THE NICEIC MAGAZINE FOR APPROVED ELECTRICAL CONTRACTORS & DOMESTIC INSTALLERS
NICEIC Live speaker line-up revealed
Spring 2011 | Issue 177
How training can get your business in top shape Boost your cash flow Counterfeit cables Air-conditioning
connections cover spring 2011.indd 1
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COVER ILLUSTRATION: PHILIP HACKETT
Contents Spring 2011 | Issue 177
Regulars View from the top A thirst for knowledge News Celebrity line-up for NICEIC Live
REGIONAL FOCUS: 22 YORKSHIRE GRIT Electricians in Yorkshire and Humber are showing great resilience to the recession
Jobs for the Girls campaign launched
BESCA and NICEIC in certification alliance
Industry welcomes support for RHI
Latest training options revealed
COVER STORY: 24 FULLY CHARGED Invest in training to keep up to speed and be ready for new business opportunities 38 COOL CUSTOMERS 30 There is good business to be had in air-conditioning SWING INTO ACTION 37 Get ready to tee off in this year’s NICEIC Golf Classic
ESC news Electricians help vulnerable 14 Roundtable backs Part P 15 Product news Cut above the rest
Ask the experts 45 Some of the NICEIC technical helpline’s more frequently asked questions answered
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PEACE OF MIND 42 The importance of insurance
Customer care 28 Avoiding customer disputes
Current Affairs Caught on the job?
HIDDEN DANGERS 38 New initiatives are raising awareness of the dangers of using unsafe cable BREAKING BARRIERS 40 NICEIC aims to encourage more women into the industry
Advice 19 Manage your working capital, says Andrew Harris Opinion Keep your tax affairs in order, says Lisa Dicken
Measurement of earth fault loop impedance:
Correct cable sizing:
Loop impedance accuracy: 57
Snags and solutions:
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 3
VIEW FROM THE TOP EMMA MCCARTHY
Redactive Publishing Ltd, 17 Britton Street, London EC1M 5TP
EDITORIAL General 020 7880 6200 | Fax 020 7324 2791 E-mail email@example.com
A thirst for knowledge It was Sir Francis Bacon who once said “knowledge is power”. Never has this been more true, especially in today’s electrical contracting industry. As I have said in these pages before, the opportunities presented by the feed-in tariffs and the renewable heat incentive are there for all those in our industry who are ready to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to take advantage of these emerging markets. Even the amendments to the 17th edition of the wiring regulations mean that our core knowledge has to be updated. Technological advances and the ever-changing ‘The opportunities use of electricity mean presented by the feed-in the wiring regulations are tariffs and the renewable constantly evolving and heat incentive are there for we will always need to all those ready to gain the update our knowledge in necessary knowledge and line with the changes. skills to take advantage of Training, although often the first budget to be these emerging markets’ cut in times of economic hardship, gives the people in our industry the knowledge and chance to develop their skills and strive for better things in their work. This issue of Connections contains an in-depth look at training within the electrical contracting industry and how investment in staff development is vital for growth, particularly in these tough economic times. There is a commercial advantage to be gained by companies with employees who are skilled in a number of areas. Over the past few months we have noticed a marked rise in the number of people applying for places on our solar photovoltaic and renewable courses, while our online training option is proving increasingly attractive. This latter initiative is important; our online training saves valuable time and cost because it can be done at home. We recognise that taking time off-site to attend training is not always practical. You can find out more at www.niceic.com. Emma McCarthy, chief executive officer, NICEIC 4 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
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Editor Nick Martindale Technical editor Mike Clark Sub editor Victoria Burgher Art director Mark Parry Art editor Adrian Taylor Picture researcher Akin Falope Head of business development Aaron Nicholls
ADVERTISING AND MARKETING Sales manager Jim Folley Senior sales executive Mark Palmer Sales executive Darren Hale Display 020 7882 6206 | Fax 020 7880 7553 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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REDACTIVE PUBLISHING LTD Managing director Brian Grant Chairman Lord Evans of Watford
CONTRIBUTIONS Connections welcomes ideas for contributions. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org © Redactive Publishing Ltd 2011. by Redactive Publishing Ltd, 17 Britton Street, London EC1M 5TP. Registered No. 122038. All rights reserved. This publication (and any part thereof) may not be reproduced, transmitted or stored in any print or electronic format (including but not limited to any online service, any database or any part of the internet) or in any other format in any media whatsoever, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Redactive Publishing Ltd accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein. Printed by St Ives (Peterborough) Ltd. Paper by Denmaur Papers plc The paper mill that makes the text paper for this magazine states that it uses at least 80 per cent wood pulp from sustainable sources.
External affairs director Richard Pagett 01582 539 020 email@example.com Twitter: @officialNICEIC Subscriptions 0870 013 0382 Technical helpline 0870 013 0391 Customer services 0870 013 0382 Sales 0870 013 0458 Training 0870 013 0389
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Shame of rogue operators
Celebrity line-up for NICEIC Live Former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson has become the latest celebrity to sign up as a speaker for NICEIC Live. The motoring guru (pictured, top right) – who also created, produced and presented Britain’s Worst Driver and hosted The Car’s the Star and All the Right Moves – will be discussing the electric car and its potential impact on the electrical contracting industry at NICEIC’s first-ever conference and exhibition. Willson will be joined by Sir Richard Needham (pictured, top centre), senior independent director at Dyson, who will be telling contractors how they can grow their business, and ChocBox founder Peter Moule (top left), who seduced investors James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne on BBC’s Dragons’ Den. Other speakers include NICEIC’s Tony Cable, who will discuss upcoming amendments to BS 7671 and changes to periodic inspection report requirements, as well as technical development manager Darren Staniforth. “We have put together an eclectic mix of speakers and presentations that will ensure there is something for everyone who has an interest in the electrical contracting industry,” said Mark Smith, head of group marketing at NICEIC. “We want the day to be very much a learning experience for everyone who attends, as well as a chance to network with suppliers and firms that have a close relationship with the industry.” Lighting and home automation expert Niko is a headline sponsor for the day and will be bringing the Nikobus to the event to showcase the firm’s installer-friendly Niko Home Control energy consumption monitor. Screwfix has also signed up as a headline sponsor, while other exhibitors include: Megger; Fluke; Ideal Industries; Brother; Milwaukee; Dehn; Phoenix
8 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
> Quentin Willson (above right) will be discussing the electric car at NICEIC Live Contact; Wago; Peugeot; Clik; Mr Electric; Acksen; Castline; Irwin Tools (which will be giving away a Lennox hole saw to its first 100 visitors); Metrel; Klauke; Martindale Electric; SWA; and Electrium. NICEIC Live takes place on Thursday 19 May, 2011, at Epsom Downs racecourse. Tickets cost from £45, with all attendees receiving a voucher book featuring over £250 worth of discounts and special offers from leading electrical suppliers, along with a free ticket to an Epsom race meeting. For more information on the event or to register for tickets, visit www.niceiclive.com.
NICEIC is continuing to expose unscrupulous traders who make false claims about registration through its newly established wall of shame. The campaign aims to name and shame those who fraudulently claim to be NICEIC registered and the online list already features the names of 24 individuals or companies against which NICEIC has evidence of logo abuse. Two more people were recently found guilty of falsely claiming to be NICEIC-registered after prosecutions brought by Trading Standards. Newbury-based Gary Crossman, who trades under the name of G C Electrical, was fined £2,500 with £1,500 costs at Reading Magistrates Court in February after being found guilty of using the NICEIC logo on his website and in an advert on Yell.com. Ertan Gokay of UK Smartbuild.com Ltd, based in Enfield, was fined £8,630 and ordered to pay costs of £1,100 after fraudulently claiming to be NICEIC-registered and using the logo on his company website, stationery and billboards. “NICEIC is synonymous with quality,” said Emma McCarthy, NICEIC chief executive officer. “Specifiers need assurances that when they appoint a registered contractor that is exactly what they are getting.”
NICEIC supports smart homes show NICEIC is backing this year’s Home Technology Event, which aims to help electrical contractors better understand the opportunities that exist in the smart homes market. Senior marketing and events engineer Tony Cable will speak at the show, which runs between 28 and 30 June at ExCel, London, and is organised by the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA). “The Home Technology Event will be a great chance for electrical contractors to explore how they can diversify and grow their business,” said Cable. “There is no doubt that electrical contractors can grasp the opportunity with both hands and NICEIC is delighted to support events that provide real value to the industry.” Other speakers include CEDIA’s director of professional development Peter Aylett. The show will also feature advice on the installation, integration, control and concealment of multi-room audio and TV distribution systems, as well as home cinemas, lighting, security control, data networks and other electronic sub-systems. The contractor-focused seminars will take place in the hub theatre, located on the show floor of the exhibition on the morning of Thursday 30 June.
