Tuesday 15 April 2014

Taking the P

It’s not often I do requests and it’s not often I write anything to intentionally increase the sum total of peace, harmony and understanding out there but in this blog I can finish off several birds with a single hefty rock. It might also go some way to explain my inherent and automatic mistrust not only of experts but also of every single one of us in possession of 'a little knowledge'. Today we’re talking about electricians and we’re talking about the actual law this time, not the one named after Georg Simon Ohm.

Some of you may have heard of Part P. You may be under the impression that it is a qualification – many electricians will refer to themselves as ‘having’ it or ‘taking it’ or ‘passing it’. You may be offered ‘Part P Certificates’ or be informed that a tradesman you employ is ‘registered with’ Part P. I was told only yesterday that Part P is for plumbers and many electricians sincerely believe it is aimed solely at kitchen fitters.

Some say that it is some mysterious closed shop – a Cowboys’ Charter intended to allow all sorts of unscrupulous artisans to become ‘electricians’ overnight via ‘Five Day Wonder’ courses. Others believe it is a secret plot to monitor honest electricians for tax purposes. And still more will never be dissuaded from the notion that it was clumsily rushed into being following the untimely and tragic death of a Liberal Democrat peer’s daughter in 2004. The truth of that particular matter is that Mary Wherry died a month AFTER Part P had been signed, sealed and delivered and that culmination was preceded by well over a decade of lobbying and consultation.

The fact that its introduction coincided with the opening of the Polish plumber floodgates and the ensuing downward pressure on trade wages assisted the conspiracy theorists no end. Add to this the increase in trades-folk using the Internet at that time and various trades forums suddenly scrutinising work like never before and the rumour mill was gifted grist to grind for years to come. They are still at it now, a decade on, spreading disinformation and generally getting their knickers in a big twisty mess. To understand you must first immerse, so gather round and listen, my pretties…but first forget all that I have just told you – any variant of the foregoing is simply incorrect. Now, are you ready for the truth?

1. No qualifications whatsoever are required to work as an electrician in the United Kingdom. None. I kid you not; if you work with electrical equipment (and equipment is defined in the regulations as everything from a light switch to a power station) you are, by dictionary definition, an electrician. The only legal requirement is that the work is carried out competently to the minimum national standard.

2. The minimum standard is the current edition of British Standard 7671 “Requirements for Electrical Installations”, otherwise referred to as the “Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) Wiring Regulations”. In one form or another, this has been around since 11th May 1882 and has required, from the very start, that testing be carried out, although it wasn’t until the Eleventh Edition, in 1939 that any form of certification was mandated. The current version is the Seventeenth Edition; it is 464 numbered pages long and virtually incomprehensible to the majority of electricians. This doesn’t mean they don’t comply with it, just that very few can authoritatively demonstrate that they do.

3. To comply with ‘The Regs’ you must meet all the relevant requirements including the one (Reg 134.2.1) which states “During erection and on completion of an installation or an addition or alteration to an installation and before it is put into service, appropriate inspection and testing shall be carried out by competent persons to verify that the requirements of this standard have been met. Appropriate certification shall be issued…”  In other words, the work does NOT comply with The Wiring Regs until it has been certified and that applies to ALL electrical work; even the changing of a light switch should, by rights, be certified.

4. The Wiring Regulations are non-statutory; there is even a regulation which states this fact. But it goes on to inform that, regardless of its non-legal status (for which there are good reasons) it is nevertheless the standard by which compliance with statutory obligations is proven. In the workplace the principal legal obligation is the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. In a dwelling it is The Building Regulations.

5. And THAT, dear reader, is what 'P' is a part of. The legal requirement of Part P of The Building Regulations says exactly this and not a word more: “Reasonable provision shall be made in the design and installation of electrical installations in order to protect persons operating, maintaining or altering the installations from fire or injury.” That is it; all of it. By ‘reasonable provision’ it means ‘complying with BS 7671’ which is explicitly stated in the supporting Approved Document. All with me so far? On we go then…

6. First of all, Part P (that single sentence, remember?) applies to ALL electrical installation work in dwellings but ANYBODY can carry out such work, for gain or otherwise, as long as it is done ‘competently’. Beyond certain minor works, maintenance or emergencies such work is notifiable to Local Authority Building Control (LABC) which incurs some hefty inspection costs disproportionate to the extent of the work in most cases; LABC is really geared up to overseemuch larger building projects.

7. For certain specialised building services and elements the government has authorised the creation of Competent Persons Schemes whereby enterprises such as electricians are independently assessed to self-certify that their work complies not only with their own trade regulations but all relevant Building Regulations without the need to engage and pay for LABC intervention. This is what an electrician means when he mistakenly says he’s ‘got’ Part P. A better term would be ‘Registered Electrician’ except anybody, from any trade can be so registered if they meet the entry requirements

8. Phew. We’re there. So, engage any tradesman to carry out work in the home which includes electrical work and compliance is their responsibility. Legally, beyond certain minor works, they must either inform LABC and pay an inspection fee, or be registered as a competent person to self-certify Building Regulations compliance. Either way there should be an Electrical Installation Certificate issued on completion of the job. You may also subsequently receive a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate, depending on the route to compliance.

Electric Shock: When you get the bill...

Any questions?  It isn’t particularly complicated but trade resistance to regulation and a general inability to grasp and use correct terminology means the bulk of those involved – customer and trades person alike – find themselves confused. There’s no need to be. A principal requirement of the Building Regulations is that all work is carried out in a ‘workmanlike’ manner; if it doesn't look like a professional job, start checking credentials. Just remember the Sparkies’ Code: “Red to red, black to black… blew to bits.” (That was much funnier before they changed the wiring colours back in 2004-6)

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