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Electrical Compliance in Social Housing – Some Home Truths

From that title alone I know I have your attention, not because it’s catchy or because it portrays the possibility of something being said that’s juicy, but because you know there are things that need to be said and you’re wondering if I’m going to say them. If I don’t it’s not because I don’t want to, it’s probably more to do with the fact I have loads of other things to say and I genuinely forgot to mention that thing you’re thinking about!! Post it below if you feel it’s worthy of discussion.


Social Housing and electrical compliance are two things that should easily go together, I mean surely it’s not that hard to manage risk and compliance with a clear process and using ‘competent’ people. In truth, it probably wouldn’t be hard if it wasn’t for those people in organisations who feel electrical is just another area of the business that could potentially increase the profit or bottom line projections. Come one, I mean if it works…….….!!!!


“So this year we have £4million budget to carry out statutory cyclical servicing inspections of the electrical installations and safety installations within our organisation. We need to make a financial saving of 15% across the group. I have advised that we can generate a 3% saving from your budget”


So what’s wrong with the statement above, which I’m sure all electrical compliance managers have had? The statement above clearly states the budget is set for your statutory obligation, skimming 3% off it (£120,000) means not fulfilling that statutory obligation on an area of the business.


“We can check the emergency lighting every 6 months instead or not carry out a periodic inspection on the smaller commercial buildings. I am sure I could justify that it’s actually a domestic property so let’s extend to 10 years”


If you employ an electrical compliance team, which I know some don’t, and use their contractor as the sole means of compliance reporting (don’t worry I won’t say your names), you have to appreciate that they’re not another department that can make financial efficiencies that easy, it can be done but you need to empower and lead your team to help them innovate. In the most, financial efficiencies in electrical compliance mean not doing something.


So the first home truth, which kind of links with the second, is people making a call on areas of the business selfishly based on their own objectives. A total lack of understanding around what’s what in electrical compliance.


The first step to any organisation pointing in the right direction is to trust and respect those who are qualified to make the call competently. Compliance managers only many budgets because you command them to, their focus, well the good ones, is safety to those you provide services to, I’m telling you now that most I know get a kick out of getting it right, not saving you money.


Remember – “You don’t manage people, you manage things. You lead people” – Grace Hopper


The next point we need to look closely at is the people who actually manage electrical compliance or services that directly impact electrical safety. In some cases, these people have fallen into the position simply because of the dynamics of Social Housing policy and process. I think a lot of folks would be amazed to learn that in a Social Housing environment it is very difficult for you to lose your job, the unions have done a great job at assisting people in employment but I feel they may have created an issue that leads to issues around electrical compliance.


For example:


Say you started work in a Local Authority or Social Housing provider as a Housing Officer (you have some electrical qualifications because you once attended a starter course on electrics when you left school) you’ve worked there for 5 years and your position becomes redundant. The authority doesn’t release you, it sticks you in what’s called a ‘talent pool’ where you will be offered positions before the authority advertises those posts.


I think people would be amazed to learn how many people manage things in Authority’s and Social Housing whereby they have no clue about the service other than the things they pick up along the way.


So, my second home truth is that you will never become electrically compliant if you expect an unqualified person to manage the service. It doesn’t matter how many years the person’s been doing it, if the fundamentals aren’t there they just won’t be able to react on their feet.


The next point I’d like to raise is about visibility and then ultimately accountability. This area has a couple of arms that feed into a bigger picture. Let’s break them down:


1.        Visibility of the work that is carried out throughout the whole organisation by the organisation and its contractors and ISP.


2.        Visibility of the ever-changing asset.


The first point above is highlighting interdependency, you have to be able to synergise with every department in your organisation, if you don’t you open yourself up to risk. Let me give you another example:


In organisations, we have loads of departments all striving to finish their objectives on time and within budget. We have planned, responsive, voids, lifts, adaptations, gas compliance, electrical compliance, stock condition, investment planning and disrepair, these are all on the housing side. Some Local Authorities then have private renting, Corporate Property Management and building control teams etc. who all push to achieve their own objectives.


You would be right in thinking that the electrical compliance team in that list should have “visibility” of everything that happens in the organisations. In some, if not most cases, it doesn’t!!


If you’re reading this and you front a Local Authority or Social Housing provider, I urge you to speak to your electrical manager and seek clarification on his/her visibility of all the work which involves electrical in your organisation. I suspect the answer will shock you.


The second part of the visibility section is about Assets. If you don’t know where all the data is coming from and how it’s configured, it’s impossible to manage. All of the departments above carry out tasks and those tasks are fed back into the organisation’s asset management system, or at least that’s how it should work. Very few organisations check these to verify that the data is transferred for one, and that its accurate for two!!


