A chain of dry cleaners in Bedford has been prosecuted by the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) for exposing workers’ and members of the public to toxic carbon monoxide emissions from a poorly maintained gas boiler.

The gas-fired steam boiler within the premises of Kempston Cleaners was described as a ‘disgrace’ by the HSE following a visit from inspectors on 1 July 2011. The boiler was found to be severely corroded, the flue was damaged and several burners were no longer functioning.

The occupier failed to prove that the boiler was not leaking carbon monoxide into areas occupied by workers and members of the public, and the HSE’s subsequent investigation found that the company did not have a proper system in place to get the boiler regularly serviced.

Kempston Cleaners were prosecuted by the HSE at Bedford Magistrates' Court. The company admitted breaching Regulation 5 (1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations for which it was fined £4,000 and Regulation 8 of the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations for which it was fined £2,000. The company was also ordered to pay £1,146.50 in costs.

HSE Inspector Stephen Faulkner said: “It was clear the owner of this company had completely disregarded the welfare of his workforce in not bothering to ensure that the steam boiler was properly maintained. The condition in which I found boiler, the most hazardous piece of equipment on the premises, was a disgrace.

“As always, HSE will not hesitate to take action if we find poor practice putting lives at risk.”

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless and tasteless poisonous gas that can be found in any home or workplace where a defective gas appliance is in operation.

According to figures released by the Department of Health around 4000 people attend A&E every year with carbon monoxide poisoning, 200 people are hospitalised for treatment and around 50 people die as a result of the toxic gas.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be easily confused with the flu or food poisoning as symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, tiredness and shortness of breath. The longer carbon monoxide gas is inhaled the worse the symptoms will become, and high levels of carbon monoxide or over prolonged periods of time can prove fatal.

Gerard Stilliard a solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors’ Serious Injuries Team said: “Carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous and the maintenance of gas appliances should not be overlooked in any home or workplace. Many people are exposed unknowingly to toxic inhalations of this gas, which can lead to ill health over a prolonged period of time.”