By Daniel Hunter

Over half a million (20%) small businesses in Britain are putting their operations at risk because they are unaware of their legal requirements to carry out gas safety checks, according to research out today (Monday) from British Gas.

These checks are a legal requirement for employers under the Health & Safety at Work Act and can be a confusing area for businesses as many think their landlord has sole responsibility for this.

Another reason for this compliance confusion may be because many struggle to find the time. Thirty four per cent said they have found it hard to devote enough time to fully understand the relevant safety requirements.

Failing to comply can leave businesses open to prosecution and could be putting employees and operations at risk. Employment law states that employers must arrange for the regular routine inspection of any gas appliances (recommended yearly) by suitably qualified people. It’s also a requirement for businesses to be inspected by their local councils at regular intervals. If businesses fail to have their gas appliances checked this could result in their Public Liability Insurance becoming void.

Yet the research found that nearly half (44%) of respondents sometimes find information on compliance and safety regulations confusing. Additionally, 31% would welcome more guidance on the safety requirements their business has to comply with.

“For businesses, their main priority in the current climate is to ensure the smooth running of their organisation," Liz Robinson, British Gas engineer, said.

"This means that other issues, such as checking whether they have a safe boiler, can fall by the wayside.

“Regular safety checks on all gas appliances are required by law, but having a working boiler is imperative from a safety perspective too. A safe boiler also reduces the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Because carbon monoxide has no taste, smell or colour, businesses should also ensure they fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm.”

While over one million SMEs aren’t aware of the health and safety checks required of them, there is a wider problem of businesses not having a backup plan in place, especially important in the run up to winter when breakdowns are more common.

In the event of something going wrong with their boiler or heating systems, 50% of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) said that they’d opt to deal with a breakdown as and when one were to occur, as opposed to having a back-up plan in place. Yet only one third of businesses (33%) actually have one of these plans in place.

Despite the lack of back-up plan, businesses are acutely aware of the wide-ranging implications that problems with their boiler or gas appliances would have on their business. Over 1.3million SMEs (51%) said that a breakdown would affect their business.

One business that has experienced the effects of an emergency breakdown is the Otter and Fish restaurant in Darlington. Owner Richard Weeks said:
“We suffered a boiler break down in October, which was caused by a faulty memory card. It was a real inconvenience as it meant we were without central heating for two weeks and had to rely on our emergency emersion heater for hot water.

“Before the breakdown we didn’t realise the hassle a broker boiler would cause us, or the loss of time and money. Since the breakdown, we make sure we carry out regular checks on our boiler and we now have a care plan to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Like everything in life you tend to take things for granted — but we won’t be doing that with our boiler again!”

Liz Robinson’s top tips

“Last year, British Gas attended over 22,000 emergency callouts to businesses suffering from boiler breakdowns and gas appliance issues. December tends to be the busiest month for businesses incurring boiler issues and many break down during this period, because they struggle to cope with the sudden high level of use when they’ve been dormant for so long. Businesses can avoid running into these problems by checking their boiler regularly, just for a couple of minutes every few weeks, to make sure everything is ticking over - exactly like you would a car if it hasn’t been used it in a while.

“British Gas is on hand to offer businesses advice and guidance on everything from breakdowns and maintenance, to compliance and energy management. We want to remove the hassle for businesses and make life as easy as possible which is why we’ll remind you when you’re checks are due and will keep your documents online for you. From emergency repair services to full breakdown cover, we have a range of options that will suit all businesses. ”

Here are some simple top tips to avoid putting your business operations at risk this winter:

1. Ensure you are aware of when you need your heating system needs to come on and go off, based on the occupancy of your business and your heating requirements. Set your timer appropriately; don't leave it running for longer than necessary. If you have a room thermostat, make sure it's set to the right temperature.
2. Have a maintenance contract with a good response rate in place. This ensures that you are keeping up with your safety obligations and you have a solution in the event of an emergency.
3. Get the most out of your heating system by having it power flushed and protected with an inhibitor.
4. Ensure your business is adequately insulated, including exposed pipework and tanks that may be susceptible to freezing.
5. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm installed.

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