Blinding in explosion: gas repair man fined

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A GAS engineer has been fined after his blunder caused a “glass bomb” to erupt in a Scarborough living room, permanently blinding a father in one eye.

Peter Cox, 37, of North Lane, Cayton, will live with the consequences of the mistake made by Simon Challis, of Greenlands Road, Pickering, for the rest of his life.

Yesterday Mr Cox spoke emotionally about his daily struggle to come to terms with the blindness, which was caused almost exactly one year ago. Challis was finally sentenced this week after he pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Scarborough Magistrates’ Court.

The explosion was caused because Challis wrongly connected the pipes when changing a gas valve on a fire. The error led to gas building up within the fire and exploding.

He was fined £2,000 and told to pay £1,071 in costs.

Reliving the fateful day of the violent explosion, Mr Cox said: “We’d bought the fire a couple of years ago. It was like a big glass fish tank which was built into the wall. It was supposed to be ultra safe.

“We were having it maintained and it needed a new gas valve, which we ordered. Simon Challis came to fit it but apparently he had done it incorrectly.

“He asked me to turn the fire on with the remote control. As soon as the ignition went off it was like a big glass bomb erupted. I don’t remember the bang, but I remember the big flash.

“Glass shattered into the room like shrapnel. There was loads in my eye. I was in agony - I can’t explain how much pain I was in.”

Despite the horrific injury to his eye, which to date has been operated on six times, Mr Cox immediately went to the aid of Challis, who went into shock.

“He sustained injuries as well,” he said. “I got him a tea towel and the fire was still lit, so I had to turn off the gas at the mains.”

Mr Cox’s wife, Tracy, rushed downstairs. Fortunately their two daughters, eight-year-old Danielle and seven-year-old Nicole, were at school when the explosion happened.

“It would have killed the kids, the fire was at their height,” he said. “I also had my head turned so the other side of my face was unaffected. I could have been blind in both eyes.”

Mr Cox, who owns Ernie’s fish and chip shop in Columbus Ravine, stayed in hospital for just three days, but his ordeal was far from over.

He required a series of day operations in York, while confronting the emotional scars and financial realities that came as a consequence of the accident.

“It put pressure on my marriage as I couldn’t work for 10 months and my wife had to put more hours in. I was no use at home for the first three or four months and the doctor put me on anti-depressants. I had an eye like a football and was having horrendous headaches.”

Although Mr Cox is slowly coming to terms with what happened, he still finds many daily tasks frustrating.

While he is legally blind in the eye, he still sees what he describes as “one big light blur” and struggles to judge distances.

“If I go to reach things sometimes I miss them,” he added. “I do a lot of building work and now even using simple tools is a worry.

“When I was on holiday recently I had a glass of red wine which I reached for and poured over myself. That was embarrassing. I also have to turn my head more and be more observant. It has affected my quality of life.”

The eye looks normal, although it becomes bloodshot if Mr Cox has a drink or goes swimming. Surgeons have inserted silicone oil into the eye in an attempt to preserve the retina.

However despite that challenges he has faced over the last year, he says he holds no anger for the man who caused the explosion.

“I don’t have any harsh feelings about the chap himself,” he said. “He didn’t do it on purpose - I have no grudge. The sentence he got is irrelevant to me.”

After Challis was sentenced, Julian Franklin, an inspector with the Health and Safety Executive, said: This was an inexplicable and very serious mistake made by a hitherto competent gas fitter and it had appalling consequences for Mr Cox and, very nearly for all of his family.

“Mr Cox has been left with a lifelong reminder of what was a totally avoidable incident.

“This serves to underline a crucial message to everyone, and to gas fitters in particular, that any work with gas must at all times be carried out with the utmost care, attention to detail and with safety as a number one priority.”