My third truth, if you don’t have a hold on your data management, you don’t have a hold on compliance and there’s no accountability.


The next truth is a risky one and one that I intend on taking a stab in the dark with. It revolves around a word that some people in the electrical industry hate, competence.


Firstly, let’s define competence:


Skill – the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude.


Experience – knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed.


Knowledge – Acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation.


There are many documents where you can look to see what the industry classes as competent which also include certain tasks. Let’s look at one for example:


‘Minimum Technical Competence for Third-Party Certification Schemes for Electrical Installation in Dwellings’


The above document, which you can search for on the internet, details the minimum requirements for certain tasks.


Believe me when I say there are loads of people testing electrical installations who do not hold the required qualifications. If you don’t use suitability qualified folk to carry out inspections you cant expect the data or output to be accurate enough to plan financial projects and lifecycle planning responsibilities.


So to link this with visibility and the data you receive, if you allow people who don’t hold the required qualifications and experience to test installations and note data on the documents that you then feed into your asset management, you’re actively corrupting the data making it hard to plan and manage.


Let’s also deal with those who say “I’ve been doing this for 30 years’ son, I’m better than most of these new sparks”. I’m never going to question your experience in this circumstance, but I’m sorry the only thing I think when you say this to me is “book the exam then and save on the course, you should be able to easily pass”.


The the next home truth, if your specification allows it, the main contractors in the market today will not use Competent people to carry out the work and will lack management of the multiple subcontractors they use to improve their bottom line.


You want quality, use quality! You want longevity, use the electricians who pride themselves on being current and watch the standards improve.


Another area of concern in electrical safety is procurement. People keep saying we can’t specify particular products because it goes against the EU directive rules. We can’t specify people out of the market as it’s unfair…. NO, sorry but that is absolutely ridiculous. The people who are competent in the industry and who’ve installed accessories etc. know what the best product on the market is, and by the way, those products were once inferior to others. Maybe the lesser-known suppliers should do more to help themselves in the industry and make people WANT to use their products as opposed to getting a knee up by regulations that promote mix and match products which are not yet recognised.


So here’s the truth, electrical compliance managers want to use products like Wylex, Hager and Crabtree because whether people like this or not they’ve proven to be reliable and proven to last. We will give others the opportunity but for the purpose of safety and the pursuit of sleep on a night, we want to use the product we installed.


The above statement doesn’t exclude people it just provides the next home truth. Let us use companies and products that say “use us because we can demonstrate the benefits” not “use us because the government says you can’t exclude us”.


Electrical compliance and risk management would be easy if the service managers didn’t have to spend all their time firefighting against the above items and just had the ability to focus on the job at hand. I could write about this all day but don’t want to bore you all. I’m sure some folk will have strong opinions on this.


Let’s summarise:


1.        People making a call on areas of the business selfishly based on their own objectives.


2.        You will never become electrically compliant if you expect an unqualified person to manage the service.


3.        If you don’t have a hold on your data management, you don’t have a hold on compliance and there’s no accountability.


4.        You want quality, use quality! You want longevity, use the electricians who pride themselves on being current and watch the standards improve.


5.        Let us use companies and products that say “use us because we can demonstrate the benefits” not “use us because the government says you can’t exclude us”.


As always, I am more than happy to discuss this or any other ways to manage compliance in Social Housing. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and noticed loads of things that just don’t work.


We could apply home truths to electrical third-party audits, in-house audits, the lack of electrical KPIs, access to test and enforcement. So many issues we just don’t know where to start.

Ryan Dempsey - CEO
Ryan Dempsey

Over the last few years I have found myself in a very fortunate position where I can implement and promote change in the Social Housing sector. My passion and drive to improve Electrical Safety continually fuels my motivation to implement slight changes to engineer and industry work patterns in the hope the mentality currently sitting in the engineering industry can change. We need to ensure the right people with the right skills and experience are working in and around the properties we provide. Not only that, we need to ensure the workforce are the people talking and helping develop the standards we work towards. Improved quality assurance and the avoidance of the 'status quo' should be a starting point in any organisations route to complete compliance. Improved compliance at all levels will improve the safety and sustainability of the properties we provide and manage. The key to improve risk management is to pinpoint the areas of risk and manage these individually. Don't over complicate a simple process. We also need to ensure those with a similar passion speak up and be counted for. It's time for change and that means moving out the old and replacing with the new. All the views and opinions on here are my own and not that of any company I am associated with.

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