Jobs for the Girls campaign launched NICEIC recently launched its Jobs for the Girls campaign, designed to encourage more women to join the electrical industry. The programme will highlight the exciting opportunities available to women and challenge electrical businesses to consider hiring them. “There is now a good business case for employing more women,” said NICEIC chief executive officer Emma McCarthy. “Consumers sometimes prefer to hire female contractors and our research has highlighted that some female homeowners admit to feeling intimidated when having to deal with a male electrician.” Eleanor Bell runs her own contracting business in Cornwall, after giving up her previous job as a showroom sales manager to retrain as an electrician in 2008. Her work now covers everything from small jobs around the home to complete rewires of business premises. “In my experience, people are surprised and delighted to find a female face in what has always been predominantly a male industry,” she said. “They tell me that they feel very
> Growing demand for renewables
Follow NICEIC on Twitter You can now stay up to date with the latest news from NICEIC on Twitter. Follow @officialNICEIC
McCarthy appointed NICEIC CEO Emma McCarthy has been named as the new chief executive officer of NICEIC and Ascertiva Group as part of a governance restructure. McCarthy was previously chief operating officer. The reshuffle also sees executive chairman Jim Speirs appointed chairman of Ascertiva Group’s board. “These roles were created as part of a wider project to streamline our governance structure and will help the group to maximise its benefits to our parent charity,” said Speirs.
NICEIC Golf Classic
comfortable to have me working in their home.” NICEIC has developed a practical guide to help businesses understand equality issues and offer advice on employing women. It has also signed up as sponsor of the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards 2011. See our feature on women in the industry on page 40
Registered contractors keen to show off their golf skills in this year’s Golf Classic need to sign up for their regional qualifier. Events are being held across the country throughout June and July and are open to anyone who owns or works for a NICEIC-registered company, with a legitimate handicap certificate. The entrance fee is £80 a pair and for this each team will get coffee and a bacon roll on arrival, 18 holes of golf, a two-course meal in the clubhouse afterwards and a golfer’s goodie bag. For more information see page 37.
Free pocket guide
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Inside this issue of Connections you will find Pocket Guide 23 ICEL Emergency lighting pictorial checklist 2003. This guide is the second of two parts and covers emergency lighting for control rooms, high-risk task areas and open areas. Part one was in the last issue of Connections. A printable version of each pocket guide is available on the NICEIC website and copies can be obtained by contacting 0870 013 0382 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ORS O sed ute, same otect
Part 2: Control rooms, high risk and open areas task areas
BESCA certification alliance Members of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) can now access NICEIC’s microgeneration certification scheme (MCS) through their membership of the Building Engineering Services Competence Accreditation (BESCA). NICEIC and BESCA have formed a partnership that will allow HVCA members to become competent in the installation of renewable technologies under the MCS, with BESCA offering access to the course alongside its own competent persons’ scheme. “This alliance ensures consistency of the certification services offered by
NEWS IN BRIEF
BESCA, which will ultimately benefit all HVCA members by reducing the burden of inspection that is an inevitable part of demonstrating compliance,” said Wayne Terry, NICEIC’s head of energy and environment. “We are witnessing building services going through a metamorphosis driven by the growing demand for integrated renewables solutions and this will ensure that BESCA will be able to deliver to its customers a one-stop shop for certification,” added Bruce Kirton, BESCA’s chief executive. The MCS was developed to provide consumers with an assurance that microgeneration products and installation companies meet a robust set of standards. Demand for the scheme has been growing as contractors realise the business benefits of this market and consumers realise the financial incentives that are available through feed-in tariffs and schemes such as the renewable heat incentive.
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Earn credit with tax advice Contractors can gain extra popularity with business customers by alerting them to the fact that their installations can be claimed against tax using capital allowance, Portal Tax Claims says. It estimates that 96 per cent of businesses that own their own property and have upgraded electrics in recent years could be owed a refund. The firm has also produced a list of the top 10 items on which tax can be reclaimed, with airconditioning taking the number one spot. “Many owners are unaware that such valuable capital allowances can be claimed,” says Shaun Murphy, chief executive of Portal Tax Claims. “Literally hundreds of billions of pounds are due to owners, but most lack the necessary expertise to make the claim.”
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 9
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“We are delighted a decision has now been made,” said Daryl Govan, managing director of Truro-based NICEIC Approved Contractor Govan Ltd. “Customers can now invest in a renewable heating solution that will not only help the environment and save them money on heating bills, but will also earn them a guaranteed income.” The British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association also welcomed the news, but warned that setting tariffs for domestic users for 2012 should now be a priority. Meanwhile, NICEIC is stressing that the scaling back of the feed-in tariffs for solar photovoltaic installations over 50kW – the so-called solar farms – will not restrict the market for the vast majority of electrical contractors.
Contractors urged to act on cables The Approved Cables Initiative (ACI) is urging electrical contractors who think they may have bought suspect cable to get in touch. Working with the Health and Safety Organisation, ACI has pledged to oust firms that trade in dangerous cabling. See our cable feature on page 38
17th amendment special offer Contractors wanting to get ahead on the first amendment to the 17th edition, which comes into force in January 2012, can take part in a series of NICEIC one-day training workshops. Those who book now will receive an early bird deal of £155 including a place on the workshop, a free DVD and a copy of the IET Wiring Regulations 17th edition BS7671:2008. To book visit www.niceicdirect.com.
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2011 EVENTS CALENDAR
> Jargon-free guide de to green energy confusing world, ome of the particularly with some scientific language involved. “We hope this guide will go some way to giving people a clearer understanding of the industry and give them the confidence and courage to engage with professionals about microgeneration products and installations.” The jargon-busting guide can be downloaded free of charge from the NICEIC website at www.niceic.com/ householder/microgeneration.
The construction sector remains dangerously dependent on public sector spending on social housing, education, health and infrastructure projects, despite recording an 18 per cent rise in new orders in the final quarter of 2010, according to the Construction Products Association. The body’s research revealed that public housing orders had increased by 69 per cent with other state-backed projects rising 29 per cent. In contrast, commercial and private housing orders remained flat, while those for industrial factories and warehouses increased by 14 per cent.
The TechTalk team have been on the road in force this year and the events continue to be popular with contractors up and down the country. Events in March and April took place in Newcastle, Carlisle, Glasgow and Dundee. A short video of a recent TechTalk can now be viewed at www.niceic.com.
> Alternative heating: biomass boiler
Green guide keeps it simple NICEIC has produced a “jargon buster” document to enable contractors to educate potential customers about microgeneration without baffling them with jargon. The guide features clear definitions of the key terms commonly used in the trade and is designed for those considering installing renewable energy devices on their homes. “More than 100,000 homes in the UK currently have microgeneration installations,” said NICEIC’s chief executive officer Emma McCarthy. “We expect this number to rise rapidly in 2011 as homeowners take advantage of the opportunity to produce their own free energy and learn about the benefits of feed-in tariffs and the incentives available. “We also understand that, to those not in the know, microgeneration can seem a very complicated and
Private sector construction weak
TechTalks prove a nationwide hit
The government’s long-awaited proposals to stimulate renewable heat installations have been favourably received by the electrical industry. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has pledged to invest £860 million in the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme, which it claims will see the number of industrial, commercial and public sector installations increase sevenfold by 2020. The system will be rolled out in two phases, with incentives for non-domestic users starting later this year and for householders from 2012. “We are delighted the government has announced this major incentive for renewable heat,” said Emma McCarthy, NICEIC chief executive officer. “Any boost to the trade through such promises are vital in the current economic climate. “With householders now given the incentives to install renewable technologies, the opportunities for the electrical, heating and plumbing trades are significant and NICEIC will be at the forefront of this, providing certification, training and advice,” she added. The news is likely to trigger new business opportunities for electrical contractors qualified to install technologies such as biomass boilers, air and ground source heat pumps and solar hot water systems.
