So what is this topic about?
It is about some interesting, but little understood legal obligations that we must all comply with.
I was asked by a customer to install a specific light fitting in the false belief that they would be able to service the light fitting themselves into the future. The customer wanted to be able to change parts of the light fitting themselves if the light fitting broke down at a later date.
They also wanted to be able to change the component that plugged in and alter the brightness should they wish.
It raised red flags for me, and I had to consult the manufacturer and seek legal information.
The legal bits
All electrical work in Australia requires a restricted electrical license. This is because electricity causes injuries, kills, and causes fires. While electrical work according to YouTube, Bunnings and TV shows may seem simple, from a technical perspective, it requires extensive knowledge, skill and specialised training to carry out correctly.
So installing a light fitting requires me to know what the Australian Standards are, how to comply with them, the local state rules, how to test and certify my work. Where I don’t comply with those requirements and carry out a non-compliant job, there is a risk that an accident, injury, death or fire could occur.
As part of complying with Australian Standards, I also need to comply with any special, or specific manufacturer’s instructions. Those instructions can be as simple as installing a double pole switch, or as complicated as strict clearances, earthing, current/cable demands or what type of circuit breaker to use.
Failure to comply can result in non-compliance and the resulting accident, injury, death or fire.
40% of fires are electrical fires!
Keep this in mind when you think that electrical work is simple and straight forward.
So, back to the light fitting.
The light fitting I was asked to install, had a plug in component. During installation, the LED/Driver can be fitted after the wiring is done – the functional part plugs in.
The customer had believed that they would be able to change this component themselves, eliminating the need for an electrician into the future. If the light fitting were to fail, they could effectively fix it themselves. They also believed that they could increase or decrease the wattage as they chose.
The manufacturer specifically stated “must be installed by an electrician”. This statement is a legal requirement and includes all components of the light fitting. The plug in component, while removable, is not designed to be swapped, repaired nor removed by the customer/handyperson or other unqualified personnel.
There are safety issues
This is because the light fitting could still be “live”, and just not working. There could be a solid state switch which bypasses, or interferes with the usual functional switch and leaves the light fitting in a dangerous state. There could be something other than the light fitting which is faulty.
Does the homeowner/handyperson know how to safely isolate the light fitting?
SafeWork specifies legal requirements for testing and has a code of practice for working on electrical systems. It is mandatory that they be complied with.
What if the homeowner makes an error and doesn’t notice. Another occupant, family member could be injured or killed. What if the home owner decides to sell the property and the next homeowner or occupant has an injury or dies. What if it causes a fire in a block of units?
How would the unqualified, unskilled person know the correct procedures?
A big issue for me is a legal component of all electrical work.
As part of repairing or installing any electrical work, I am legally required to test and sign off on the installation. If I have installed a 12W light fitting, I have tested and signed off on a 12W light fitting. It specifies that I have tested and certified that 12W is safe and that the circuit can fulfill the load that is being added.
The home owner is then supplied a legal document indicating that I have done my work correctly, and that the installation is safe. If I have increased the load, the DNSP (Distributed Network Service Provider) must be informed with the submission of the same compliance certificate. It is mandatory, a legal document and traceable.
So what happens if the homeowner does change the plug in component of the light fitting themselves?
The homeowner would be considered to be changing the circuit, and the criteria that it was tested under has been altered. As the installation is now different to that which was signed off on, a new compliance certificate MUST be issued.
Where the load is increased, it has the potential to compromise the circuit. While this may seem unlikely because the load is relatively low, you can consider this in the context of a large building. Where 50 lights are changed from 12W to 24W, the load is effectively doubled. Instead of the light circuit carrying the load of 600W, it now has to carry 1200W. This could overload various components and cause a fault or a fire.
Maybe the dimmer or solid state device can only support 100W. Changing 5 lights might cause an overload in the solid state device and cause a fire.
How would the homeowner know the difference unless they are trained and skilled.
What are the implications if a home owner alters a light fitting, or the criteria of a circuit.
Where alterations result in an accident, injury, death or fire, the homeowner/occupant/handyperson would be held liable for that incident. The home insurance would be voided, and all responsibility would be borne by the person who made the changes.
So what is the difference between this type of light fitting and a light fitting with globes?
Light fittings with globes have specific differences. They have a written wattage limit, and installing electricians account for the designated current when installing the light fitting.
There are limited accidents that could result where a customer fits a new globe – unless they are stupid and fits a globe that is bigger than that which is specified on the light fitting. Doing so would trigger the above, and the homeowner would be held liable for the incident.
Manufacturer’s installation instructions
Where a manufacturer specifically states “must be installed by an electrician”, they are stipulating that changing, altering or repairing the light fitting must be carried out by an electrician due to specific safety requirements. Failure to comply with the manufacturer’s instructions could result in an accident, injury, death or fire – now or into the future.
What about plug in downlights? Surely because it has a plug, you can just buy another one and plug that in?
Every downlight has a specific clearance rating. Some light fittings are allowed to be resting against structural components, some are not. Some require big clearances, some require small clearances. Some are designed to be outside, some are not.
Sometimes the driver (transformer) requires specific conditions for installation, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes the light fitting can be covered in insulation, sometimes it can’t. Different types of insulation have different specifications. Do you know what they are? Some are flammable, and some are not – which ones are which, and what are the requirements of each. What light fitting can go into which holes?
Installing the incorrect light fitting into the wrong location might cause the light fitting to overheat. This could cause a fire.
Since the introduction of downlights some 30 years ago, downlights have caused a massive number of fires. It is a very serious hazard if don’t wrong.
That’s why there have been quite a few changes in our standards in recent years – there have been too many fires.
So, yes the light fitting may have a plug on the end of the lead, but can you determine if the socket outlet is safe to plug into, or that you have the correct light fitting for the location in which you wish to install them.
Get it wrong and your house might burn down and your home insurance could be void! Do you want that risk?
The risk is yours to take, but I would doubt that most people have the skills to make that decision.
While I sympathise with customers who have to pay someone each time something breaks, the rules are there to protect you and others, and you have a legal obligation to follow the instructions that are specified by the manufacturer.
A failure to do so could result in you having to take responsibility for someone’s death, or a fire.
Knowing the hazards and risks, I would say…
DON’T DO IT!
Bye for now,
PS: Do you still want to take the risk? … I hear that gaol provides 3 square meals a day… negligence due to ignorance is no excuse.