Vass added: “SBHA has in place clear procedures and standards for ensuring that gas appliances are safely installed and maintained. Both are unusual incidents and we wish to reassure all SBHA tenants that our servicing and maintenance routines for gas safety continue to be regularly reviewed, tested and audited.”