NEWS IN BRIEF
Industry welcomes support for RHI
10 Lone Worker Safety Olympia, London
14-15 Health and Safety, Ireland National Show Centre, Dublin
16-19 International Firex NEC, Birmingham 17-19 H&S Expo NEC, Birmingham
21-22 European Smart Metering Forum The Bloomsbury Hotel, London 28-30 Home Technology Event ExCel, London
18-19 All-Energy 2011 Aberdeen Exhibition and 29 The Solar Future, UK Conference Centre Central Hall, Westminster 19 NICEIC Live Epsom Downs Racecourse www.niceiclive.com
July 6-7 Renewables 2011 The Bloomsbury Hotel, London
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 11
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microgeneration certiﬁcation scheme
Register with NICEIC MCS for Solar PV from only £400 + VAT Increase your business opportunities with MCS Registration from NICEIC For a limited period existing NICEIC customers who apply for MCS for solar PV will receive a discount of over £200*. Email our team of advisors today firstname.lastname@example.org NICEIC will complete both your MCS and Approved Contractor/Domestic Installer Scheme visits in one day where possible. Discount will be applied to applications received by 31st July 2011*. *Terms & conditions apply, email our advisors email@example.com for further information.
NICEIC – the route to MCS certiﬁcation. Be part of it now!
NEWS IN BRIEF
Latest training options revealed NICEIC has unveiled a brand new training prospectus offering its widest ever range of courses. The brochure includes details on more than 40 industry-specific courses, including electrical training, options in gas, water and automation, and the rapidly growing renewable sector. “We are committed to providing the most appropriate and up-to-date knowledge, so that attendees to our training courses are equipped with the necessary skills to face the challenges of working in the trades profession,” said Asad Majid, national training manager at NICEIC. “Through our dedicated training team and network of partners we are able to offer cost-effective training at a range of centres across the UK. Our training rooms are fully equipped with modern technology and offer practical, hands-on teaching that replicates real-life scenarios.” NICEIC has launched its new blended solution to the City & Guilds level 3 certificate in inspection, testing and certification (2391-10). The schem scheme has been
NICEIC catalogue lands award Julie Blake and Michael Toolis (pictured) from the NICEIC marketing team visited the offices of trade title Professional Heating & Plumbing Installer to pick up an award for the NICEIC Direct catalogue in February. The catalogue of NICEIC merchandise was chosen by the editor as a “top product” in the electrical contracting industry.
Contractors feel cost squeeze
developed in association with Virtual College and blends online learning with two days at a centre for practical training and assessment. The blended 2391-10 course is now available for £540 plus VAT, and the first 50 applicants will receive a 10 per cent discount at £486 plus VAT. See our cover feature on training on page 24
Electrical contractors are finding it difficult to pass on the cost of price inflation to customers due to the pressures of competition from other providers, according to the latest analysis by Plimsoll. The research found 61 per cent of companies in the sector have seen their gross margin drop over the past 12 months, with the average profit margin now just 2 per cent. Businesses face a choice between operating at a loss or putting up their prices, said lead analyst David Pattions, although he stressed that it was possible to make a profit in the sector.
EEIBA success in Scotland The Glasgow branch of the industry charity EEIBA raised £7,500 for those in need of assistance through a Motown ball in February, attended by 240 people. The event was held at the newly refurbished Grand Central Hotel – Principal Hayley, where revellers danced the night away to live soul bands.
N NICEIC is constantly working to raise public awareness of the need to use registered electricians and NICEIC to t promote its Domestic Installers and Approved Contractors. Recent campaigns include: NS PROMOTIO Jobs for the Jo Gir Girls Camp Campaign to encourage more female contractors into the industry, featured in national press and radio interviews. Spring 2011 IET Awards Sponsorship of Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award. Spring 2011 Apprentice Academy NICEIC’s new apprentice academy aims to address skills shortages in the industry and was featured in several publications. Spring 2011 Botched jobs research Research publicised by NICEIC revealed that families waste
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£100 million a year calling in professionals to put right failed DIY projects. Spring 2011 Linda Barker The home improvement expert appeared in the national press and at the Ideal Homes Show, stressing the need for consumers to call in a competent person from an accredited body such as NICEIC. Spring 2011 Wall of Shame Website dedicated to naming and shaming rogue contractors who misuse the NICEIC logo. Winter 2010 Caution This Christmas NICEIC-backed press campaign urging homeowners to be cautious when installing festive lights. Winter 2010
Buy with Confidence Campaign with Trading Standards to support and promote businesses that demonstrate high standards of trading and commitment to customer care. Winter 2010 Advertising campaign Adverts appeared in a range of home lifestyle magazines including Build It, Home Improvement and Your Home, as well as the home supplements of the Daily Express, Sunday Telegraph and The Independent newspapers. Winter 2010 Watchdog Appearance by Tony Cable on BBC’s flagship consumer show warning against the dangers of employing rogue tradespeople. November 2010
Cowboy Trap Appearance by Tony Cable on BBC show, commenting on a substandard electrical installation. October 2010 MOT your electrics Campaign to encourage householders to bring in a professional to service their electrics. Autumn 2010 Help! My House is Falling Down Appearance by Tony Cable on Sarah Beeny’s show, highlighting the dangers of poorly maintained electrics. Autumn 2010 DIY electrics survey Research by NICEIC, which found that three in 10 householders had botched a potentially dangerous job. Achieved coverage in local and national press. Summer 2010
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 13
ESC NEWS The Electrical Safety Council: raising electrical safety awareness, made possible by funding from NICEIC Welcome to a new section of Connections, dedicated to news from NICEIC’s parent charity, the Electrical Safety Council (ESC). To view a copy of the ESC’s Switched On magazine please visit the charity’s new website at www.esc.org.uk, where you can access all previous editions of the magazine. You can also receive an email alert when a new issue is published on the website.
Contractors help vulnerable groups Registered contractors are carrying out vital home improvement and fire safety work as part of an initiative by the ESC, in partnership with 47 consumer safety organisations, to support vulnerable groups. The ESC’s two key funding initiatives – the home improvement grants scheme and fire safety fund – aim to improve electrical safety and awareness in the home. Both schemes have distributed a combined fund total of £182,000, which has been shared between 26 projects in England, 11 in Scotland, seven in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.
ESC unveils new website The ESC has given its website a fresher, more contemporary look. Electrical contractors can get information about the ESC’s latest campaigns alongside other guidance and advice, at www.esc.org.uk.
The home improvement grants scheme allows the ESC to work in collaboration with home improvement agencies across the UK to provide a much-needed source of funding to carry out urgent essential electrical work. Grants are awarded to individuals who are householders over 60 years of age and on means-tested benefit or state pension (with no other income). Partnership agencies are responsible for finding the beneficiaries, identifying and organising the electrical work – which needs to be undertaken by a registered contractor – and for ensuring it is completed to required safety standards. One beneficiary is Wandsworth Council, which will use its award to help deliver a range of children’s awareness-raising activities and events. The council has already used funding to run a children’s poster competition highlighting the dangers of electricity. Lorraine Carney, head of campaigns at the ESC, helped local
councillors from the area select the winner. Nine-year-old Kasia Procter, from Holy Ghost Primary School, designed the winning poster (above), which will feature in a widespread outdoor poster campaign in Wandsworth. For further details on the home improvement grant scheme and fire safety fund projects, visit www.esc.org.uk/stakeholder/.
ESC advises on design for smart electricity meters The ESC has written to Ofgem making recommendations concerning the functional design requirements for smart electricity meters. The charity is recommending that a manual isolating switch is incorporated in all smart electricity meters to provide a safe and convenient means for electricians to isolate the supply to domestic premises when working on consumers’ installations. This would avoid the need for them to arrange for the supplier or meter operator to remove the cut-out fuse, as is the current unsatisfactory situation, saving time and money. An integral isolating switch would also help address the risk that meter tail connections at the main switch in consumer units may be loosened when meters are replaced, which can create a fire hazard. The ESC believes the meter installer should be responsible for checking the tightness of these connections before re-energising an installation and leaving site. However, there is clearly reluctance on the part of some meter operators to do this, and so the party to be made responsible for this safety check has yet to be determined. It also recommended to Ofgem that the functional design requirements permit the outgoing (load side) terminals of the meter
14 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
p14-15 ESC news.5.indd Sec1:8
to be accessed by electricians, enabling the meter tails to be replaced (for example, when a unit is relocated) without needing to call in the meter operator. In response to these recommendations, Ofgem called for qualitative and quantitative evidence to support the case for changing the smart meter specification which, with the support of the electrical trade associations and contractor registration bodies, was quickly provided. Based on Part P notification statistics, it was estimated that electrical contractors carry out almost 400,000 jobs in domestic premises in England and Wales every year that necessitate the temporary disconnection of the incoming supply for safe working. Further evidence was provided by local authorities in Scotland regarding the very substantial cost to them of having separate isolating switches installed between meters and consumer units.
