Don’t want to read the long discussion? …go straight to the conclusion
Yep it’s another one about compliance, but with a slight twist!
I have just finished a moderately large job for a client. It was for some outside lights and required some modifications to their switchboard – and this is where it gets interesting!
Ok.. I will brag a bit before I move on…
This family had just had a large extension added to their property. New circuits were installed for lights, power and soon to be air conditioning.
When I turned up on site and looked over the installation, I was shocked at what I saw in the switchboard!
There was a broken fuse holder, very long screws hanging out of the front panel (and loose), and a huge gap above the front panel, with exposed cables at the top.
One of them was an immediate electrocution risk, one was a possible electrocution risk, and one was just horrendous workmanship!
Verification – Section 8 of the Wiring Rules
Section 8 is very specific and also refers to the testing standard AS/NZS 3017. I refer to this section often.
After completion of electrical work, there are mandatory inspections and tests that must be carried out. There is no flexibility with these tests and failure to comply is a breach of the Home Building Act.
The Home Building Act states that all electrical work MUST comply with the Wiring Rules – AS/NZS 3000 – without exception. There is no flexibility with compliance, and a failure to comply can result in big fines or a loss of license.
During the verification process specified in Section 8 of the Wiring Rules, most of the following faults should have been found – but weren’t, or if they were found, weren’t repaired as they should have been.
Image 1 was the first thing I saw. Considering this switchboard had just been added to, there shouldn’t be any existing faults (like this) visible. Where faults are found, the electrician is required to raise them with the owner who is required to repair them.
Image 2 was the second thing that I spotted. I immediately went to my car, got my meter and verified that the contacts were live and dangerous. Under no circumstances should any electrician leave this in a switchboard without telling the client that it needs to be replaced urgently!
Image 3 shows the next two faults that I found on the switchboard.
The long screws aren’t obvious; they are non-compliant (they must be no longer than 5mm) but what is inside is what is alarming. See the following photo.
Secondly the main switch has not been changed over to one with overload protection. I have written about this before, and it is covered in previous articles.
Image 4. When opening the switchboard I was confronted by a whole host of non-compliance and dangerous components. This is the other side of the long screws that were seen in image 3 above. Under the right conditions, the long screws could make contact with the active terminal and become live. the active link is not fastened which allows the screws to move in and out. They could make contact with live components and expose those opening the switchboard to an electrocution risk.
If you look closely at the red cover on the active link, you will see lots of abrasion. This is because the switchboard chassis is making contact with the cover. Ultimately this could cause the insulation to fracture or some other component to break, exposing live contacts. The load side of the main switch is terminated into this active link, and all circuits originate from it. A very dangerous situation should something break or make contact with the active terminals
Image 5 shows why the front panel didn’t close – whoops. When something doesn’t close, there is usually a very good reason. In this instance, the consumer mains (on the load side of the Service Protective Device – fuse) were being crushed between the switchboard chassis and the hinged metal panel. Not only was the hinged pane (as seen in image 1) not closing, but the reason it didn’t close was because of a serious defect that could cause a fire or short circuit. Ridiculous!
Image 5b shows the bottom of the consumer mains and minor damage from being crushed. It could have been much worse!
Image 6: In 30 years I have never seen this. This circuit breaker and cable was for an air conditioner. As you can see it had not been terminated correctly into the tunnel terminal. Contact with the active terminal was by sheer luck. I don’t know how the air condition worked at all.
Image 6b: Yep it is a real photo. The heat from arcing had melted the cable into the circuit breaker. I initially couldn’t get the cable to come out, and after I finally manage it, I could see where the cable had melted a hole into the circuit breaker. And here’s the proof!
Obviously not tested or installed correctly, but the contractor who did it, obviously got paid – for a badly installed and potentially dangerous job!
Obviously not tested or installed correctly, but the contractor who did it, obviously got paid – for a badly installed and potentially dangerous job!
After connection of any terminal we do a pull test. If the cable comes out, it isn’t connected properly. It is a standard process when connecting anything!
Image 7: shows a very bad connection. There are three problems here.
- Earths must be connected under two screws. You will see that the top screw is not clamped onto anything (the screw is hard in).
- The cables are not adequately clamped and not all of the strands are correctly connected (not clearly visible on this photo, but was evident when I pulled it apart). This can result in a circuit breaker or fuse not correctly tripping, and a subsequent fire.
- Insulation must go all the way up to the brass connector. In other words you should not see any copper from the cable (within reason).
Not tested, not done properly and potentially dangerous in the event of a fault!
