Dangerous switchboard

Updated 2018/12/09
I submitted some photos with a description of what had happened to GemCells magazine and have won a prize.
What a shocker - an article in GemCell magazine
Click on the image to read text
What a shocker. This was the article that was published in GemCell magazine in December 2018. The switchboard and outcome were so bad, that I won a prize as the worst “shocker” seen in the month

I thought that I would share these photos to show how some owners fail to maintain their premises and expose their tenants to safety hazards.

A few difficulties with the agent of this property and myself (probably due to a misunderstanding) have made this issue a bit challenging, but I will discuss that at the bottom of this article.

I viewed a unit in Eastwood (in northern Sydney) today to provide advice on an electrical situation; during my inspection I found a switchboard that had recently had a fire. The switchboard had been badly repaired, and the repair work was non-compliant and dangerous. This exposed the tenant to serious safety hazards.

I was significantly concerned by what I saw, so much so that I consulted the senior inspectors at Ausgrid for advice.

Updated advice from Ausgrid today has changed the following part of this article

Ausgrid logo
Ausgrid are the electricity network provider and Supply Authority for Sydney. They govern electrical compliance, connections and many other facets of electricity systems

Ausgrid – the Supply Authority

Ausgrid are the Network provider and supply authority who govern all electrical connections to their network in Sydney.

Ausgrid have the authority to decide what gets connected, where it gets connected and if it gets connected. They have the authority to monitor electrical compliance and safety – to an increasingly limited capacity.

They can enforce compliance and/or refer electrical contractors to Fair Trading for disciplinary action or prosecution. They also have the power to force users of their network to make repairs. If users fail to comply with an order, Ausgrid have the authority to disconnect the supply to the premises. The update that I have just received indicates that this responsibility may no longer be their responsibility.

As an electrical contractor I am governed by the requirements of Fair Trading NSW, and take my responsibilities seriously.

Responsibilities

SafeWork NSW logo
SafeWork NSW are the governing body controlling workplace safety in NSW. They have the legal authority to enter a premises and immediately halt all activities

Under the Workplace Heath and Safety Act (WHS), and Workplace Health and Safety Regulation, I am required to comply with very specific requirements. I am also responsible for various other Acts of parliament including the Electricity Safety Act, and The Home Building Act. These acts provides guidance on how I perform my work, how I respond to safety hazards, and how I should operate to keep those around me safe.

All workplaces, contractors, rental property owners/agents in Australia are governed by these Acts. They are enforceable under Australian Law. If an accident occurs and someone is injured, prosecutions can and do occur; gaol is always a possibility if negligence is demonstrated and the incident is serious enough.

As a contractor I have to comply with a significant number of rules and regulations, including the WHS Act. I have to comply with Ausgrid’s rules, Fair Trading’s rules, the Wiring Rules and all of the other associated Australian Standards. These rules and regulations all form part of various Acts of Parliament and are legally enforceable.

Should I fail to comply with any of those rules, I can be held legally responsible for any accident that might happen – I can then be prosecuted.

I will therefore ALWAYS err on the side of caution, and/or seek advice if I feel that a safety matter exists.

Workplace Health and Safety Act/Regulation

If you are familiar with the WHS Act, you would know that if you personally witness an unsafe situation, you are required to rectify it immediately. If you can’t rectify it by yourself you must report it (preferably in writing) for it to be rectified by someone who can.

As a contractor, I am what is called a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking), the property that I enter effectively becomes my worksite. I am responsible for the safety of occupants while I am working on that premises. I can be prosecuted should I cause an injury, so I take particular care.

Electricity Safety Act

While this Act has many components to it, it essentially says that a consumer is legally required to maintain their property to the relevant standards.

29: Responsibilities of consumers concerning the safety of electrical installations

(1) For the purpose of causing an electrical installation to be free from any defect or circumstance that is likely to cause fire or otherwise make the installation unsafe, a consumer must, to the best of the consumer’s ability and knowledge, ensure that the prescribed parts of the electrical installation, while the electrical installation remains connected to the source of the supply of electricity, are maintained in accordance with the regulations.

While this definition is fairly broad, it basically says “make sure your home, business, or rental property is maintained to the relevant standards” and isn’t going to cause a fire or injure someone.

As this Act is a legal Act of parliament, there are implications should an accident occur. Should you ignore an unsafe situation, you could be held legally responsible for any injuries or deaths and be prosecuted.

Reporting an unsafe situation

What happens if the person responsible does not immediately make the repair, or resolve the safety hazard?