Roundtable backs Part P retention
Electricians urged to Plug into Safety
The ESC recently hosted a roundtable event to discuss the government’s review of Part P of the Building Regulations for England and Wales. The event, which was facilitated by Ann Robinson of uSwitch, aimed to garner the views of a range of interested parties and discuss how to create a strong evidence base to assess the impact of Part P and show its relevance to both consumer safety and industry standards. Delegates attending the event represented various electrical and related trade bodies, including NICEIC, as well as Which? magazine, the Trading Standards Institute and the Chief Fire Officers Association. Presentations were made by a representative from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), who outlined the government’s review process, and Phil Buckle, director general of the ESC, who summarised Part P requirements and reviewed the current evidence base relating to electrical injuries, deaths and fires in UK homes. “What was particularly pleasing about the event was the general consensus established in relation to the need to retain > ESC director general Phil Buckle Part P, although concerns about compliance, in particular, were noted,” said Buckle. The need to clarify and simplify documentation and increase the awareness of both consumers and electrical contractors to the benefits of Part P was also highlighted. Other outcomes from the event include the proposed establishment of a working group to help source Part P impact assessment material for submission to the DCLG’s review. The ESC is currently looking at ways of gathering the views of interested parties to feed into this assessment process.
Electrical contractors are being encouraged to take part in the ESC’s Plug into Safety campaign, which aims to reduce electrical fires and accidents by encouraging the installation and use of RCDs. The council has produced a tailored electrician’s toolkit, containing 50 leaflets that explain both the importance of RCD protection to consumers and the different options available. The packs also include detachable blank business cards, which the contractor can complete and leave with a client after a house call. To date more than 1.5 million leaflets and 19,000 packs have been distributed. “I always advise my customers to get RCD protection, but sometimes it can be difficult to convince people just how crucial it really is,” says Gary Fisher, a London-based electrician. “The Plug into Safety toolkit clearly explains the issues and helps ensure that customers feel well informed. As the information is from a respected charity, and not a commercial enterprise, it also helps demonstrate that I have my customers’ best interests at heart.” Since the launch of the campaign in May last year, a wide range of wholesale and retail partners, as well as individual electrical contractors, have joined the council in promoting the message “An RCD can save your life”. The latest names to join the campaign include retailers B&Q, Homebase and Focus DIY and wholesalers Wilts, Rexel, Electricfix, CEF and Denmans. “To ensure the success of the Plug into Safety campaign, it is vital that we have the support of all sectors of the industry,” explained Lorraine Carney, head of campaigns at the ESC. “We would like to extend our thanks to all those who have joined us in promoting the campaign.” For more information on where to pick up the pack, visit www.esc.org.uk.
ESC seeks five-year tenant PIR The ESC is calling for mandatory Periodic Inspection Reports (PIRs) every five years in all private rented properties in Scotland. The charity wants PIRs to be a central plank of the tenant information pack, proposed in the Private Rented Housing Bill that is currently making its way through the chamber. Currently, the duty of the landlord to carry out repairs and maintenance on properties is only enforceable if the tenant informs the landlord of faults, or if the landlord is made aware in some other way. Given the low level of knowledge of tenants and the often invisible nature of electrical risks, the ESC believes a reactive regime offers insufficient protection because tenants may not be in a position to recognise and notify the landlord that there is a problem until it is too late. As well as calling for mandatory PIRs, the ESC is calling for a clear statement in the tenant information pack on whether or not RCD protection is installed, forcing landlords to actively consider the issue. The ESC has submitted evidence to the Bill Committee, stressing the need for improved
p14-15 ESC news.NEW.indd Sec1:9
> Private rentals: more inspection needed assessment of electrical safety in privately rented housing. The bill is likely to be passed before the Scottish Parliament elections in May.
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 15
The most advanced solar PV installation tester is the safest and easiest too.
Seaward’s new Solar PV installation tester does more than combine all test functions into one easy to use, hand-held device. It also defines a major advance in PV testing safety. Because Solar PV arrays can generate hazardous levels of DC electricity, as soon as they are exposed to light, they are treated with extreme caution by electricians. So you’ll be pleased to know, the Solar PV100 rules out exposure to live conductors, using plugs which connect easily to all standard PV modules and arrays. Why in the world would you test with anything else?
SOLAR From Seaward
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Cut above the rest Flexicon has brought out a slitting tool for cutting non-metallic flexible conduit as an alternative to the traditional use of a Stanley knife. The device has a protected blade and fits inside the conduit, allowing the contractor to slide it along the length to slit it. It can be used on all corrugated conduit diameters down to 13mm. Flexicon claims that, when used with its slit conduit insertion tool, the process of cutting the conduit and inserting cabling can
> Flexicon’s slitting tool
Solar power made simple
be up to four times faster than conventional methods. The process is also safer than other methods and can help to reduce accidents on site, the firm suggests. www.flexicon.uk.com
TESTING TIMES Megger has released a plethora of new products, including the AVO410 digital multimeter designed for low-voltage installations. The device measures DC voltage to 1,000V, AC to 750V, and AC or DC current to 10A. The firm has also unveiled its MFT1700 series of multifunction testers, the TPT210 and TPT220 two-pole voltage testers and the DET14C and DET24C earth resistance clamp testers.
> Eaton’s PV ‘switch and surge’ unit
> Martindale’s Safebreak adaptor (left), and Megger’s multimeter (far left)
Martindale Electric has developed the Safebreak SB13 socket test adaptor, which eliminates the need to remove the wall socket faceplate when testing, while Seaward has introduced its TPA test adaptor designed to extend the range of tests on three-phase equipment. Fluke, meanwhile, has packaged up an “electrician’s kit” comprising of the 1652C multifunction installation tester, the T120 two-pole tester and the SM200 socket tester. The kit is aimed at those working in the domestic and commercial sectors.
Update from Masterseal > Masterseal Plus from MK
Seeing is believing FLIR Systems has launched its E-series compact thermal imaging camera range, consisting of four models to cater for those needing high-end quality through to entry-level use. The FLIR E60 is the top-end model, providing 76,800 pixels from its 320 x 240 uncooled detector, allowing users to pick up thermal anomalies down to 0.05°C. The device can measure temperatures up to 650°C and includes analysis tools such as multiple-spot meters, automatic hot and cold detection markers and automatic calculation of the temperature difference between two user-defined points on the image. Three of the four models allow real-time thermal imaging at 60Hz, while all four come with a laser pointer to help associate the hotspot on the image with the physical target. Separately, FLIR has also introduced the i3, a low-cost model designed to alert first-time users to potential problems such as a bad connection in a circuit before any outage occurs. www.flir.com
p17 product news.3.indd 17
Installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems should be faster and more cost-effective after the introduction of a new “switch and surge” unit, according to Eaton. The products were developed in conjunction with Solarcentury and provide DC and AV isolators with surge suppression, avoiding the need for contractors to use individual isolation and surge-protection devices. The DC isolator is rated 30A at 600V and the AC one 63A at 240V, meaning they meet the requirements of domestic-scale PV systems in the up-to 4kWp feed-in tariff segment. The units are housed in moulded enclosures and use standard solar panel connectors for the DC circuits and screw terminals for the AC ones. www.eaton.com, www.solarcentury.com
MK Electric has replaced its Masterseal range of sockets with the new Masterseal Plus selection, designed for both indoor and outdoor use and where wiring devices and accessories could be at risk from penetration by dust or water. The sockets can be used with almost any standard 13A plug and the new range also includes a seating spout to house moulded-on plugs, an improved lid-catch for easy opening and fixed gasket and rear drill holes for easier installation. The sockets can be used in a wide range of environments, including factories, laboratories, swimming pools and commercial kitchens. The company has also released its MK Shield range, designed for use in stadia and parks, and MK Splashguard for occasional domestic use. www.mkelectric.co.uk
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 17
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ANDREW HARRIS ADVICE
Efficiency gains Electrical contractors can make a real difference to the bottom line by actively managing their working capital, says Andrew Harris
s uncertainty in the economy continues, maintaining steady and predictable cash flows remains paramount. Paradoxically, many businesses have an almost exclusive focus on growing sales and cutting costs rather than managing the cash flows associated with these sales. Getting on top of cash flows means ensuring you are paid in a timely manner, you don’t pay your suppliers early and you resist the temptation to invest heavily in unproductive stock.
