Big changes for inspectors

It is now six months since the 2012 Amendment regulations were introduced and only three months away from when they take affect and bring about the biggest shake-up to certification since self-certification was introduced in 1992.

Much of the focus of discussion has been around the new Electrical Safety Certificates (ESCs) which have to be issued following the completion of all low-risk maintenance work and after installation work is connected.

But what appears to have slipped under the industry’s radar is the changing role of inspection, and how those people authorised to inspect by the EWRB have had their powers and obligations diluted by the new regulations. Additional requirements have also been imposed but the validation for them and their scope, as the regulation amendment is currently worded, remain unclear.

The most significant change is that inspectors will no longer have to certify their inspections from July 1. Regulation 65 (6) specifically exempts inspection from certification and this appears to take away an inspector’s power and obligation to withhold the certification of an inspection if the work is not safe and compliant.

As the regulation wording now stands, all an inspector will soon have to do is complete a written Record of Inspection (RoI). All this record has to do is identify what was inspected and be signed and dated by the person carrying out the inspection. Other than providing a signature that might not be legible, the inspector does not have to give his name or registration number in this record and he does not have to declare that the work he has inspected is safe and compliant.

While this appears to be so loose as to question the value of inspection, it doesn’t mean the inspection itself is any less stringent than the current requirements. Regulation 70 makes it clear that tests, visual inspections or other actions have to be carried out by the inspector in order to satisfy himself that the work is safe and compliant, but his record does not have to validate that it is.

All this RoI appears to do at this stage is get rid of the false notion that the inspector is simply performing a bureaucratic function of ‘countersigning’ a CoC. The changes make it clear that the inspection function is a safety one and that a second pair of eyes and hands are independently testing and verifying the safety of the work being inspected.

This is also borne out by the introduction in the 2012 regulations of the legal right to rely on someone else’s documentation for certain functions. A person making a connection can rely on any CoC for the work they are ‘connecting’ but where ‘inspecting’ is required prior to connection because it the work is high-risk, the inspector cannot rely on any CoC (and the testing carried out for it) for the purpose of inspection.

And when it comes to completing a record of the inspection, the inspector is not carrying out prescribed electrical work (PEW) so the record is not a safety verification document like a CoC or an ESC. However, the person connecting the installation must sight this record or have completed it himself (if he is authorised to inspect) before making the connection, so the written evidence of inspection having been completed must be available. But if it isn’t, there is no offence provision for failing to complete a RoI, only for giving a false one.

Unsafe work

Because it is no longer clear what an inspector can, cannot or must do if he finds something unsafe or non-compliant, it appears inspections are about to become more like periodic assessments in that records of inspections of high-risk work have to be ‘prepared’ regardless of any unsafety found, according to r.72 (1) which provides for no exceptions.

However, the work cannot be connected until a RoI is ‘completed’. This appears to shift the inspector’s power and obligations to the connecter, who could be an inspector, electrician or line mechanic. (The regulations now address work functions and not classes of registration, so there are no references to an inspector, and a person carrying out inspection has different obligations to a person carrying out connection even though it might be one and the same person.)

But there is still no requirement for the inspector to have identified and recorded unsafety or non-compliance, and no requirement for the connecter to query this, which appears to diminish the power and purpose of inspection. Irrespective of this, the connecter still has to carry out his own verifications to ensure the installation is safe – a third pair of eyes checking polarity. He is legally protected if he relies on any CoC, but it is unclear if he can rely on anything an inspector has done such as his RoI by virtue of its attachment to a CoC.

There are also concerns as to whose duty it should be to attach RoIs to CoCs which inspectors will no longer have to sign, and why inspectors will have to lodge details of CoCs they didn’t create on a new government database.

But where these changes might unravel is when the connection (the last bit of PEW that allows livening to follow) is made by a line mechanic. After connection, an ESC attesting the installation is safe to use must be issued by “the person who completed the work” and that includes connection. If that places all the responsibility for the safety of the entire installation on a line mechanic’s shoulders, does this mean line mechanics connecting installations to networks will have to gain installation, testing and inspection competencies the same as an electrician or inspector?

Energy Safety has advised it is preparing an amendment to the regulations that will look at where certification requirements could benefit from refinement.