The matter can be referred to SafeWork NSW for Workplace safety matters (other names in other states), Fair Trading, or the Local Council. The person responsible will be ordered to make the repairs or resolve the safety hazard. Any failure to make repairs can result in the person responsible being prosecuted under the associated Act.

In the case of the safety situation in this tenanted flat, I can contact the Local Council and an inspector would immediately order a repair.

The local council has overriding authority over all parties with properties in their jurisdiction. They can immediately evacuate a property should they determine the property is too unsafe to live in.

Fair Trading has the ability to immediately end the lease on this property, and the tenant would then be able to find another property without being pursued by the owner for “breaking the lease”.

If this were a workplace, SafeWork NSW have enforcement powers and the authority to immediately enter a premises and issue orders that must be complied with. The have the power to evacuate the premises, issue “on the spot” fines, and prosecute for any breaches of the WHS Act.

WHS is now a very difficult and challenging area with regards to compliance. As a result of this, I sometimes seek advice to determine my legal responsibilities – this is to protect myself from possible litigation and protect those around me form injury.

The Switchboard

Back to the switchboard…

The below photos show some very serious safety hazards.

SwitchboardPhoto1
Image 1: An extremely dangerous switchboard that was repaired in a non-compliant and dangerous manner. This is both an electrocution hazard and a fire hazard. It requires immediate repair to protect the occupants.
  • Arrow 1 shows a hot water main switch mounted directly to a flammable material (particle board). Should the switch develop a fault, or have too much current pass through it, the timber would ignite and the unit could burn down. Occupants of this, and other units within the complex are at significant risk.
  • Arrow 1 and 2. The cables that are visible should NOT be accessible. They must be mechanically protected to reduce the risk of electrocution. Arrow 2 also has single insulated cables, which is even more precarious (this isn’t really visible in this photo)
  • Arrow 3. This fuse is not mounted to the switchboard. The cables are under strain, can be flexed, and there is a large hole where cables can be accessed inside the switchboard.
  • Arrow 4 shows previous history of a fire.

Dangerous switchboard
Image 2: The side view – An extremely dangerous switchboard that was repaired in a non-compliant and dangerous manner. This is both an electrocution hazard and a fire hazard. It requires immediate repair to protect the occupants.
  • Arrow 1 shows a better picture of the previous fire. The charred remains of the switchboard is more clearly visible in this photo. You can also see the large holes that are now present. This section of the switchboard is probably now conductive due to carbon.
  • Arrow 2: A better picture showing clearly that the fuse is not mounted to the switchboard. The consequences are as per item three in image 1.
  • Arrow 3 shows a better picture of the single insulated cables that are a potential electrocution risk. As per Arrow 2 in image 1. A large hole in the side of this switch exposes the live terminals and an increased risk of electrocution.
  • Arrow 4 shows a very large crack. This has reduced the mechanical protection provided by the switchboard and increases the risk of injury.

In image 1 arrow 1 and 2, I have listed the exposed cables as being an electrocution risk. If these cables were bumped with a metal object, particularly if it is sharp, the cables could be fractured and the person could receive an electric shock. There are NO safety switches in this premises, even though it is a legal requirement in rental properties. (a legal obligation that the owner and agent seem to have ignored)

I also mention that the hole in the side of the switch, image 2 arrow 3, is an electrocution risk. This switchboard is in a kitchen cupboard. Kitchen cupboards are a storage area. In image 1 you will see various small metal objects. Under the right circumstances, one of those metal objects could penetrate the hole in the switch causing an electric shock. As noted above, there are no safety switches, and no protection from electric shock.

An electric shock from this switchboard in the kitchen, would be at an increased risk of death due to the close proximity of metal stoves and ovens, and a tile floor. The property is also of brick and concrete construction and therefore conductive.

I have noted that there are no safety switches on this switchboard. On a hot water heater, this is not mandatory for an existing circuit. However, should there be any electrical alterations to this circuit, installing a safety switch would become mandatory – repairs don’t as yet require it. This is according to the current Australian Wiring Rules AS/NZS 3000:2018.

Though seeing this appalling situation, perhaps it should become mandatory!!!

Rental property agents and owners

I don’t normally work for rental property agents or owners. In my experience they tend to expect cheap work and are happy with dodgy repairs. They tend not to care about whether the work is compliant, or whether it lasts for very long. They just want the next tenant in – and money.

I don’t like being put in a position where I have to argue about the legality of a situation, or try to explain that something poses a safety hazard. I care about the safety of those around me, and I am not prepared to compromise on that.

That is why I sometimes seek advice on how to manage a safety hazard – nothing is ever simple, and there is never a simple answer.

Switchboard safety hazard

As you have now reviewed the switchboard photos, you will understand that there are some pretty serious safety hazards.

