Gas explosions: Rising or rare?

Gas hob

In Gas, Health and safety

In the space of eight days, two fatal gas explosions have taken the lives of residents within their own homes. In Birmingham a blast ripped through a terraced house, killing one woman and leaving one man with life threatening injuries. In Bedfordshire at least one person has died at an explosion at a block of flats.

79-year-old Doreen Rees-Bibb lost her life on Sunday 26th June at a blast in Kingstanding, Birmingham. Her partner was pulled from the rubble by neighbours, alive but in a critical condition. The terraced house was completely destroyed in the explosion, which also caused significant damage to a number of neighbouring properties.

According to police, fire and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) officials, the cause has been identified as an “accidental and inadvertent ignition of a large escape of gas from a joint in the pipework.” The HSE is continuing to look at whether any ‘work-related activities’ contributed towards the incident.

On Monday 4th July, an explosion at a block of flats in Bedford killed at least one person. There were fears that more bodies could be found due to the devastation at the scene. Two people were taken to hospital with serious injuries, while a firefighter was also admitted with smoke inhalation.

The property was not connected to the main gas supply and the cause of the incident is currently unknown. Investigations are exploring the cause of the blast, including the possibility it could have been caused by equipment such as a camping stove, fuelled by gas cylinder. 

Statistics show that over the last five years, at least 12 people have died in residential gas explosions in Great Britain, with 178 people injured. While incidents are rare, they do happen and this can be down to a number of reasons including:

  • Faulty gas appliances such as boilers, fires, ovens and hobs
  • Improper use of gas appliances / gas cylinders
  • Substandard workmanship on gas appliances
  • Leaks from gas pipes (internal and external service pipes)
  • Faulty portable equipment using gas cylinders e.g. camping stoves
  • Gas inside aerosol cans
  • Petrol or other highly flammable substances stored at residences.

CIPHE CEO, Kevin Wellman said, “While we are looking at two very different situations with the Birmingham and Bedford blasts, the gas safety message is still the same. We know that financial pressures are high at the moment, but it is essential to ensure your gas appliances, such as boilers, fires, ovens and hobs are well maintained and serviced yearly, and that pipework and flues are checked by a qualified and accredited engineer. Aged pipework can be a particular problem as service gas pipes that have been in use for decades can corrode. This is why a gas safety check of the entire system is so important.

“It is vital to use a professional engineer, who is registered with Gas Safe when you have gas appliances serviced and repaired. The risks don’t end with a gas explosion. Faulty, or incorrectly installed and maintained appliances, flues and pipework can cause issues such as Carbon Monoxide poisoning too. If you are using gas canisters they should be stored and operated safely. Appliances such as camping stoves should only ever be used as intended, don’t take risks.”

What to do if you smell gas?

If you can smell gas you need to act quickly to let the authorities know as gas is highly flammable. The National Grid operates a free, emergency, 24-hour telephone number on 0800 111 999. Deaf or hearing impaired can use a minicom / textphone on 0800 371787.

If you can smell gas in your home:

  • Never ignite a naked flame / strike a match etc.
  • Never touch any electrical appliance (including light switches).
  • Put out naked flames.
  • Open doors and windows.
  • Keep people away from the affected area.
  • If you have access, turn off the gas supply at the meter using the control valve.

Need an engineer?

You can find a local Gas Safe registered engineer who is also a member of the CIPHE via our find a professional online tool. You can also visit the Gas Safe website at