Electrical safety: ready for a step change

Chris Edwards, CORGI Technical Services’ Electrical Technical Safety Manager, shares his views on the electrical industry and why he’s keen to highlight effective management, the importance of a ‘ground up’ approach to competence, and drive positive change

Ensuring electrical safety is managed effectively has been a drum that CORGI has been banging for some time. Whereas the gas sector has stringent legislation in place under the Gas Safety Installation & Use (Amendment) Regulation 2018, which requires gas safety checks and maintenance to be tested annually, in comparison electrical procedures are often less clear and rely on organisations being made aware of the need to put safety and compliance procedures in place, to ensure resident safety. That’s despite electrical fires making up over 50 per cent of fire incidents in England. In reality, the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act clearly states that providers must conduct their undertakings in such a way that third parties, which includes tenants, are not exposed to risk. Recently there has been increased focus on electrical safety, which is a welcomed change. This focus highlights the importance of registered providers who set their own policies and procedures to clearly show the arrangements they have put in place to reduce risk.

Gaining a fuller picture of electrical safety

In social housing there is still a need for greater awareness of electrical safety across the board, both from residents themselves, right up to director level. It’s a topic that prompted CORGI and the Association of Electrical Safety Managers (AESM) to host a roundtable event with the ECA this year, to gain a fuller picture of electrical safety. Feedback at the roundtable provided an insight into the sector’s desire for clarity: “We need a clear definition of competence for electrical work,” said one roundtable member. “For each discipline, we need to determine what the correct level of knowledge, experience and qualifications are for a specific piece of work, for example between domestic and commercial work.” We also saw team culture identified as another critical element of competence. Effective communication between teams, contractors and a call for board members to play an active role in encouraging safety procedures were both raised as ways towards reducing risk and improving working practices.

Training: adopting a ground-up approach

In the past, senior members of staff extended their electrical safety knowledge to a broader team. However, at CORGI we’ve seen first-hand the benefits of a ‘ground-up’ approach. Kim Morris, CORGI’s head of training and membership, expresses the importance perfectly, saying: “If you’re committed to training all of your team, then you’re making a clear statement that you’re also committed to the safety of your tenants. It’s great to see that organisations are now starting to train frontline staff in electrical safety, as well as gas safety and compliance. They are often the future of the business and it means that a safety culture is developed across the board from the outset.” Organisation-wide training means that people or departments aren’t working in silos, which can so often be the case. For individuals who interact with residents, or visit properties, having a basic understanding of electrical safety should be a core part of team training. Understanding the principles of electrical safety, common hazards, landlord responsibilities and the need to work with residents to achieve compliance should be viewed as a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Ultimately, understanding these basic teachings can often prevent something minor developing into a major risk exposure.

The value of safety

The roundtable event also highlighted another ‘hot’ topic – the value placed on safety and how the “drive for cheapest price” is becoming increasingly common. One attendee noted that EICRs are being undertaken for as little as £40 – effectively pricing out operatives trying to uphold standards of quality and safety. This focus on cost, at the expense of quality, raises broader concerns regarding the safety of residents. Pricing practices across the entire supply chain need to be carefully mapped and understood. The same concept applies to electrical training and competence – a migration to the cheapest options is unlikely to deliver competent electricians and potentially puts the safety of residents at risk in the long term. As mentioned previously, basic electrical safety principles should be viewed as a must for frontline team members. Gaining a nationally recognised qualification in electrical management, such as the CORGI Level 4 VRQ Certificate in Electrical Safety Management in Social Housing, is imperative when you’re in a position of safety management. Qualifications such as these have been designed for managers in social housing, who have responsibility for the safety of electrical appliances and installations in their tenants’ properties. They build an understanding of electrical dangers, landlord responsibilities and legislation, in particular the Electricity at Work Regulations, IET Wiring Regulations and the Health & Safety at Work Act, underpinning what the organisation stands for and the policies they have in place. The point of effective training extends to electricians themselves. One attendee at the roundtable observed: “if electricians do a bad job, there is a risk to life. But for some reason, we are not regulating them… anyone can call themselves an electrician.” These are just a few examples of challenges in our sector, and illustrate just why CORGI and the AESM are keen to continue raising the profile of electrical safety at all levels, shining a light on key industry issues and promoting the importance of peer and group mentoring to develop and support electrical safety standards.

Innovative management

It’s important to use all tools available to the sector when you’re looking to drive forward significant change in electrical safety management, and technology is beginning to play a key role in effective compliance management. Traditionally, the process of checking and analysing EICRs has been carried out manually on a representative sample. Now it is possible to check 100 per cent of certificates in a matter of minutes and report back on the level of compliance, giving you full visibility of any issues that require attention. Local authorities and organisations have quoted savings of over 50 per cent in compliance management costs, releasing valuable human resources to focus on the remedial process and delivering efficiencies in property management, including electrical checks. It’s only by adopting innovative approaches such as these that the electrical sector can move forward, equipping individuals working within electrical safety with the tools they need to make a significant step change.

Chris Edwards is CORGI technical services’ electrical technical safety manager