Be proactive Outline before any negotiation what terms you are happy to trade on. Can you afford to wait 60 or 90 days for payment? If you do have to wait for a protracted period, what are you going to charge for that delay to cover both the working capital funding and the extra risk you are taking on? Larger businesses are increasingly concerned about reliability of supply and are willing to pay quicker if it helps your cash flow and ensures you will still be supplying them in a year’s time.
ILLUSTRATION: CAMERON LAW
Invoice promptly Most companies want to pay on time for goods or services and will happily do so if the information that they require in order to pay is presented in a form that enables them to do so. Call customers after an invoice has been sent to check they have all they need. We have seen examples of businesses that, when submitting an invoice to a new customer or dealing with a slow-paying customer, will hand deliver it to the customer’s accounts payable department to ensure they know exactly what they have to do to make the payment on time. If you find yourself in a situation where it looks like a customer is not going to pay on time, you may need to consider whether it’s worth cutting a deal to ensure you receive some payment. This is especially important when the customer is in difficulty. This addresses a short-term issue, but is only effective if you make sure you don’t trade with that company again or, if you do, it’s on cash terms.
p19 advice.2.indd 19
Handling payables Many organisations that we work with tend to view payables as a pure cost area. This can lead to situations where invoices are paid as soon as they are received, rather than on their due date. Paying systematically and chronically late is never a good idea because, over time, it may adversely affect relationships with suppliers. It is good business practice, however, to look back and compare payment date and paid date every so often. My guess is that you’ll be surprised how often you’ve funded your supplier’s working capital.
‘Look back and compare payment date and paid date every so often. You’ll be surprised how often you fund your supplier’s working capital’ Controlling inventory Some businesses may decide to hold high inventories to ensure no sales are lost. But, while the overall objective is laudable, holding enough stock to cover all potential sales is not a viable working capital strategy. The reason for this is that the relationship between customer service levels and inventory is exponential and you may require four or five times the inventory to cover 99 per cent of eventualities as opposed to 95 per cent. When you factor stockholding costs such as funding, warehousing and obsolescence into the equation, the incremental revenue gained may be achieved at a loss. Andrew Harris is associate partner in the corporate advisory team at Deloitte
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 19
OPINION LISA DICKEN
If you have an opinion about an issue concerning the electrical industry, let us know. Email editor@ niceic connections .com
he cash-strapped government’s search for new sources of revenue means the taxman is on the warpath, targeting thousands of independent private businesses in the hope of uncovering instances of tax evasion, which costs the Treasury an estimated £25 billion per year. The issue was highlighted last year by events at the home shopping group Findel, where it was announced that declared full-year profits were to be reduced by £6.4 million after accountancy errors were found in its education division. Electrical businesses, large and small, should be aware that HMRC will be examining their tax affairs much more closely than before. Where errors are found they will look to enforce the collection of underpaid tax, through legal action if necessary, but also to impose penalties that can be as much as the underpaid tax. There are two main types of investigation: an “aspect” inquiry, which looks at an area of your accounts where suspicions have been raised on a single pretext; and a “full” enquiry, where the
Lisa Dicken is tax partner at national accountancy firm HURST
Tell us about your business I’ve been doing electrical installations since 2002, but we moved into solar PV panels in December last year. We’ve done about five or six installations so far and we’re trying to get new business through word of mouth and Google Adwords. Is there much demand for it? We get four or five calls a day and have given 50 quotes. But they ask a lot of questions and it’s a lengthy process – it can take three
to four weeks before they decide to go ahead. Who works for you? I’m the director and at the moment there’s my brother, my brother-in-law and my father-in-law working for me. Which areas do you cover? We’re based in Heywood, near Bury and Rochdale, and we cover the north-west. What did you do before? Normal electrical work, sub-contracting for bigger
20 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
p20 opinion.2.indd Sec1:20
company’s entire accounting methods and recording can be called into question. Mistakes will not be tolerated by HMRC, particularly those that favour the taxpayer, even if they are innocent. The more established and sophisticated the business, the greater the expectation HMRC will have that the company is dealing with things properly, including using a competent tax adviser. Claiming ignorance of changes to the rules will be no defence. Entrepreneurs should take any enquiries seriously and should seek professional advice on all tax matters. Having a qualified professional advisor will be a mitigating factor when HMRC comes to consider penalties. Targeted investigations can take months, even years, and can prove to be an unwelcome distraction at the time when your business needs it least. The beginning of the new tax year in April is a good time to ensure you’re prepared.
ILLUSTRATION: CAMERON LAW
HMRC’s clampdown on tax evaders means electrical firms have no margin for error when it comes to their company accounts, says Lisa Dicken
electrical firms, house rewires and kitchens. This year we’ve done a couple of rewires, but there’s so much competition out there that it’s hard to get the work because everyone’s doing it so cheaply. This is the way forward for us now; as long as there’s a feed-in tariff we’ll be concentrating on solar power. We will also do commercial installations. What are your future aims? At the moment we can install one a week, but we’re hoping to double that to two, which
would mean taking on three or four more employees. What about outside work? I enjoy spending time with my family and taking the children out for trips at the weekend. Michael Psaila is owner of MEP Electrical in Heywood, Rochdale. If you are a small business or sole trader and would like to feature in In Focus, email editor@ niceicconnections.com
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Yorkshire and Humber
Yorkshire grit The electrical contracting industry in the Yorkshire and Humber region is showing remarkable resilience to the effects of the economic slump By Adrian Holliday
ecessions are like this – first, there’s the shock of the crisis, closely followed by the messy, unpredictable reality. Then the public spending axe is swung, with the fallout highly uneven across the country. The Yorkshire and Humber region is a microcosm of the British economy. Leeds is a major business hub with a large financial and business services sector, yet its hinterland boasts plenty of firms that are reliant on work from farming communities and smaller market towns. East Yorkshire has been particularly hit by the downturn. Yet there’s been a lot of talk from politicians recently about a more balanced north-south divide. In February there was news of a commitment by the major banks to release more money to small firms. Is all this, then, translating into a pick-up in the economy for local electrical contractors? Like Doncaster and Sheffield, Hull has been hit hard by the recession. But Hull-based contracts manager Richard Hanmer, of Sinclair Electrical Services, is continuing to win work for his four-man team. “Doors are opening from the local council, despite all the talk of cuts,” he says. Much of the uptake from local authorities is school-refurbishment jobs, although some of the work is subcontracted out. Hanmer has also won a new school-kitchen refurbishment. “At the start of the year we hired an extra electrician and if things progress we may take on another,” he says. “We’re also thinking of adding an extra van.” And he supports the increased emphasis on apprenticeships that
22 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
p22-23 regional focus.3.indd Sec1:22
education secretary Michael Gove is keen to push.
Confounding the odds Paul Scott is the 29-year-old director of Leeds-based Scott Electrical Services, a company he set up four years ago. After a difficult incubation in 2007, the company is now expanding. Business has been brisk for the past few months.
‘We haven’t put up our rates for five years. But it’s better to make something than nothing’ He has five staff working on a day rate and last year he turned over £500,000. “My work is about 40 per cent private, 60 per cent public,” he says. “I don’t have very high overheads so my pricing is always tight. It’s always a battle to get a job though.” Scott is demanding, as he has every right to be, particularly when dealing with agencies; he expects an agency worker to not just do the job basics, but to be responsible for operational smoothness. “I’ve built my company on establishing good relationships,” he says. “People can get a cheaper job, but I do it at a reasonable price and I’m getting repeat business.” Finding that balance between offering good value and making sufficient profit is tough. But for now he is about to rent a central Leeds office and he’s in the market for a third, probably used, van.
It’s a complete turnaround for Scott compared with 2007 when he was getting the company off the ground and the phone refused to ring regularly. He’s reluctant to talk in detail about how he managed to bounce back in the face of a crushing recession, but getting out there and talking to people was a big part of it, he says. Now it’s more a question of managing expansion, budgets and marketing with less time to be on the tools himself; something he finds both frustrating and exciting.
Around the houses The positive news continues 40 miles north-west of Leeds for Graham Cross, director of Harrison & Cross in Settle, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. In spite of the downturn, he says his business has never been really quiet because it has never been exposed to the housing market, especially the more speculative newbuild end.