Image 8: I often tell clients that they have to replace something. It is never because I want to spend their money, it is always because there is a problem.
I informed the clients in this instance that the main switch had to be changed to provide overload protection for the consumer mains – this is also a compliance issue.
It’s a good thing they agreed (it was in my estimate anyway). The insulation had started to melt and eventually would have caused a fire.
Please see: my article on Consumer Mains for more information.
Ignore the small cable on the left. That was a temporary connection that I made to run my asbestos vacuum cleaner.
See “To fix or not to fix…” for more information on your responsibilities!
Image 9. There are two faults in this image (actually 3, but we will ignore the black colour issue). If you look at the cables coming into the blue conenctor, you will see three cables. Two with red/white insulation, and one black. The red/white cables have a current carrying capacity of 20A max. So does the black one. what has happened here is that the installer has joined two cables together because they wouldn’t fit into the active link.
But… they were effectively making the black cable carry twice its capacity. If the red/white cables are 20A x 2 that’s 40A potentially that the black cable must carry. Ridiculous that the installer didn’t realise this! (perhaps they didn’t care). A fire waiting to happen!
You can also see the very poor connection into the active link (the brass block on the red mount). Every connection into this terminal block was poorly connected. As mentioned above, the insulation must touch up against the terminal (within reason), and this certainly isn’t case here.
But wait… there’s more
There were quite a number of other defects that I either repaired or reported. I don’t have photos of them. Whatever the case, the ones here are substantial and could have caused injury, fire, or death.
One of the major ones was that the earthing system had to be replaced – but wasn’t, and/or wasn’t reported to the home owner until I checked it!
See Earthing for more information on why this was a problem for this property. That article relates to this property.
Why wasn’t any of this fixed by the previous electrician!
That is a very good question, but could be any of the following.
These are the most common ones:
- The contractor didn’t care! They might be getting paid cash; the job worked at the end; the homeowner had a working light, and they didn’t know any better.
- The contractor didn’t know what they were doing, didn’t realise their obligations, or understand the rules to the degree needed.
- The contractor reported it to the owner, but the owner didn’t want to make repairs – however, in this instance this can’t relate to images 1 through 5, as these were obvious and immediate hazards, or done by the contractor themselves.
So what has happened about this, and who’s responsibility is it!
Firstly, I reported non-compliant matters to the home owner in an email – as I am required to do (I had already repaired the serious stuff anyway, but some problems remained and needed repairs). I also reported it in writing at the completion of my work on my invoice. The home owner reported it to the builder and previous electrician – it will now be fixed – a win for them!
Secondly. I sent photos to Fair Trading (the regulator) to determine who to contact, and to see if they were interested in investigating. The work was non-compliant and there were serious safety hazards within the switchboard. It has been referred to the electrical compliance department for investigation.
The family that lived at this premises, their lives had been put at risk – this was outrageous and unforgivable. Contacting Fair Trading pushed the builder and electrician to come back to the premises and rectify their faults.
If pursued, Fair Trading would investigate and possibly fine the builder and electrician for non-compliant work under the Home Building Act. It is even possible for them to lose their licenses though that would be unlikely if this were a first offense!
Thirdly. If the non-compliant work is a result of existing problems it becomes the home owner’s responsibility to repair it, should it be reported to them. Under the Electricity Safety Act (mentioned in a previous article), it is the home owner’s responsibility to maintain their property so that there are no electrical hazards. Should they fail to do so, and someone gets injured or killed, they can be prosecuted under the act.
You can read more at: To fix or not to fix, that is the question for more information.
I spoke to the previous electrician that missed, or left the non-compliant work. I actually spent half an hour with him on the phone discussing the implications of what had happened, and what he had left.
I then spent half an hour reporting to him (with photos and clauses from the Wiring Rules) a long list of defects that he should have seen, repaired or reported.
He took it as a wake up call, and now understands the gravity of non-compliance and what can happen. In this instance he cared, and will adjust his ways so that things don’t get as easily “missed”, or left – or so he said. It is a cut throat industry, so who knows – but he did seem like a decent fellow, just unsure of his responsibilities and how to manage it.
The home owner will now get a new switchboard, and an earth upgrade. The earth upgrade was mandatory, but the switchboard was a repair.
I might point out that there was no obligation for the owner to have replaced the switchboard (it just needed a few repairs), and if he has been forced to pay for this, then he has been ripped off!
I did most of the repairs that were needed, in my time, at my cost. There were some other minor repairs that were needed by the other electrician, but in my opinion, a switchboard upgrade was unnecessary.
