Electrical Blog 05 – Introduction to Electrics in Social Housing
To those who have been following my blogs over the last few months, I have been writing about my journey in the electrical industry. I’m trying to be very PC but things are obviously about to change, I want everyone to know exactly what I’ve been through so that they too can make an informed decision about the direction our industry is pointing and the things we may or may not need to do to influence positive improvements.
As always there are a couple of points I want to raise at this point which I feel are important.
I am going to be very honest, it needs to be. If you agree with the content, please don’t shy away from agreeing with it, simply like it. It’s more important for you to confirm the content as this will ultimately lead to a change that HAS to happen. It’s funny actually because I get about these days, I attended the Elex show and people were coming up saying they love my feed and the blogs yet they never like or comment.
I apologise to those people I am going to call out in these blogs. I won’t use your name directly but I will detail the things that happened between us.
So what are we going to cover, see below:
1. Where my journey started and college.
2. My first employment as an electrician – its an eye-opener.
3. Redundancy and self-employment
4. My first role as a Qualifying Supervisor – let’s expose what we all do prior to our assessments.
5. This blog – From sparky to compliance manager – this was my shock entrance to social housing and my trip away from our trusted wiring regulations.
6. Seeing the industry flaws opening up in front of me and then stepping into a different world of the electrical industry. The email, the meeting and then a national working group.
7. My application to JPEL64 – in detail
8. The future of our industry – my view and my opinion.
So where did we finish off? I had been approached by a Local Authority (ALMO actually) and given the opportunity to be interviewed for a Technical Surveyors job. This wasn’t direct for the council; it was through an agency as a consultant self-employed Surveyor.
So on my first day, I left really early to get into the office before everyone else, I probably walked in around 07:15 and to my surprise, everyone was sat at their desks working. I remember doing a complete double take at my watch thinking I had it all wrong but no, the repairs team, the adaptations team and the compliance team were all sat there typing away and chatting.
I often remember things that have happened in the past and wonder how I would react now if I was put in those positions, what I mean is my mindset has changed and to think back at those events my question would have been;
Why is everyone at work this early when we manage Social Housing, surely very few people want to be contacted or want to contact a council at 7 in the morning.
The answer is obvious now, but only because I worked in that environment for a few years. It has everything to do with the hour’s people work and the time they can get back!!! It’s a council thing!
Anyway, I’ve come into the office and I’ve been met with a sight most electrical folk in social housing will be faced with. A massive pile of electrical documents that need to be checked. When I say a massive pile, I mean over one thousand just sat there perfectly placed in a cocoon-like formation to welcome me. These have been sat there for many months because the ALMO had no one previous to check them and relied 100% on the contractor to confirm compliance.
Over the next few months, I found myself taking documents home, I knew all about the 10% check mentality but I couldn’t find a document that was correct, it either had Tipex all over it, fields missing, readings that were way out and in some cases not even signed…. For some reason, the fully qualified electricians and their Qualifying Supervisors couldn’t seem to get it right. I started to create separate piles of documents, one for rewire required, another for incorrect completion and another for high risk. These piles then had sub-piles……!!!!! In terms of the failings I was finding, I had one rule, If I was going to challenge something I would need to fully understand why it was wrong and I would never just challenge something based on my opinion. I still stand by this 100%. Interpretation in our industry is such a dangerous thing that makes us question people’s competence and in most cases argue even though we know its open to interpretation so both sides are right. I was simply checking documents and then visiting site to check the work. I was still 100% in electrical mode and understood the regulations extremely well. During this time, I was made permanent in the council as the Senior Technical Surveyor (electrical). I want to say I was the only electrical qualified person in the ALMO but this would be a lie, there were a few more but these chaps refused to help or work on electrical because of the restructures that had happened in the past. Apparently going down a pay grade and being asked to support capital investment teams means you only do that. I am still amazed at the size of some chips on some people’s shoulders. Very competent people wasting a life of experience because they believe they’re owed more.
With all the documents I wanted to write a narrative to explain why I had rejected them or why I had added them to their retrospective piles. I needed to add regulations into the narrative to justify what I was challenging. I was really nervous because I was going to the performance meeting with the contractor to explain and I didn’t want egg on my face. Once the work was done I sent it over to my oracle… every sparky has one!!! Another sparky who you bounce things off or call when you’re in a pickle. I will never forget the conversation; it went something like this:
“You can’t just challenge that. I mean its right from an electrical perspective but you have to take into account the Social Housing regs”
“Wait, what Social Housing regs, what do you mean?”
I was so scared and felt like I had taken a massive step back in life. I didn’t understand and was worried that I was about to go into the lion’s den and challenge something that might not be something. I mean what if the regs I work to are completely different to the Social Housing regs…? Why have I never heard of the Social Housing Regs? I needed to get my student head back on and do some research. I remember calling the scheme providers as at the time that’s all I knew; they’ll have the answer. They didn’t!! If you google it you are met with a lot of guff that doesn’t make sense.
So, picture this if you will…. I have spent months putting reports together on performance, assets, compliance and in one phone call I think everything has been a waste because apparently, Social Housing have some regs.
It’s not as bad as that, the ‘Regs’ are Housing regulations and when you start to understand them you can map across to our regs. What’s really clear is that our wiring regulations don’t really take into account the regulations that are used in Social Housing. They’ve referenced landlords etc. in part 6 on the document templates but they’ve not mentioned at all the requirements under the duty of care and the need to verify a safe system at the beginning of a tenancy and, to keep the electrical systems in good repair throughout the tenancy. Housing Act, Landlord and Tenants, Defective Premises, HHSRS, Consumer Protection just to name a few ‘Regulations’ that you need to fully understand before you work in Electrical in Social Housing. What normally happens and, what I would recommend, is that people ignore the BS7671 and just focus on the EAW89 as this is the regulations that point us in the right direction.