Yorkshire & Humber
Cross’s exposure to the public sector, however, is only about 10 per cent of his total workload. “We haven’t put up our rates for five years,” he adds. “But it’s better to make something than nothing.” Given its rural location, Harrison & Cross also handles a lot of farming work. But the company also sells appliances and white goods, and that side of the business has dived. > Recession buster: Paul Scott, director of Leeds-based Scott Electrical Services
“When the housing market plummeted it didn’t affect us,” he says. “The other side of that, however, is that plenty of other contractors who were affected are now trying to get into our market.” It’s a familiar complaint, especially for those more vulnerable to one-man bands who are able to avoid charging VAT, which recently soared to 20 per cent from 17.5 per cent. But although the non-VAT guys are nibbling at the edges, they can’t manage the bigger jobs or
> ECONOMIC OUTLOOK:
handle demanding timescales. “We can be in and out of a major rewire in a week,” says Cross. Harrison & Cross has also been insulated from the worst of the downturn by ongoing maintenance contracts. “There’s never been a day when there’s been no work for the lads,” he says. “We took on another apprentice last year. But we do work for the national parks, where the budget is being cut – I’ve no idea what the impact of that will be.”
YORKSHIRE AND HUMBER
The Centre for Cities thinktank has tagged Leeds among five “cities to watch” in 2011. The body claims Leeds is well placed to survive the impact of spending cuts and benefit from a private sector recovery. Perhaps. But consumers in parts of south Yorkshire will be among the worst hit by the government’s welfare funding cuts. Places like Barnsley will bear the brunt of the fifth largest welfare cuts per person in the country by the next election in 2015, with spending falling by £41 million. But it’s impossible to generalise for the region. Energy utility firm Eon has been given the go-ahead to build a 77-turbine Humber Gateway wind farm off the Holderness coast and Siemens is backing a major regeneration of the port of Hull.
p22-23 regional focus.3.indd Sec1:23
Profit knock-back Back in Leeds, Gary Ineson, director of G&R Electrical, is also managing to survive the downturn. Unsurprisingly, profitability is not what it was, but Ineson has 21 men fully employed, and turnover last year was £1 million. The business has won a large amount of re-fit work for subcontracted jobs for Tesco Express stores via Carmel Building Services. “But the work tends not to last as long,” he says. “Jobs have got smaller.” He’s also well aware of the ongoing price pressures. “Despite the rise in fuel costs we haven’t been able to hike our prices,” says Ineson. “We haven’t put them up for more than a year. If we did, we wouldn’t get the job.” One consequence of the recession and rising commodity costs has been a switch to using smaller vans to save fuel. G&R still gets a lot of work outside Yorkshire, especially in Scotland and even the Isle of Man. Meanwhile he’s got around seven projects priced up – it’s now just about waiting to hear back, with fingers crossed for good news. > Adrian Holliday is a freelance business journalist
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 23
Fully charged Investing in training ensures electrical contractors stay up to speed with technical developments and are in a good position to take advantage of new business opportunities By David Adams
t may be tempting to view training as a distraction from work, but there is a good argument for saying it’s actually the next most useful thing an electrician can do with their time, and it can certainly have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. Keeping staff up to date with statutory training requirements is a legal obligation, but it also reassures customers and can improve staff morale by making employees feel their employer is investing in them, as well as helping electrical businesses to expand into other areas and take advantage of new markets. “The most successful companies throughout the world have one common theme: a commitment to regular, ongoing training and development,” says Salim Visram, portfolio manager at City & Guilds (C&G). “The electrical industry is ever-changing due to new technology and those working in the field need to understand where and how they can take advantage of this.” One might assume that the past three years would have seen many firms cutting back training budgets, but the recession has influenced behaviour in more complicated ways. There have been redundancies and many companies have frozen their training and apprenticeship budgets, but there have also been examples of staff who have been made redundant setting themselves up as sole traders. These people have needed to learn new skills, and some companies have also decided that, with less work coming in, it’s a good time to send people on training courses. Richard Barter, general manager at NICEIC Approved Contractor Bennett & Dean in Salisbury, Wiltshire, says the tricky economic climate has not stopped his company investing in training for its staff. The business was founded as a two-man band in 1971, added a plumbing and heating engineering section in the late 1980s, and now employs 24 people.
On the menu For those companies that have kept investing in training, 17th edition courses and refreshers remain popular, as do alarm and emergency lighting courses, according to Darren Staniforth, technical training developer at NICEIC. The publication of the first amendment to the 17th edition in July will also create a further need for training. Courses relating to microgeneration and other renewable technologies have also become more popular, particularly solar photovoltaic (PV) courses. Demand has risen in this field partly because of greater interest in solar technology, driven by the government’s feed-in tariffs scheme, introduced in 2010, and partly in anticipation of the renewable heat incentive scheme. This initiative is due to begin later this year for non-domestic users, with households following in 2012. NICEIC clients in this area include construction company Kier Group, which is training engineers so it can take advantage of local authority programmes for the installation of solar panels on council and private homes, starting with a pilot scheme for 56 homes in Stoke-on-Trent. “It’s opened up a new market for us,” says Henry Walsh, senior project manager at Kier. “It’s not just the installation; it’s the 25-year maintenance period afterwards. Now we’re spreading it UK-wide, with qualified PV installers from Tyneside to Devon. Throughout the UK we’ve had a really good uptake. It was also useful that the training was short; it’s an efficient way for staff to acquire new skills. It’s been really positive all round.”
Online options One growing trend for NICEIC in recent years has been the use of virtual reality and other online training technologies. The organisation now offers online versions of the C&G 2382 and EAL 17th edition update course, C&G’s fundamental inspection and testing 2392 and 2391 inspection and testing courses, and a virtual reality periodic inspection reporting (PIR) course. Others will follow. “The virtual training environment has been very successful,” says Asad Majid, national training manager at NICEIC. “During the planning stage we thought if we got 100 learners through
per cent of employers see apprentices as key to the future success of their business
24 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
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“Although work is very tight, we’re still trying to make sure that everyone’s up to scratch,” he says. “It’s a commercial advantage to ensure you have all your staff trained and safe. We continue to provide all our staff with health and safety courses and those related to the work we do in construction, like scaffolding, and we’ve also run electrotechnical certification scheme training. “We’ve just got some information about NICEIC’s microgeneration certification scheme, so that’s something else we’re looking into,” he adds. “We also took on an apprentice last year, as we do every couple of years.”
‘We’re still trying to make sure everyone’s up to scratch. It’s a commercial advantage to ensure you have all your staff trained and safe’
ILLUSTRATION: PHILIP HACKETT
the 17th edition course in the first year that would be good, but we’ve had nearly 1,000.” Staniforth says many organisations find virtual training a more time and cost-efficient method of learning than attending a conventional course. “There can be a lot of barriers to learning: there are financial and geographical constraints and there can be a lot of time out of the office,” he explains. “For smaller companies that has a big impact.” NICEIC has also developed a “blended” training solution for the C&G level 3 inspection, testing and certification qualification (2391-10), with course delegates spending two days learning remotely followed by two days in a training centre, rather than taking four days out of the workplace. More blended solutions are planned for other areas, including solar energy. Electrical contractors can also take part in an online skills gap analysis exercise that enables remote assessment of individuals’ capabilities before a course begins. “We might assess 70 engineers in a firm and then maybe 30 will need to come for a week of training, but the rest only need
p24-26 training.3.indd 25
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 25
to come in for two days,” Staniforth explains. “That’s helping to reduce costs and downtime for our clients and also helps to identify any further training needs.” The organisation also plans to launch a small business academy in the near future. “We’re hoping to be able to support the contractor in other areas they may need, such as basic HR or accountancy skills,” says Staniforth. Other non-electrical courses planned will include aluminium scaffolding and asbestos.