But… all in all everybody has benefited in a round about way.
There were some inconsistencies in the response from the electrician, and it seemed to demonstrate that they were trying to “cover their arse” so to speek.
- The electrician indicated that he had supplied a CCEW (compliance certificate) to the builder. This also seems odd as the switchboard was non-compliant and had serious safety issues present. If a CCEW had been submitted, as the electrician suggested, then the electrician would have been defected on inspection of his work. It would have been a major defect, and he would have been reported to Fair Trading anyway.
The electrician indicated that he had informed the builder that the switchboard had problems; he then suggested that the builder had planned to replace the switchboard. When I asked the home owner, he indicated that the builder hadn’t said anything to him about replacing the switchboard.
This seems odd, as a switchboard replacement wasn’t really necessary, just repairs inside. Also, if something outside of the scope of the renovation is required to be fixed, it is considered a variation and the home owner would have been informed. Therefore, why wouldn’t the home owner know about the need for a switchboard repair? It seems to be an inconsistent response and another cover up.!
- Thirdly: The electrician had just spent several hours installing components into the switchboard, at considerable time and materials cost. Why would he do this if the switchboard was going to be replaced anyway. That would mean that he would have spent $300 to $400 only to be ripped out and re-done. This is highly unlikely, and again seems to indicate a cover-up.
- Update to this:
- I confirmed with Ausgrid that a CCEW was submitted, which means that the electrician submitted a compliance certificate when the work wasn’t compliant. This indicates that he didn’t fully understand his obligations for testing under section 8 of the Wiring Rules. It also means that if Ausgrid were to inspect the work, he would have been defected.
- When I spoke to the electrician he was questioning me as to how you raise issues like this and encourage homeowner’s to undertake the repairs that need to be done! He suggested that homeowners often feel they are being sold a lie, in order for him to make more money.
- What he seemed to be suggesting was that he undertook work, not worrying too much if it wasn’t done “by the book” as such, just to get the work; this implies leaving things un-repaired that should normally be repaired. This is concerning and it might explain why the switchboard was left in a horribly dangerous condition.
You can refer to my response to this type of questioning. If the homeowner were to refuse to undertake the repairs that I have suggested, I just wouldn’t take the job.
Should I take the job and not be able to rectify the non-compliant or dangerous work, I could be held liable should an accident occur. There is no chance that I will put myself in that position – ever.
Personally, I seriously doubt that the switchboard would ever have been repaired or replaced until I raised it. The fact that a compliance certificate appears to have been submitted, would indicated that the job was complete.
In my experience of 30 years, and what I saw within the switchboard, would cast doubt on what was said by the electrician – there are too many inconsistencies. However, as I have now found out, a compliance certificate was issued… Hmmm!
… it would indicated that a few people didn’t know what they were doing!
I believe that the electrician and builder had no intention of replacing that switchboard, and would likely have left it the way that it was – dangerous.
… we can never know the truth of it, and perhaps I am entirely wrong…
A learning curve
The young electrician and builder have learnt a valuable lesson, and the home owners are now safer than they were before.
…it was a situation that the homeowner should never ever have been put into in the first place!
It will cost everyone a bit more money, but no-one will die!!!
… if you don’t believe electricity kills, check out Death by electrocution
Yes, I spent several hours writing to Fair Trading, talking to them on the phone. Discussing it with the home owner and the electrician. I even wrote a long email to the electrician detailing defects and providing clauses and compliance issues that he failed to address.
Would I do it again?
Where there is an immediate safety hazard! Absolutely!!!
I would gladly do it again to protect the lives of my clients, and educate a young electrician who made a stupid mistake!
… but it isn’t nice for anyone involved and I very much feel for the client – particularly as they seem to have had the wool pulled over their eyes.
But the electrician and builder broke the law and put lives at risk, and that is unforgivable.
I am very happy that I had the chance to educate a young electrician – I have trained apprentices in the past, and enjoy teaching.
While I have no wish to punish anyone, I am very glad that I had the opportunity to spend nearly one hour with the electrician on the phone and via email. I am pretty sure that he has learnt something valuable.
This young electrician has a family, and doesn’t want to expose them to risk inadvertently. Unfortunately he did so in this instance by not understanding his obligations, and leaving dangers at his clients home.
So by having a long chat, I have hopefully helped him understand his obligations, so that he doesn’t inadvertently leave hazards at the homes of his clients. This keeps his clients safer and protects his family from not losing their home through litigation (or killing someone by accident).
Is it a good outcome though!
You be the judge.
Bye for now,
##Compliance #safety #FairTrading