I recently unwisely became involved in correcting some electrical work for a friend. Unwisely because I am too old and plump to be scrabbling around on my hands and knees, I have grown used to polishing an office chair with my ample gluteus maximus, occasionally visiting sites to provide consultation or carry out inspection and testing, but installing?? I need to lie down!
I got involved because one or two problems had arisen after the work had been completed, and I like to make sure that people (especially friends as I am running short of those) are safe. I found a catalogue of issues which caused me to question my friend as to why they had chosen this particular person to do their electrical work. They had selected the guy from one of the various 'recommended trader type' services, and they had initially thought that the guy had given good service. When I questioned them as to what they meant, they stated the following;
1/. The person had always turned up on time, at the time stated.
2/. He always cleaned up after himself, used dust sheets and was tidy.
3/. He was always polite, did not swear or want to do number two's in her toilet. (It always amazes me when a trades-person's first act of the day is to use the customers toilet!)
4/. His price was competitive, and he stuck to it.
5/. It all looked very nice when he had finished.
6/. He WAS a member of a body, (Domestic Installer), and had provided a certificate.
The fact that certain aspects of the work were not electrically safe, and that the certificate was not, shall we say, accurate, got me to thinking that my friends idea of a good job and my idea of a good job were poles apart. How was she to know, for instance, that a socket had been wired with reverse polarity? How was she to know that a circuit protective conductor was missing on a Class I light fitting, and a metal switch-plate?
I asked her whether she had completed a 'job satisfaction' feedback form at all, and she had, immediately after the job was completed. Several weeks before any issues became apparent (it started when she connected a new television to the dodgy socket). As far as she was concerned the guy had delivered a good job, on time, on budget, and it all looked nice. Those were her quality parameters, so she had recommended him. Quite right too! However, from my point of view his work was sadly lacking.
My point is, the current abundance of this type of service, based on recommendations of unqualified persons is actually detrimental to electrical safety overall. As has been said and repeated many times, the only way to ensure that electrical work is only carried out by qualified, competent individuals is to introduce professional registration and licensing.
I also got me thinking about how many issues go unnoticed until a proper inspection and test is carried out on an installation, take the following example;
Socket A Socket B
Socket C Socket D
Take the four sockets installed above, from a non-informed point of view, (your general customer), they all look the same, in fact if you walked around and just looked at them you would think nothing was wrong. So let's use them, I fancy a snack, so get the toaster out, Class I, metal bodied, plug it in, get ready with the marmalade!
Socket A has reversed polarity, so my toaster works fine, no problem at all, or is there?
Socket B has a loose circuit protective conductor, so no earth, but the toaster works fine!
Socket C has the neutral and circuit protective conductor cross connected. It's an older type consumer unit with no RCD on the circuit, so the toaster works fine, no problem?
Socket D has the line and circuit protective conductor cross connected, I never knew what hit me! The casing became live as soon as I turned the switch on at the socket!
In all the cases above there is no visual indication of anything being wrong, AND, they all pass the 'Bang Test'! It is only when the installation is in use that the problems show. That is why PROPER inspection and testing and certification is at the heart of safe electrical installations!
Socket A, if my toast gets stuck and I stick a metal knife or fork into the toaster (the toasting leaver is up and the element is off so it appears safe), I would get an electric shock because the element is permanently live, (although the circuit is not passing current as the neutral has been switched off by the toasting lever). Also if it were a single pole switch on the socket, turning the socket switch off breaks the neutral and leaves the live permanently on. Same result. Also the fuse in the plug is now in the neutral ... more issues!
Socket B, if the toaster develops an earth fault, the casing will remain live because the earth fault loop path is broken by the loose protective conductor, so risk of electric shock!
Socket C, we are now passing current down the protective conductor, risk of electric shock when contacting exposed conductive parts around the installation. Also, the c.p.c. may not be sized adequately to carry the current, so overheats and starts a fire!
Socket D, live exposed conductive parts, almost inevitable electric shock!
Consider other situations, such as Class I metal cased light fittings or metal light switches where the c.p.c. has been omitted or cut off, or is just not there as in many older installations.
If there were an earth fault due to damage, loose connections, deterioration etc then the exposed metalwork will remain live, anyone coming into contact with it will experience electric shock. They look fine when inspected without dismantling, but proper testing (R1 + R2 or just the R2 test) would indicate that a problem exists.
Ah, but the RCD will save us all I hear you say, and yes, it is a very useful unit, BUT!
1/. They are not installed or required on all circuits, many older installations may yet exist without any RCD protection.
2/. They are normally fitted and forgotten, I would place a heavy bet on the fact that at least 70% of homeowners do not maintain the function of their RCD's by carrying out the quarterly test, and a large percentage would not even know about the quarterly test.
3/. They are not foolproof - even when maintained I have experienced a failure rate of up to 10%.
4/. Even when they work properly, you can still get an electric shock of 20-28mA without them actually operating (they are rated at 30mA), This hurts a lot!
What continues to worry me is that despite ALL the evidence, we are still not yet at a point in this country where ONLY qualified, experienced, skilled competent persons who are regulated and licensed (individually, not as part of one of the silly schemes that exist!) are allowed by law to install, maintain, alter and certify electrical installations. There is far too much reliance on RCD protection or containing poor workmanship in a metal box.
We should not have 'Domestic Installer' and 'Competent Odd Jobber' and 'Dare-Devil Handyman' and all this other nonsense.
There should only be 'Licensed Electrician'. You can add grades to it and give out uniforms if you want, but we all need to be a 'Licensed Electrician'.
These 'trader recommendation' schemes may have their heart in the right place (not certain about that) but I cannot help but feel that, just like the other electrical industry schemes at the moment, they lack integrity. It feels like 'what can we get away with' rather than 'how can we serve the customer in the best way'! We have to start getting serious about professional recognition, raise our standards and raise our profile - be a cut above the mediocre. We can all profess (myself included) to be a member of 'Not-a-Bodger.com' but until we band together and make a united effort, very little will change.
Check out The #e5 Group on Twitter - interesting stuff !
Stay safe ladies and gentlemen,
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