Nurturing fresh talent The other area of training in which investment is always required is in apprenticeships. At the start of National Apprenticeship Week in February, the government’s business secretary Vince Cable announced plans to create an extra 100,000 apprenticeships by 2014 and to increase the funding of vocational training by £222 million a year to £1.4 billion. At the same time C&G launched a new campaign that aims to lift the number of people beginning apprenticeships to one million by the summer of 2013. It also published a new report, Building Business Through Apprenticeships, which reveals that 89 per cent of the 500 employers surveyed see apprentices as key to the future success of their business, while 52 per cent believe apprentices offer better value as new recruits than university graduates. The report also incorporated a plea to the government to make the process of taking on apprentices less time-consuming and bureaucratic. Some employers, however, are calculating that spending more than £30,000 on training an apprentice for three or more years only to see them then walk away to a better paid job afterwards is not a good investment. One contractor Connections spoke to, who did not wish to be named, says their business has developed its own alternative method of developing talent. “We’ve trained a lot of people over the past 30 years, but it’s too expensive now,” he says. “The big companies aren’t doing it so if we do they walk off to the big companies, so it doesn’t work. Now we pick up trainees who get the experience from us during the day and they go to night school to get their exams. It’s the way a lot of companies operate.” NICEIC has responded to this issue with the launch of its apprentice academy, which is run in partnership with Bedford College and entails fortnightly courses run over two years, followed by a year-long professional development course once a trainee is in employment. NICEIC will also help to cover the cost by paying up to £2,000 towards that apprentice’s wages during each academic year.
The government plans to create an extra apprenticeships by 2014
26 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
p24-26 training.3.indd 26
> CASE STUDY: HOW ONE CONTRACTOR IS KEEPING UP TO SPEED NICEIC Approved Contractor Kendall Electrical was founded in Coventry as a one-man band in 1979 and became a limited company in 1980. It now operates out of purpose-built premises in Bedworth, near Coventry, and employs five electricians and two apprentices. “We keep up to date with things the best we can,” says contract manager Paul Bennett. “We can’t invest too much money in training, but all the lads have gone through their courses at college as apprentices, and then they have done further training such as 17th edition or 2391. We also took a health and safety course and about 18 months ago we had an asbestos awareness course. “We usually take one apprentice on each year and we’ve normally got three going through the process,” he says. “We’ve just had one lad come back from doing his AM2 for his NVQ. We’ll probably take on another next year.”
“At the end the employer will get a fully trained apprentice, plus NICEIC training, and we’ve subsidised the wage,” says Staniforth. “It’s been up and running for nearly a year and recruitment for the next academic year is underway now.” Ian Young, senior PR officer at building services engineering and apprenticeships specialist JTL Training, agrees that there are reasons to be cheerful. “We’re fortunate in that there’s a culture in the electrical services industry to take on apprenticeships,” he says. “There are more people than ever wanting to take our initial assessment test. There’s not a lack of quality; if anything, it’s going up. But there are fewer places, so employers are looking for the cream of the crop.” If that’s the case then it’s easy to argue that taking on apprentices can be an activity that, like training in general, has a direct, positive effect on the company’s future, as well as on the careers of the individuals involved. > David Adams is a freelance business journalist
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Avoid customer disputes Customer disputes can be time consuming and costly, but there are ways to minimise the chance of being caught up in such unpleasantries By Philip Sanders
ollowing these 10 tips should help contractors minimise the risk of becoming embroiled in a potentially damaging dispute with a customer.
1 Know your scope of work It is usual practice for there to be a detailed scope of work, usually included in a tender document, for the electrical installation associated with medium to large installations. However, this is not always the case when it comes to smaller installations or domestic work. These are sometimes subject to verbal agreements that can be difficult to prove if a dispute occurs. Before entering into such an agreement, the customer should always be encouraged to provide a written quotation request so it is clear what electrical work they want and why.
> CUSTOMER LITERATURE Factsheets, leaflets and sample documents produced by NICEIC and ESC provide guidance for customers ordering electrical work. Consider encouraging your customers to read these or provide them with a copy because this may help you to reach an appropriate agreement. The factsheet and sample contract document titled Household repairs, maintenance and improvement contract is available in the householder section at www.niceic.com and the leaflet and quotation request document titled Guide for consumers when ordering domestic electrical work is available at www.esc.org.uk in the general public section.
2 Customer requirements Discuss your customer’s requirements and provide options where possible. Most customers will be happy to listen and will consider advice and choice as something positive. Keep the explanations as clear and non-technical as possible and don’t confuse them with jargon. Your customer should always be provided with a written quotation that details fully the agreed scope of work, together with the associated costs. Where changes or additions to an agreed scope of work are required, request a written instruction from your customer. Any agreement in writing should ideally be signed and dated. If instructions are only provided verbally, always confirm it back to your customer in writing.
3 Pre-work checklist Many contractors have developed their own unique pre-work checklist to ensure that all the relevant contractual issues are identified and agreed at the quotation stage. Obviously the complexity of this checklist will depend on the scope of work, but there are some issues that should be included as a minimum. These are: • The type of electrical work required: is it a new installation, rewire, alteration/addition or repair? • Reason for the work: is it an urgent repair/replacement or planned new or improvement work? • Access arrangements/special requirements: is there restricted access or limited hours of work? • Acceptable level of disruption: how acceptable is isolation of power, production of dust, damage to the fabric of the building and decoration?
28 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
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• Building elements of the work: who is to be responsible for the cutting of any holes and chasing of walls? Will this be the electrical contractor or customer (usually via a building contractor)? • Making good: who is to be responsible for making good the fabric of the building and decoration, including any sealing and fire-stopping? • Building Regulations: is any element of the work subject to notification? • Electrical equipment: is this to be provided by the electrical contractor and/or customer? What type, location and quantity is required? • Completion date: how important is this date to the customer?
4 Certification Detail should be provided on what type of certification will be issued. For domestic work subject to notification under the Building Regulations, agreement should be reached on who will be responsible for the process. Certification should be included in the price of the work, and not detailed as a separate cost, because it is a fundamental requirement of BS 7671. The agreed scope of work should be detailed fully on the certification, together with any additional information such as where your customer has provided specialist light fittings.
5 Programme Provide an idea of when you would be free to carry out the
‘Manage your customer’s expectations by giving regular updates on how the work is progressing and when completion is expected. This needs to start from day one’
requests for you to work in a certain way and, where applicable, what is preventing you from progressing your works in an efficient manner. Consider taking photographic records of the work. This is particularly relevant for parts of the installation that are subsequently hidden, such as cable runs under floors, above ceilings or concealed in a wall.
8 Pick up the phone
6 Payment terms Acceptable terms of payment should be discussed and agreed. This may include a deposit with a final payment on completion of works or interim payments at agreed stages. Create a customer file from day one and keep copies of all correspondence, cost information and records in this file. This will save an incredible amount of time and frustration at the end of the job should a dispute arise. Wherever possible, get agreement to the cost of additional works before you carry them out. Otherwise, sit down regularly with your customer to agree and sign off any additional work costs. Don’t wait until the end before getting the customer’s agreement to anything.
7 Records You can never keep too many records because these will be invaluable in resolving a dispute should a disagreement with your customer occur later on. Most importantly, record verbal
p28-29 customer care.3.indd 29
9 Take remedial action early Don’t wait for your customer to make a complaint to NICEIC before taking remedial action if things are starting to go wrong. The sooner action is taken, the less impact it will cause, regardless of whether the problem relates to time, quality or cost.
10 Final details The importance of finalising the details of an installation is often underestimated. Providing suitable labels, notices, diagrams, charts or tables, together with a durable copy of the schedule relating to the consumer unit or distribution board, is an essential requirement of BS 7671. At the same time consider fitting tamper-evident labels, which can be purchased directly from www.niceicdirect.com, with a unique number to equipment such as the consumer unit or distribution board on completion of your work. This number can be recorded on the certification and will identify if the system has subsequently been worked on by others. > Philip Sanders is NICEIC’s customer relations engineer
ILLUSTRATION: CAMERON LAW
work. Once work is underway ensure you give notice, at the time, of any event that is going to hold up your progress or incur additional costs. Take care to be clear and specific in your wording. Manage your customer’s expectations by giving regular updates on how the work is progressing and when completion is expected. This needs to start from day one because no one likes a surprise at the end of the job.
A phone call to speak to your customer at the time a problem first arises will cost nothing in comparison with the cost of resolving an escalated dispute later on. Where a contractor is aware of a potential dispute that may lead to a complaint under the NICEIC complaints procedure, a phone call to the NICEIC customer relations team on 01582 539 036 will often provide the necessary support and guidance that will help prevent the problem escalating.
