A recent case serves as a warning to property owners of the importance of the regular maintenance of gas appliances.
Paul Lee, who was the landlord of the Aintree Hotel in Bootle, was found unconscious by a cleaner, on 12 November 2007, after a gas fire had leaked carbon monoxide. He died the following day after suffering a heart attack on the way to the hospital due to a lack of oxygen. He had worked at the pub for less than a month.
The owner of the hotel, Enterprise Inns plc, which is a major pub chain, was subsequently investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The investigation found that the gas fire may not have been serviced since 1979 and the chimney was completely blocked. The investigating inspector at HSE found that the company had failed to ensure regular gas safety checks were carried out at more than 400 of its properties, which he described as ‘shocking’.
Enterprise, which owns approximately 7,700 pubs across the UK and has an annual turnover of £818 million, admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was prosecuted and fined £300,000 by Liverpool Crown Court and ordered to pay a further £19,000 towards the cost of the prosecution. The Court heard that Enterprise should have ensured that gas safety inspections were carried out at 868 of its pubs at least every 12 months, but only 394 of these had a valid certificate. The gas heater that killed Mr Lee should have been checked prior to his taking over the tenancy.
It emerged that this was not the first time Enterprise had come to the attention of the HSE. In 2001, the company had received a written warning following a fire at one of its properties in Birmingham. This had highlighted a systematic failure to implement annual gas safety checks.