For the first in our “Meet the Trustees” series, we are delighted to introduce Trustee Chris Bielby. Eur Ing Christopher Bielby MBE CEng FIGEM MCMI MIod, or as we know him Chris, is approaching his 50 year anniversary working in the gas industry.

He has been at the heart of almost all of the UK’s carbon monoxide (CO) safety initiatives and has spearheaded the CO Research Trust, for the last 10 years. His commitment to safety is as unwavering today as it was when he started.

Eur Ing Christopher Bielby MBE CEng FIGEM MCMI MIod
Eur Ing Christopher Bielby MBE CEng FIGEM MCMI MIod

Chris, you have worked in the gas industry for nearly 50 years now, what has been the highlight for you?

I started in 1972 with NEGAS as a technician and worked my way up to become Director of Integrity before I left British Gas in 2011. The highlight for me was as a member of the Development Strategy Team (DST) that unbundled the old British Gas into 5 business units. I was instrumental in creating the strategy document for British Gas Services which took it from a loss-making business to profit in eighteen months.

What have been the biggest changes in the industry since you started?

Without a doubt, my three years on British Gas’s Development Strategy Team based in Millbank Tower, and the fact that carbon monoxide (CO) fatalities and injuries have reduced significantly over the last 40 years. This has been due to a series of industry led initiatives to take the risk away i.e. boiler scrappage scheme, removing open flued water heaters from bedrooms and bathrooms and of course the increase in audible CO alarms.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for the heating industry now?

I think the biggest challenge for the heating industry is the move away from natural gas to hydrogen. I think the net zero journey needs a huge customer awareness programme as there are still around 14 million gas central heating systems and circa 38 million gas appliances in the UK. In addition, the Retrofit initiative to improve the energy efficiency of homes will require vast amounts of labour/resource which has not materialised as yet.

You led the CO Research Trust for 10 years, what changes have you seen surrounding the knowledge and awareness of the dangers of CO?

There are so many initiatives that have influenced the reduction in CO fatalities and injuries. The CO Research Trust (formerly known as the Gas Safety Trust) and the Gas Industry Safety Group (GISG) have been involved in many of them. The ones that stand out are the conversion of towns gas to natural gas between 1968 to 1972, the removal of open flued water heaters from bedrooms and bathrooms, the use of gas analysers by gas operatives, landlord safety legislation and the increase in the use of audible CO alarms tested to the standard EN 50291.

The increase in Gas Safe Registered Engineers has no doubt improved safety, as well as OFGEM ensuring that suppliers make mention of CO in their leaflets. The flues in voids safety initiative, the boiler scrappage scheme and the Gas Distribution Networks’ use of CO measurement equipment has also contributed to improving safety. Finally, the All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group’s (APPCOG) work including the many Parliamentary Reports and awareness campaigns have all contribute enormously as well.

If you could make one change that would stop people from being exposed to carbon monoxide, what would that be?

A Government backed national CO awareness programme on national TV, alike to the safety belts campaign.

When hydrogen arrives there will be no CO in gas but there is still a risk from BBQ’s, solid fuel, oil and wood burners. Also, much of the research funded by the CO Research Trust is finding that there is a more significant risk from CO exposure at much lower levels than we previously thought. So we can’t be complacent, there is still much to be done.