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Fatality Sends Shocks Through the Installer Community

Release Date: 18/05/2012

ECA and ELECSA warns electricians to follow correct procedures after unearthing catalogue of failings.

The death of a young mother killed by an electric shock in her own flat has prompted calls for tighter industry control over inspection and the testing of installations.

The ECA acted as an expert witness in the tragic case of Emma Shaw, the Black Country woman who died while mopping up leaking water from a faulty heater in her home. The ECA and its Part P competent person scheme, ELECSA, is calling for an industry-wide campaign to make sure that all electrical contractors undertake the correct inspection and testing procedures to ensure that they are safe and meet the requirements of the IET Wiring Regulations. This call stretches to outlaw industry ‘corner-cutting’ practices undertaken that can, as in this case, lead to fatal consequences.

“This was a tragic case and highlighted a practice that can ultimately lead to electrical contractors facing serious criminal or civil charges because they have not followed the correct procedures or, they have falsified compliance documentation,” warns the ECA.

“All electrical businesses are under increasing time and commercial pressures, but there is no excuse for sloppy workmanship or practices that condone the cutting of corners. Installation certificates when completed properly will help to protect you but if you say you have tested and approved the installation by signing the certificate, and you have not, you have made a false statement and you are liable for the consequences should any problem arise.  In this situation, the certificates you supply will help to incriminate you,” he said.

The body of the 22-year-old woman was discovered by her boyfriend after she had received a fatal electric shock after a heating appliance had sprung a leak. Evidence uncovered by the ECA and presented to the Black Country coroner’s court highlighted a catalogue of failings in the electrical work carried out and inconsistencies in the test certificates and paperwork for the new block of flats in West Bromwich. The Coroner has written to the Lord Chancellor and the family of Ms Shaw are looking to take further civil action against the electrical company which has since gone into administration.

In his letter, the coroner Robin Balmain, invoked Rule 43 of the Coroner’s (Amendment) Rules 2008 which allows him to report circumstances giving rise to future concerns to a body that is in a position to influence change. He has raised his concerns by writing to the Chair of the Competent Persons Forum over the practice of not carrying out the full and thorough checks required for all installation works.

He said: “The evidence given to me was that the insulation resistance test is often done sometime before the system as a whole is tested and certified, because sometimes electricity needs to be supplied for other trades and that when the domestic electrical certificate is completed and signed, there is in some quarters a practice for the testing officer to be told that the insulation resistance test (known as megarring) has been done and is satisfactory, leading to the inspector filling in the certificate without satisfying himself of his own test that the insulation resistance is in order.

“Clearly, this is highly unsatisfactory and indeed dangerous practise and I am writing to draw the matter to your attention in case you feel that action can be taken to emphasise to your members that the testing officer is personally liable for the authenticity of the entries he made on the certificate in question and that the practice of relying on another is to deplored.”

A test certificate was signed off and issued to the customer without the proper checks being completed, not only in Emma’s flat, but other apartments in the complex which the ECA report highlighted as ‘anomalies’ and may result in action being pursued against the individuals in question.

In their 40-page report to the Coroner’s Court, the ECA concluded: “It is considered beyond reasonable doubt that the installing contractor did not carry out and accurately record the results of the insulation test for this circuit. This also raises concerns as to the validity of similar tests for other properties within this development.”

ELECSA, the assessment and certification division of the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), was working for the Coroner and the Police in this case and Steve Mitchell, Divisional Director for ECA Services at the time, adds: “Part P of the Building Regulations was introduced in 2005 to help protect consumers from poor and dangerous workmanship and it has made a major contribution in improving the standards of installation work. The checks and tests undertaken as part of the installation must be adhered to rigorously and all firms undertaking electrical installations must follow the regulations rather than seemingly cut corners or treat Part P as a ‘tick box’ exercise.”

And he added: “Equally, the scheme providers have a responsibility to provide a robust assessment scheme to ensure that these safeguards are being met. A ‘soft’ assessment is not providing contractors any favours in the long run and if contractors feel that perhaps their annual assessment regime is not rigorous enough, then they should raise those concerns with their competent person scheme provider. Assessment is not a tick box exercise – it is a thorough review of the procedure and process to keep people safe and give consumers confidence in using a registered contractor.”