As with a Gas Safe engineer, you may think that I have the power to shut off your power should your electrics prove to be dangerous following an inspection, but this is not the case, and for good reason.


Many of us will have experienced our gas boiler being condemned and immediately taken out of service. I remember back in ’99 having a local firm repair my central heating in September, then when it broke down again in December the same firm came out and immediately wrote the thing off. They charged for the privilege of both undertaking the maintenance and then wholly condemning the bally thing just three months later as being unfit for purpose. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed; if it was on its last legs, then the engineer should have noticed in the earlier visit. Instead, me and my pregnant wife spent Christmas ’99 out of pocket and with no heating.

A more reputable company was eventually engaged to replace it, while the outfit who wasted my time and money went on my personal shit-list of firms who I consider not to be trustworthy and who won’t see a penny more of my cash. They’re still in business today, but I won't be touching them, not even with the unusually long bargepole I normally keep around for such occasions.


But I digress, where was I…?


Ah yes, my legal POWERS! …or lack thereof. Now, if you own a copy of BS7671, the IET Wiring Regulations, you’ll know that section 5 contains example notices and appendix 6 has model forms, but neither has any kind of label, form or other such notice for the condemning of electrical services. If during the course of an electrical inspection I find a live circuit to be in a dangerous condition, then there is no standard regulatory notice or set wording defined in BS7671 that I could use to de-energise the supply and slap across the fuse or breaker in adhesive sticker form to tell people not to switch it back on. There are third-party examples of such ‘danger notices’ available, but the wording and layout varies, and the regs book has nothing to say about when these notices should explicitly be used, which sadly can lead to them being abused. As an example, someone fishing for a rewire contract may well slap a danger notice on an electrical installation which is simply just old, even if it has been well maintained and isn’t actually unsafe.


When I visit homes or businesses in a professional capacity, if I come across something that is electrically dangerous then I have a duty to do something about it, and there are four options open to me…

  • 1. Do nothing. Obviously, this is the easiest choice, but it leaves me legally liable as the last responsible professional on site. If I don’t declare something I should have spotted and a shock or fire incident occurs afterwards, then I’m potentially in legal hot water.

  • 2. Make safe the dangerous situation. Sometimes this can be done easily and is a no-brainer, but what if it’ll take hours of labour and some pricey parts to make good? Although I do offer some charitable services through my Community Support programme, I am running a business and I can’t give away my professional skills and materials for free if the client can’t or won’t pay, and I’m in no legal position to be able to demand money there and then. If the site contact, be it a homeowner, facilities manager, business owner or whatever doesn’t want to employ my services to put right, then I’m under no obligation to crack open the toolbox, so I have to move on to one of the remaining two options.

  • 3. Be bloody-minded and insist that the juice be removed. Let’s say I remove the fuse/breaker or install a lock-off device to prevent it being re-energised. I have no legal right to do this, even if it is directly for the safety of my client, and two minutes after I leave site that same client may be wrenching off my padlock or replacing the missing fuse with a bit of copper wire to get the current flowing again. Such tinkering could result in an already dangerous situation being made much worse.

  • 4. Transfer the liability back to the site contact by making them fully aware of the problems and the recommended course of action. This can be via a formal report such as an EICR, but where there is immediate danger and I haven’t been given the authority to make it safe, I can at least write down the basic facts and ask them to sign it as read, or failing such cooperation, I can use a voice recorder app on my phone to record my verbal concerns and their refusal to allow me to act. So long as I have the “I told you so” line of defence then I’m in the clear.


Why would anybody not want an electrically dangerous situation immediately made safe, and why do the wiring regulations not explicitly allow me to shut off the power where there is a risk to life and property? Well, for one reason, and I'll give you a couple of clues, it has the Queen's head on it and it makes a 'ker-ching' noise....

fiftyquid

A Gas Safe engineer can condemn a boiler and turn off the gas supply until it’s made safe because only Gas Safe engineers are permitted to work on gas appliances and because of the inherent dangers of gas with its poisonous fumes and sometimes annoyingly explosive nature. Electricity is also dangerous if not treated with the proper respect, but here in the UK there is no legal requirement for electrics to be installed or maintained by qualified electricians. Anybody can work on their own electrical installation, although it may be a can of worms if not done properly. If the gas gets cut off then it’s not a showstopper as space heating, water heating and cooking can still be achieved by readily available alternative means such as wood burners, plug-in electric radiators, immersion heaters, kettles, microwaves etc. If I were legally allowed to condemn an electrical installation, then it would be an immediate problem for any home or business owner. Without electricity, there are no lights, no power for operational control of the central heating and no cooking appliances (unless there’s a gas hob and a box of matches). Lack of electricity renders a dwelling immediately uninhabitable and fully shuts down a business. Even if it’s for the safety of those within the building, expecting them to continue by candlelight with no heating or hot water until they cough up for remedial work would be massively open to abuse by rogue electrical firms who could hold whole buildings to ransom until their made-up charges are paid, regardless of whether the work actually needs doing or not.

Also consider that the oldest, worst and most dangerous installations are likely to be in buildings occupied by those who cannot afford a better standard. The electrical installation may be in a poor state because those residing within lack the financial means to keep up the maintenance, or maybe they rent the property from a tight-fisted landlord who shirks their responsibility to provide adequate and safe accommodation. If someone is simply not able to make good a poor electrical installation because they either cannot afford it, or they don’t own it, then who am I to cut off the juice, slap on a DANGER sticker and tootle off back to my nice warm habitable home, leaving a family of four huddling around a candle for both heat and light and wondering how on earth they can raise funds for repairs and how many weeks that may take?

If you’re a landlord, you have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment for your tenants. If you’re a business owner, you have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment for your workers. If you’re a homeowner, you don’t have any real legal obligations as such (other than compliance with the Building Regulations), but presumably you’re incentivised in keeping things electrically safe because you prefer to keep yourself and your family alive.

In all cases, a professional electrician who has informed a building owner/manager of a dangerous situation has transferred the legal liability away from themselves and onto that person. Failure to act on their part will likely invalidate their insurance if there is an incident, and it could lead to their prosecution for failing to act on professional advice relating to the ongoing safety of the people and property they are responsible for.

When it comes to getting a report on the condition of any electrical installation, then unsurprisingly you need an Electrical Installation Condition Report. For more information on what that entails, point your mouse or fingertip to this link and read on!