Pensioner suffered severe burns after gas explosion

A gas engineer whose work caused an explosion that severely injured a pensioner has been given a suspended prison sentence and curfew.

Christopher Laffin, 22, from Reston in Staveley, Cumbria, was prosecuted by the HSE at Manchester Crown Court.

The court heard that Mr Laffin, who was employed at AWL Plumbing and Heating, had damaged live electrical wires while installing a new boiler at a terraced property Brynorme Road in Crumpsall, Manchester. This caused a hole to burn through the gas pipe. Resident Peter Smith, 66, turned on the gas hob to make his lunch on
27 September 2011, when the spark from the cooker ignited gas that had built up in his house after escaping through the hole.

The pensioner was thrown to the floor in the explosion, and suffered burns to 58 per cent of his body. He was put in an induced coma in hospital to stabilise his condition, and didn’t regain consciousness until two days before Christmas.

His house was severely damaged, with walls and windows blown out and the conservatory completely destroyed. The court was told that Mr Smith was lucky to survive.

Mr Laffin had burnt the cables while using a blow torch to solder together gas pipes that ran alongside them. He wrapped plastic tape around the cables instead of repairing them, despite them being badly charred.

The investigation found electrical arcing from one of the damaged cables had burnt through the tape and gradually burnt a hole in one of the gas pipes, just under a centimetre in diameter. This was big enough to allow gas to build up in Mr Smith’s home, but he did not notice it because he has no sense of smell.

Mr Laffin pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and received a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was also given a curfew for six months, requiring him to stay at home between 6pm and 6am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work in the community. He was ordered to pay £1,000 in prosecution costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Stuart Kitchingman said: “Mr Smith suffered horrific injuries in the explosion, which will affect him for the rest of his life, but he could easily have been killed.

“Having burnt through the cables while using a blow torch, it would have been obvious to
Mr Laffin that the cables were severely damaged. He should have made sure they were properly repaired but instead he just wrapped them in tape.

“Mr Laffin clearly wasn’t competent to carry out electrical work, and he should have brought in an electrician if he didn’t know what he was doing.”

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