The Health and safety Executive (HSE) has prosecuted National Grid Gas PLC for failings that resulted in a gas leak in a Halesowen home.

On 20 October 2010 engineers were replacing a gas supply to a property in Hunnington, Halesowen when they inadvertently drilled through a plastic main contained within an iron main. The plastic main should have been detailed on the engineer’s records, but the records had not been updated.

Gas leaked into a property around 150 metres from the site of work, and the alarm was raised when a member of the public reported the smell of gas. High levels of gas were identified within the property and the leak was finally made safe in the early hours of the following morning.

The HSE told Dudley Magistrates’ Court that National Grid had known about the plastic main since 2006, but they had failed to update their records to show the existence of the main. National Grid pleaded guilty to breaching Section (3)1 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, they were fined £17,500 and order to pay £8,192 in costs.

Enough gas escaped to result in an explosion had it been ignited

HSE inspector Francine Cheney said: “The company had procedures in place to allow for records to be corrected, but then failed to follow them.

“The risk to members of the public was extremely high, which underlines the importance of operators having accurate pipeline records. The hole that had been drilled was three quarters of an inch wide, and allowed more than half a tonne of gas to escape - enough to result in an explosion had it been ignited. It was extremely fortunate the owners were away at the time.”

Laura Storer, a solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors’ Serious Injuries Team said: “National Grid’s failure to update a simple record placed the residents of this street and the engineers’ lives in danger. The outcome could have been very different if the smell of gas had gone unreported and the financial consequences for the company in that instance would have been far greater than an HSE fine. The need for effective record keeping should never be overlooked, particularly in such a dangerous industry.”

Gas Leaks

Leaking gas can be extremely dangerous as it is highly combustible, and if accidentally ignited it can cause a fire or explosion. Common injuries can include serious burns, fractures and even fatalities.

Gas is naturally odourless and colourless, so to aid detection gas companies add an odour to give it a distinctive smell.

Badly fitted or poorly maintained gas appliances such as boilers can produce a poisonous gas called carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide can leak into your home or workplace without warning, as it cannot be seen, tasted or smelled.

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are similar to those of the flu, and can include headaches, dizziness, nausea and breathlessness. In serious cases carbon monoxide poisoning can have fatal consequences.