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Domestic Heating Engineers

Volume 483: debated on Monday 24 November 2008

2. What steps the Health and Safety Executive takes to ensure that workers in the installation and maintenance of domestic heating systems are fully qualified. (237963)

Gas safety law requires work in domestic premises to be performed only by competent people. The law also requires installers to register with the HSE-approved body, CORGI. That includes demonstrating that employees are approved in the correct way. Self-employed installers must also fulfil those requirements. The HSE enforces the law.

My hon. Friend will know that three of my constituents, including a little boy of 10, Dominic Rodgers, were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. Many of us in this House are part of a campaign to make sure that such a thing never happens again. CORGI is to end as a brand, and as a trainer, and Capita will take over, so it is a sensitive time for the gas industry and its safety. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the transition will be smooth, and that in April we will have a better product than we do now?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and I am aware of the campaign that he has been involved with in his constituency relating to the Dominic Rodgers Trust. There has been a reduction in the number of fatalities due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and we continue the work of raising awareness. He is right to point out that the transition arrangements for the new contract awarded by the HSE will include further awareness-raising, and will allow a smooth transition to ensure that customers and installers are aware of the new requirements under the contract.

CORGI estimates that as many as 20,000 people are working illegally with gas in the UK. What more can the Government do to ensure that the public are aware of the dangers of employing unqualified workers?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. He is right: about 10 per cent. of installations are still carried out by people who are not registered with CORGI, and more needs to be done on that. As part of the arrangements for the new contract with Capita, that body will donate about £1.7 million to a charity. My noble Friend Lord McKenzie is asking other energy providers to put in resources, too. That fund will be used further to raise awareness. The more we do to raise awareness, the greater the reduction in the number of fatalities will be.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that engineers who install heating systems are well aware of some of the toxic substances that surround heating systems, such as asbestos? Will he make sure that people get the proper equipment when working with that toxic substance, which causes disease, as there are long-term cancerous effects from working with it?

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the necessity for people receiving installations to ensure that the fitter is reputable and properly registered, and to workers’ health and safety, and I am grateful for his comments.

In 2005, two young people died in my constituency of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of inadequately attended gas installations. Two pensioners died a year ago in my constituency for the same reason, and, 10 days ago, another pensioner died of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, and his wife was lucky to survive. Will my hon. Friend do everything that he can to promote the use of carbon monoxide monitors to complement the work that he talks about, perhaps by ensuring, for example, that every time a house is sold, the home information pack requires there to be a carbon monoxide monitor in the house?

As I said in answer to an earlier question, under the new arrangements, the operator, Capita, will put in substantial sums of money, and we want there to be further amounts of money to raise awareness, so that people know that the installation of their gas central heating system, which is the predominant heating source in this country, will be undertaken by an appropriately qualified installer. I shall pass on my hon. Friend’s comments about monitors to my noble Friend Lord McKenzie as he works with the industry to ensure that the number of deaths continues to fall.