Bungling workers used the wrong materials when they installed gas pipes at a new £34million school in Inverness.
Safety chiefs uncovered a catalogue of problems when they launched an investigation into the gas system at the 1,000-pupil Inverness Royal Academy just weeks after it opened last year.
The blunders were branded “unacceptable” last night amid claims they could have had “very serious consequences” for the school’s staff and pupils.
New details of the gas issues – which have still not been fully resolved – emerged in improvement notices which were handed down to three contractors by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Sub-contractor Vaughan Engineering was accused over “evidence that screw joints in the gas pipework have not been made in accordance with the appropriate standard”.
It was also said that materials were used “which are not the correct type for the gas” and that joints “have not been made” in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Meanwhile, Morrison Construction was said to have “not managed and monitored” the gas installation to ensure that the contractors were implementing “the applicable legal requirements for health and safety and were competent to carry out all the work”.
And Hub North Scotland, the lead developer in the contract, was also hit with HSE improvement notices in September, because the arrangements for managing the project “were not maintained and reviewed”, and the health and safety manual relating to the gas installation “was not adequate or up to date”.
Work to fix the gas system is now not expected to be completed until the summer – a year after the school was opened – because some of it would cause “major” disruption to staff and pupils if carried out during term.
Highland Council’s education committee convener Drew Millar said: “It’s extremely disappointing that we’re in this situation.
“That’s why the council are not accepting the Wick Campus and not moving children in until we’re completely satisfied. We couldn’t do that with Inverness Royal Academy when we realised it was not going to be ready.”
However, he added: “My understanding is that the gas is not being used, therefore there is no problem, no issues, and my information is that the building is completely safe.
“All the problems will be addressed outwith term time.”
Highland Council was forced to produce a “contingency plan” to address a series of problems at the school in the weeks after it opened.
Safety inspectors were called in and the gas was turned off to classrooms where home economics, science, and craft, design and technology are taught.
Pupils are still having to use portable Bunsen burners and electric cookers instead.
Details of the gas issue at Inverness Royal Academy emerged amid ongoing controversy over the delivery of the new £48million Wick Campus, which has been beset by embarrassing delays and also involves Hub North Scotland and Morrison as key contractors.
Other issues at Inverness Royal Academy included power outages, as well as cabling problems relating to the computers which are still being resolved, the management of pupil flow during lunch breaks, and more recent complaints about leaks from the roof.
It is understood the HSE and the council initially rejected a plan put forward by the contractors to fix the gas problem, but HSE is now believed to be satisfied with the work carried out to date.
Inverness South councillor Ken Gowans said: “This is something which is unacceptable and could have had very serious consequences had it gone unnoticed.
“Clearly when you’re dealing with gas installation it is of paramount importance that it meets the regulatory criteria and that there are sufficient checks and balances within the council to ensure that it does.”
Donald McLachlan, managing director of Highland region for Morrison Construction, said: “An improvement notice was issued for part of the gas installation. The required works have been taking place and will be completed in the summer holidays.”
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “HSE issued improvement notices to hub North, Morrison Construction and Vaughan Engineering Ltd for the gas installation works. Remedial works have been taking place.”
Hub North Scotland and Vaughan Engineering did not respond to the Press and Journal’s requests for comment.