Moonlighting gas engineer left kitchens unsafe

A domestic gas engineer has been sentenced to 90 hours community payback after carrying out work on commercial catering premises that he was not competent to do.

James Richard Harvey Skinner, 43, from Portlethen, Aberdeenshire, was employed by a gas company but, unknown to them, he did private gas fitting work in commercial takeaways and restaurants as an unregistered gas engineer.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard yesterday that Skinner issued Gas Safety records on the wrong forms using a Gas Safe registration number that he fraudulently claimed was his own, which turned out to belong to a former employer.

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His activities were investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after complaints from Gas Safe Register and Aberdeenshire Council. It emerged that he undertook gas safety inspection and installation work at Indian takeaways in Stonehaven and Portlethen in 2010.

A Gas Safe engineer visited two takeaways and found a number of safety issues that a gas engineer with catering competence should have identified including an open-ended gas pipe that was left uncapped.

HSE said this could have caused a significant build-up of gas and a subsequent explosion had the isolation valve been turned by mistake and the gas ignited. An immediate Prohibition Notice was issued halting use of the relevant gas appliances until they were made safe.

The court heard that although Skinner did not necessarily create the risks in the premises, he failed to ensure that they were identified and remedied.

A similar investigation at another take-away found incorrect fitting of a tandoori oven and no ‘interlocking’ of the extraction system, meaning gas could have been turned on without the extractor operating, which could have led to a build-up of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels, putting workers at risk of poisoning. Once again an immediate Prohibition Notice was served on the premises.

The court was told that when Skinner was interviewed, he initially suggested that he had been impersonated, though he later accepted he had undertaken work at the premises.

He was sentenced to a 90 hour community payback order, a direct alternative to a custodial sentence, after pleading guilty to four breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and also to a breach of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

After sentencing, HSE inspector John Radcliffe said: “In carrying out this commercial work while not registered and competent to do so, Mr Skinner put those working in these premises, those living and working nearby and customers visiting them at risk.

“Any business or sole trader who carries out work on any commercial gas appliances without being on the Gas Safe Register is breaking the law and potentially putting lives in danger.

“Despite Mr Skinner being a competent domestic gas engineer, who at the time was employed by a well known company, he did not have current commercial catering qualification/competencies and as a result was operating illegally.

“By knowingly using the registration number of another business, Mr Skinner compounded the severity of his actions by giving his clients a sense of security and safety that was entirely false.”

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