Because I was concerned about the level of hazard, I contacted the Ausgrid inspectors as I have previously been advised is my responsibility to do. That has now changed according to my latest discussion with them – hence this update.

Their immediate response was that the switchboard needed to be disconnected as it posed a fire risk.

Once I tried to discuss this with the agent, conflict arose. She came across as rude, aggressive and seemed only to be concerned about the impact on her by the owner of the property. Apparently I had put her in a difficult position.

Fair enough, I understand.

Over the last 4 years, I have had a few different variations to Ausgrid’s instructions. This could be for various reasons, but it is more complicated now that Ausgrid has been privatised.

Anyway…

I was in a difficult position, I needed advice from the supply authority in order to make an informed decision, and that decision caused conflict.

What customers sometimes need to understand is that my responsibility is to protect the lives of occupants; be that owner occupiers, tenants or visitors.

That is my first and foremost concern – it is my legal obligation.

I did forward a formal report to the agent to pass on to the owner. Whether she did, or did not pass that on is up to her. I have no control over the level of care or responsibility of lessors and their agents. However, if you read the level of discontent about lessors and agents not caring about their tenants, this sort of unsafe situation is VERY common because lessors and their agents “generally” don’t care.

Residential Tenancy Act

Under the residential tenancy act, and various others, the agent and owner have a duty of care to maintain the property to a provide a safe residence for their tenants. Both the agent and the owner have failed in their duty of care in this instance.

I clarified this with Fair Trading, who indicated that the tenant could immediately apply to Fair Trading to end their lease as the property is deemed to be an immediate fire and electrocution hazard and is unsafe.

Fair Trading could then issue orders for the property to be repaired to the relevant standards before another tenancy is accepted.

Responsibilities

As such, every single person associated with this property, has some sort of legal responsibility under various Acts. Should any one of those parties fail to report or resolve the safety hazard, the issue becomes an actionable safety breach and various parties can be prosecuted.

My responsibilities

I have written about this in another article, but I will re-iterate.

I take my responsibilities seriously. I have legal obligations to comply with the rules and regulations that are imposed on me. I will never knowingly compromise on safety.

Where the safety of a home owner, tenant or user of a property could be compromised, I will seek advice, report it or take action where and when I see fit.

Most owners are decent hard working people and want to keep their family safe. A short conversation usually suffices when a safety hazard becomes apparent. Sometimes I have to write a report detailing the hazard so that they can understand the situation better.

However, sometimes, as in this case, I have to seek advice and discuss or report a safety hazard. This only occurs where other people’s safety is at immediate risk, or where resolution of a safety hazard seems unlikely.

I will never wait for permission to do this, nor do I have to. I will seek advice and act on that advice if and when I see fit to do so.

If the situation is serious enough, I will discuss it with, or report it to the appropriate department for their attention or advice – as I did in this instance. I will then advise the owner/agent/occupier of this and discuss their options.

They may get upset with me, they may yell at me, or they may never speak to me again (as is possible with this agent)…

But, do you know what…

I would prefer to have an angry agent who never speaks to me again, than to see someone die because I didn’t act.

Life goes on!!!

If you have got this far through this very long article, and don’t understand the risk of electricity, you should have a look at one of my previous articles: Death by electrocution

 

Advice for rental property owners/agents and owner occupiers

You have legal obligations under the Electricity Safety Act, Residential Tenancies Act, WHS Act and many others. Should you fail to comply with those laws and someone is injured, you could be prosecuted. Should a serious accident occur, you could even go to gaol.

If you deliberately flout those laws, I hope you get caught, prosecuted, fined and gaoled before someone gets killed.

For further safety advice, please see:

Bye for now,

Greg.
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#WorkSafeNSW #Electrician #FairTrading #Compliance #Safety #WHS #legal #Ausgrid

[This article was updated on 30th August 2018 to reflect a clarification of Ausgrid’s current position]

electrician; electrical repairs; electrical installations; power points; lights; light fittings; light switches; electrical fault; electrical faults; electricity; electrical hazard; electrical safety; electrical contractor; Normanhurst,2076; Wahroonga,2076; Asquith,2077; Hornsby,2077; Hornsby Heights,2077; Waitara,2077; Mount Colah,2079; Mount Ku-ring-gai,2080; Berowra,2081; Berowra Heights,2082; Carlingford,2118; Beecroft,2119; Cheltenham,2119; Pennant Hills,2120; Thornleigh,2120; Westleigh,2120; Epping,2121; North Epping,2121; Cherrybrook,2126; Dural,2158; Middle Dural,2158; Arcadia,2159; Galston,2159; West Pennant Hills,2125;

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