Glasgow & West Scotland

Morris and Spottiswood fined £60,000 for safety breach

A building services firm has been fined £60,000 over health and safety breaches which exposed a family to toxic fumes.

Morris and Spottiswood was commissioned by Glasgow Housing Association to carry out work on Lorna MacDonald's flat in the city's Drumchapel area.

When she had her gas fire checked after her son experienced headaches, it was found the chimney had been removed.

Morris and Spottiswood admitted health and safety breaches which exposed Ms MacDonald's family to carbon monoxide.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard how the firm had tendered to Glasgow Housing Association to carry out renovation work on the block of flats, where there was a mix of owner-occupiers and tenants.

Inadequate direction

The project, which started in September 2008, included the removal of redundant chimneys to reduce future maintenance costs.

Morris and Spottiswood sub-contracted the work to remove the chimneys, but had failed to provide sufficient direction and supervision to the sub-contractor.

Ms MacDonald's family had been living in the flat since 2006 and the gas fire was in place in the house when they purchased it.

They knew work was being carried out on their home but had no idea the chimney was being taken away.

The court was told that the flat was visited at various times in early 2009 by a Morris and Spottiswood site foreman, a client-tenant liaison officer and a gas engineer to check the appliances when Ms MacDonald's partner, Colin Morrison, was in.

Mr Morrison said he was told that the chimney was not to be removed.

The foreman had recorded that there was an electric fire in the property, when in fact it was a gas fire that was in the living room, which required the chimney for a flue.

Self-employed roofer and builder Thomas Smith carried out the work was under the supervision and direction of the company.

The court was also told that the gas fire was further compromised by the debris that had fallen down the chimney while the work was carried out as well as the chimney being capped.

Family risk

This combination of circumstances resulted in the carbon monoxide which would have been produced any time that the gas fire was used, spilling back into the living room which could have been fatal at high or prolonged exposure.

Following the case, Ms MacDonald said: "My son was getting headaches and Colin said 'I'm going to get someone to look at that fire because that's happening too often'.

"When it was checked we were told we didn't have a chimney. I could have come home from work to find my family had been killed.

"I was angry when I found out. We were all at risk."

The friend who was a Gas Safe engineer reported the incident to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who then contacted Ms MacDonald.

She added: "They collapsed the chimney into itself. I had a newborn baby in here and had to get up and sweep up the rubble every morning.

"They refused to do anything about it for over a year."

Following the case, HSE Inspector Helen Diamond, said: "This was, for the family, a potentially fatal combination of circumstances. But thankfully it appears they did not suffer a high degree of exposure.

"It was Morris and Spottiswood Ltd's decision to remove the chimney at this property, based on checks made by a site supervisor who had no specific trade.

"A young family was needlessly put at risk because the company fell considerably short in its duties as principal contractor.

"It failed to ensure a competent person was employed to determine whether properties had a gas or electric fire and then failed to provide sufficient information, instruction, training and supervision to the sub-contractor."

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