I spent a lot of time reading the additional rules and regulations that I needed to know to do my job properly. The fact that I had been scared or had my eyes open to other regulations and acts triggered a need for me to start looking outside the box in terms of management of risk in properties. Forget the wiring regulations, they’re the minimum required standards for electrical systems…. If you manage properties you need to have sufficient knowledge of things like BS5839, 5266, 62305, ISO 55000 to name a few.
I managed to get a handle on the documents we were receiving and the meetings to address the issues were taking place. I would comment about a C1 hazard in the HHSRS and the contractor’s electrical manager would say “we clear all or make safe all C1s”. I don’t mean C1 observation I mean C1 risks in HHSRS. What’s important to realise here is that the electrical contractors are where I was at the beginning of this blog, why do they need to know about all the other things when in actual fact that’s my problem. It all comes down to that partnership and a complete understanding as to what each person is responsible for, if that respect isn’t there you constantly battle to prove who’s best at their job.
The above was a constant battle that never really ended and is probably still going now.
I remember I was about 5 or 6 months in and my direct line manager went off sick. I was asked to act up to that position (he was Electrical Service Manager – I think the chap had his 15th edition only and no actual electrical quals). At this point, I was completely by myself managing 22,000 properties (electrical cyclical etc.) and my job role specified “The Electrical Safety Management of **************’.
Let me tell you what stood out the most, it’s something that stuck with me for the full time I worked with this Authority and it’s something I now see across the country. It can be completely described in four words:
THAT’S NOT MY JOB
The tribal mentality is such a show stopper for any organisation that wants to progress positively. Within social housing there are rules that have to be followed, they go something like this:
1. Do your own job and don’t try to interfere with mine.
2. Don’t do your job better than anyone else’s as this will put the spotlight on them.
3. You’re not allowed to discuss or implement changes that will affect anyone else’s budget.
You think I’m joking!!!!
Let me give you an example;
Mutual Exchange in Social Housing. When a tenant shakes hands with another tenant and swaps houses (more to it than that). To stay within the law, we have to verify that the electrical system is safe at the beginning of the tenancy. So, this means we have to send an electrician round to check both properties prior to the move. But when do we do this? On the day of the move, as soon as they agree, do we check both initially and then check again on the day doing two tests?
The authority I worked for did one on the day of the move. My concern here was that some were, and had, been missed. I wanted to change this to a test booked and complete with approval for swap only after receiving a satisfactory document. I suggested this and was immediately asked to attend a meeting with a manager who was one grade above me. Surprise surprise the manager was the person who wrote the specification……!!!
‘Ryan, I wrote that spec and had it agreed with legal. It’s not changing”
The meeting lasted about 10 minutes with him telling me about rule number 1 above. The only problem is that’s not your job, its mine. Electrical safety and all. Problem is, he held the purse for responsive and I held the risk of compliance.
A few other examples for you that will highlight the point more;
I would fall upon a void that is to be re-let, I check the installation and find the system still has BS3036 fuses and no RCD. I approach the void manager and highlight re-letting a property now with 3036 fuses could potentially be dangerous down the line as we won’t be able to get in and install full RCD. I mean the results are fine but the installation is old and we should at least fit RCD as a minimum. I am then met with:
We have a timescale to re-let this property. Do I have to install RCD by law?
I receive a call when I had a team of guys managing risk with me, the call is from the investment manager asking if I could send someone to a scheme to hand over the full refurb of a sheltered scheme. They must have just painted it or wallpapered around the accessories…. No, full refurb of controlled entry, fire alarms, emergency lighting, wiring, sub-mains to apartments, the whole lot.
I kick up a fuss with the CEO who then invites the investment manager in (who subsequently is one of the guys who used to be electrical and has old qualifications). Apparently its ok because they used the old specifications which they used early 2000’s to rewire another scheme. You know the ones that state:
“All electrical work to be carried out in accordance with IEE wiring regulations and must be completed by an NICEIC or ECA contractor”
Totally outdated and wrong.
When you move into Social Housing you need to understand that the BS7671 is not the only Regulations or publication you have to understand. You need to be able to hold your own against a contractor whose sole job is to calculate the air circulation from a specific fan and in a specific area of a property, you need to be able to comfortably manage performance meetings with Lightning Conductor, Communal Ventilation, Electric Heating, PAT, Solar PV, Fire Alarms, Emergency Lighting contractors etc. and be also able to hold your own against the manufacturers they bring in when you challenge them.
The most important aspect, or task of managing electrics in Social Housing, is the ability to build trusting relationships with people at all levels. I managed to get very close to the senior management team which is why they approached me for all electrical issues and to attend meetings with MPs to clarify electrical concerns. However, I never did work out how to build the relationship with the old guard, they didn’t like that I was more competent in today’s electrical management than they were and so they never invited me to their monthly get together that they still had.
It’s really sad that electrical and compliance managers are second-class citizens in Social Housing organisations that have never killed anyone publicly. It’s even sadder that those who have will bend over backwards to find the solution to prevent it happening again.
I could obviously go really deep into the problems in social housing but I think scratching the surface above is enough. I haven’t gone into detail about the unionised individuals who expect and demand stuff unethically and how I witnessed people starting at 7 am and playing golf by 2 pm every day.
The next blog I write will start introducing the email I sent to the IET expressing concern on the 18th February 2013 which then triggered a chain of events that will lead us up to my application to JPEL64. I’m going to publish every detail where I can. If the emails and correspondence I have don’t contain the words “this email/correspondents is for the intended person only “ then I’m going to let you read it.
It’s time for a change in our industry and hope that my blogs find a way into the pockets of those ethical members of our government who have the power to instigate improvements.
To be continued…