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SA’s department of labour failing to ensure electrical components safety

Dirk Engelbrecht,
President, ECA
3 May 2013 – “Unless South Africa’s department of labour takes its duties seriously there will be a rapid deterioration of standards in the electrical components sector in the country, and the safety and welfare of people and properties will be compromised,” says president of the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), Dirk Engelbrecht.

The ECA represents the majority of employers operating in this sector in South Africa, and as indicated by Engelbrecht’s comment it has serious concerns about the South African department of labour’s lack of interest or control it has in carrying out its mandate to ensure all electrical components comply with the relevant safety standards. It is despite the department of labour being responsible for enforcing the legislation which controls this.

“We are also concerned about the failure of the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) to carry out its mandate of ensuring that all electrical components comply with the relevant safety standards.

On the 4th of March 2013 ECA(SA)’s national director, Chris Greager, addressed an email letter to the department of labour’s (DoL) chief inspector, Thobile Lamati, and two of his senior staff requesting a meeting to discuss ten matters of concern to the electrical contracting industry.  At the end of April this request remained unanswered.

The ten unanswered questions to the department of labour were:

1. Lack of policing
The total lack of policing in the industry, particularly with regard to unregistered electrical contractors, shoddy and dangerous workmanship, and the issuing of invalid electrical certificates of compliance/test reports by some electrical contractors.

2. Approved Inspection Authorities
The ECA (SA) requires clarification about Approved Inspection Authorities (AIAs). It had informed the DoL in the past of its support for AIAs, but wished to know how many had been accredited to date by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS); how many had been approved by the department in terms of regulation 3(1) of the Electrical Installation Regulations; and who they were.  It indicated that it would like to work more closely with the AIAs when dealing with complaints from users, but as far as it could ascertain there are only two or three in the whole of South Africa which rather defeats the object of their existence.  

3. Correct complaint procedures
The ECA wishes to establish the correct procedures to be followed when it or members of the public wish to lodge complaints about dangerous or illegal electrical installations, unregistered electrical contractors, etc.  

4. Procedures for AIAs
The ECA (SA) wishes to establish the correct procedures that should be followed by the AIAs, and to whom they are accountable.  

5. Limitations of AIAs
The ECA (SA) also wishes to establish whether individual AIAs are limited by their registration as “registered persons”. For example, can an AIA with only an installation electrician in its employ inspect, test and pass comment upon installations in hazardous and/or explosive locations despite the fact that only master installation electricians are registered to carry out such work.

6. Registration of electrical contractors
On the 1st of September 2012 the department of labour took over the annual registration of electrical contractors from the Electrical Contracting Board of South Africa (ECB) which had been carrying out such function on behalf of the chief inspector since 1993.  Since then numerous complaints have been received from electrical contractors about the registration process at some of the DoL’s provincial offices.

7. Assistance with registrations
In order to assist in the registration process, the ECA (SA) proposed entering into an agreement of co-operation with the DoL to use the association’s seven regional offices as “post offices” to accept electrical contractors’ registration documentation and to submit it to the DoL’s offices for their necessary attention.  

8. Access to database
The ECA (SA) has requested access to the data base of registered electrical contractors.  It receives many enquiries from municipalities, the National Bargaining Council for the Electrical Industry, estate agents and the general public asking whether certain businesses are registered. In the past, it was able to access this information but can no longer do so.  “How”, says Greager, “is an average South African able to check the credentials of their electrical contractor and be assured that he is legitimate and properly registered to enable him to carry out any electrical installation work on their properties?”

9. Periods of registration
It appears that most of the department’s provincial offices are allowing electrical contractors to register for three years at a time, and there are other examples where contractors have been registered for up to seven years. Regulation 6(2) of the Electrical Installation Regulations prescribes “annual registration”, so the ECA (SA) is puzzled why this requirement is being ignored.

10. Certificates of compliance for electric fences
Finally, the ECA (SA) expressed the need to discuss the requirement in terms of regulation 12(4) of the Electrical Machinery Regulations, which came into effect on 1 October 2012, that the user or lessor of an electric fence shall have a certificate of compliance for a new fence, when any addition or alteration is effected to the fence, or when there is a change of ownership of the premises. The ECA says its supports this requirement, but that training to undertake the necessary skills programme is not currently available countrywide.

Says Greager, “We need answers and we need progress on all of the issues that have started and fizzled without resolve. Everyday electrical installation work is being carried out in thousands of South African homes, offices and factories, but little attention is being given to controlling illegal operators, or in taking action against those who perform dangerous and shoddy work and which is a threat to life and property.”