Builder fined for fumes poisoning

A BUILDER convicted of leaving a chimney blocked which led to the death of a blind woman from carbon monoxide poisoning has been fined £15,000.

Thursday, 17th May 2012, 1:00 pm

John Riva admitted failing to ensure the chimney was clear after carrying out rebuilding work at the home of a couple in Gifford, East Lothian.

Ceri Ross, 60, died in October 2009 due to the build-up of the deadly gas in the living room of her house in the village’s Walden Terrace.

Riva, 49, pleaded guilty to violating health and safety regulations at Haddington Sheriff Court and was yesterday ordered to pay the massive fine.

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Mrs Ross’ daughter, Helen, 26, told the Evening News the tragedy highlighted the importance of having carbon monoxide testers in homes heated by solid fuel such as coal.

She said: “It’s forgotten about a lot of the time. It’s a simple ten quid tester that can be set up but not everyone has one. People also need to understand that solid fuel systems can be just as dangerous as gas appliances.”

She added: “Nothing that has happened will ever take away the fact that we have lost a mum and a wife – she was the centre of our household.”

Mrs Ross and her husband, Grant, 67, hired Riva to rebuild the chimney at their home.

After carrying out the £1050 job, Riva was called back by Mr Ross because thick black smoke was filling the room when the fire was lit. Riva said he told Mrs Ross to hire a chimney sweep to clear it, but Mr Ross believed from his wife that the fire could be used again.

On October 26, 2009, the fire was burning out and Mrs Ross complained of feeling dizzy. Meanwhile, her husband and son had noticed a “sulphurous smell” in the days before.

Mr Ross left his wife, who was registered blind, in the living room between 7pm and 10pm that night, but later discovered her on the floor and said she felt “cold to the touch”.

Paramedics raced to the home and gave Mrs Ross CPR and an injection of adrenalin, but she was pronounced dead at 11.10pm. Toxicology tests later revealed Mrs Ross had a concentration of carboxyhemoglobin in her blood of 62 per cent. Levels above 60 per cent can cause coma or death.

Expert witness Michael Waumsley examined the chimney and found a “very significant blockage of building rubble”, with at least 80 per cent of the pipe blocked.

Mr Waumsley found the blockage was the primary cause of carbon monoxide build-up, adding that brickwork and mortar had most likely fallen down the chimney during repairs.

Riva, who lives in Haddington, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

HSE Inspector Gillian McLean said: “This was a tragic incident which could easily have been prevented if the accused had carried out simple tests to ensure the chimney was free from obstruction following work he had carried out.