The operations manager of an organisation that provides an emergency trade response writes in response to my earlier post Paramedics forcing entry to premises (March 25, 2014). My correspondent says:
… as a part of a business I run we deliver rapid response call outs to residential premises (Plumbing, Electrical and Locksmiths), we are often asked to attend a property where we may detect an issue with regards to the essential services to the property (Electricity or Gas) or a gas heater that is producing carbon monoxide and need to isolate supply to the property to ensure that the property is left in a safe state.
If we were to leave a detected gas leak or electrical hazard in an unsafe state and someone died as a result of this we would be open to criticism and potential litigation, so have an obligation as an appropriately qualified trade to exercise a duty of care.
However upon the attending trade communicating the risk to the owner of the property of what they have found there have been occasions that the owner of the property has told us to leave the property and has refused the right for us to isolate the problem, so we potentially are leaving the property unsafe and risking life and property.
Are you able to provide any insight as to what the obligations are of us as a trade representative in these occasions? Do we have a right to remain on the property to preserve life or property essentially exempting us from Trespass, or do we follow the instructions of the owner of the property and leave, while leaving them in a potentially life threatening situation?
Would appreciate any information / guidance you could provide us on this occasion,
You would have a defence of course if you attended the home in response to a report of a gas leak and saw the householder unconscious on the floor so you tuned the gas off before breaking in to remove them but I don’t think that’s the issue you’re asking about.
The law of plumbing is not my field, so I don’t know what arrangements or expectations plumbers and electricians have with the supply authorities but I would not be surprised if there was some obligation to disconnect an unsafe service regardless of the householder’s wishes. With respect to identifying an unsafe installation but being denied permission to fix it, subject to anything in the relevant legislation or trade licenses, you would certainly have the right to contact others if you think the premises are unsafe. The appropriate authority may be the supply authority, the council, or the emergency services eg the fire brigade if there is an obvious gas leak. The Fire Brigade would have the right to enter the premises and to ensure the gas is disconnected should that be necessary.
The issue is like the issue faced by health and ambulance services. A patient may well refuse treatment but that doesn’t mean that the paramedics don’t still have a duty to provide advice or maybe advise others (see Ambulance Service v Neal (January 29, 2009)).
However, given there will be specific rules relating to plumbing, electrical work and gas-fitting both in legislation and licensing standards, this answer can only be considered in the most general terms.