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 29
Making a cool profit The air-conditioning market offers opportunities for contractors looking to broaden their base. But proper training and being able to demonstrate competence are essential By Steve Rogerson
30 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
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lthough demand for air-conditioning equipment in the UK took a bit of a dip during the recession, all the signs are that it is starting to pick up again as the construction industry and the economy in general start to recover. According to figures from AMA Research (see graph, right), the UK ventilation and airconditioning equipment market is worth just under £1 billion, with plenty of room to go before it returns to its pre-recession levels. Around half of that is taken up with airconditioning systems, about a fifth by ventilation equipment and the rest comprising the various accessories that go with these. Just as significantly, the research concluded that one of the factors constraining the market was a shortage of technically qualified engineers; something that is only likely to increase as the economy recovers. There is potential, therefore, for electrical contractors and businesses to move into what is likely to be a fairly lucrative industry over the coming years. However, before someone can install most air-conditioning equipment they have a legal requirement to reach a level of competence. The good news is that training is readily available and not excessive in terms of the time demands it places on contractors. “It is quite realistic for electrical contractors to move into this field,” says Martin Richards, UK and Ireland national manager for Hitachi Air Conditioning. “They will know how to wire up an air-conditioning unit anyway, but they will have to learn how to size a unit.” In theory, installers putting in an air-conditioning system should take into account factors such as the fabric of the building and the heating potential of the windows. But Richards says such attention to detail is unusual these days. “Go back 20 years and you looked at everything,” he says. “Now people just look at a building and use a rough rule of thumb. That is not how it should be done, but that’s often the case.” A mistake in sizing a unit could mean that it does not perform as expected, he adds, creating an opportunity for electrical contractors to differentiate themselves by performing work to a much higher standard.
‘There is a requirement for specific refrigerant skills, but a contractor would have to upskill. However, it’s a big industry with lots of opportunities’
Learning new skills The main difficulty with installing air-conditioning equipment, however, tends to be the refrigerants contained within them, and any contractors wanting to get into this part of the industry must be compliant with City & Guilds CG2079 on the safe handling of such material. “The fundamental problem with the skillset required is that most air-conditioning equipment is not hermetically sealed,” says Terry Seaward, commercial director of the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations (FETA). “There is a requirement for specific refrigerant skills, but a contractor would have to upskill. However, it’s a big industry with lots of opportunities for engineers, but they do need the refrigerant skills.” David Dunn, commercial director at Toshiba Air Conditioning, says the City & Guilds regulations are a lot more in-depth than they used to be, but says a range of courses is available, lasting from one to five days in duration. “This is compulsory for those installing air-conditioning,” he stresses. “A contractor needs to be refrigerant compliant.” Central to this are the F-Gas European Regulations designed to reduce the amount of refrigerant being leaked into the atmosphere. The rules apply to any system with more than 3kg
p30-32 air con.2.indd 31
Source: AMA Research
The UK ventilation and air-conditioning market
of refrigerant, with different requirements depending on how much is involved, ranging from domestic and small commercial units to large industrial equipment. For small units with less than 3kg, there are no competency requirements under F-Gas, but a contractor would still need CG2079 compliance to buy a unit with the refrigerant. Even for larger units, however, the F-Gas rules should not put people off, says Craig Walters, a supervisor at air-conditioning installer Fieldair. “There are F-Gas courses,” he says. “You could do a crash course in about a week. There are a few electrical contractors who are starting to do that. There is a lot of business out there and everyone seems to be trying to get into it.” Manufacturers, however, tend only to offer training on their own equipment and normally require a certain level of competency in handling refrigerants before they would even consider this. But there are many specialist bodies offering such training and it is also available from some colleges. “As a manufacturer, we would take a trained engineer and give instructions on how to install our equipment, fault-find and get the best out of it,” says Dunn at Toshiba Air Conditioning. “We train about 700 engineers a year, but we only take people who are already CG2079-certified.” Hitachi’s Richards points out that contractors would also need to learn how to install refrigerant pipe work. “But that involves little more than rudimentary plumbing skills,” he says.
NICEIC Connections Spring 2011 31
‘Most people who have air-conditioning in their homes live in very large houses and use it as a bit of a badge. But in the commercial world the air-conditioning market is vast’ > The Hitachi S-series room air-conditioning unit
Refrigerant reshuffle There have been changes over the past decade in the refrigerant used in air-conditioning equipment, with the R22 refrigerant being phased out because of its ozone-depleting potential. The UK introduced legislation about five years ago banning the installation of R22-based systems, but it is still being used in other parts of the world, notably India. The replacement refrigerant is R410a which, as well as being less damaging, is more energy-efficient. A lot of companies are now ripping out old R22-based systems and replacing them with R410a units, which can cut energy consumption by about a half, creating further potential opportunities for electrical contractors. The other significant trend on the equipment side is to have multiple indoor units connected to one large outdoor unit using a system known as variable refrigerant flow. One outdoor unit can service around 15 indoor units, which is particularly handy
> CASE STUDY NICEIC Approved Contractor Cranton Electrical in Nottingham is an example of an electrical contractor that has moved into the air-conditioning field. “You have to go on an air-conditioning course because of the gases involved, but this is something a lot of people can take on board,” says Steve Clark (pictured), the company’s contract manager. “The course we use is one day a week for 12 weeks.” The business is currently finding plenty of air-conditioning work in the IT field, including in schools. “Schools need air-conditioning in their server rooms,” says Clark. “We have just done St Edmunds School at Mansfield Woodhouse. They needed a small unit in the server room and a large one in the IT suite.” Cranton is also working on a similar project for Mansfield Library installing a comfort cooling system in a children’s play area.
32 Spring 2011 NICEIC Connections
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for blocks of flats or office units. This also means there is only one point of contact for refrigerant-handling, making service and maintenance easier. The previous split-type installations had one outdoor unit for every indoor unit.
Not such a warm welcome But while contractors can move into this field, they won’t necessarily be embraced by those already in it. “The last thing the industry needs is more poorly experienced contractors,” says Steve Heyhoe, founder of air-conditioning installation firm Grange Technical Services. “I’ve dealt with a lot of electrical contractors who think they are air-conditioning experts when they are not. “We as an industry are trying to tighten the regulations regarding the sale and use of refrigerants,” he says. “This is because of air-conditioning systems being available on the market for anyone, including electrical contractors, to fit. These systems are then poorly installed or maintained, which leads to the release of refrigerant to the atmosphere.” Heyhoe hopes to see government regulations become even tighter, eventually reaching the same level as those overseen by Gas Safe in the gas industry. Hitachi’s Richards, however, says most air-conditioning products are straightforward to install. “Most products on the market are very robust and are often installed in countries where standards and expectations are not that high,” he says. “They are not bulletproof, but they are forgiving pieces of equipment.” He does, however, acknowledge that some existing air-conditioning installers are not too happy about others encroaching on their business. “From a manufacturer’s point of view we have built up a good relationship with air-conditioning installers and they are nervous about the electrical people moving into their domain,” he says. The UK market, however, offers plenty of opportunities for contractors. These tend to be very much concentrated on the commercial and industrial side with relatively little demand from residential clients, mainly because of the climate in this country. “We are predominantly a heating culture,” says FETA’s Seaward. “Most people who have air-conditioning in their homes live in very large houses and use it as a bit of a badge. But in the commercial world the air-conditioning market is vast.” > Steve Rogerson is a freelance journalist specialising in the electrical industry
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Swinging into action Eight stunning venues have now been booked for the qualifying rounds of this year’s NICEIC Golf Classic. Register now to book your place
call to all golfing electricians! It’s time to swap the toolbox for the golf bag and get out on the course to iron out any imperfections in your swing. The NICEIC Golf Classic is the electrical contracting industry’s biggest golf tournament and, with a host of stunning prizes on offer, this year’s event promises to the biggest and best yet. Organised in association with Professional Electrician, the event pits pairs of golfers against fellow sparks from around the country and is open to anyone who owns or works for a NICEIC-registered company, with a legitimate handicap certificate. Last year’s event saw more than 400 keen golfers take part, culminating in a grand final at the prestigious
> HOW TO ENTER FIND YOUR REGIONAL HEAT The eight regional qualifiers will take place at the following venues: •North Somerset: Bristol & Clifton Golf Club, Thursday 9 June; • Staffordshire: Beau Desert Golf Club, Tuesday 21 June; • Northern Ireland: Malone Golf Club, Belfast, Monday 4 July; • Oxfordshire: Frilford Heath Golf Club, Friday 8 July; • Scotland: West Linton Golf Club, Nr Edinburgh, Friday 15 July; • Cheshire: Mere Golf & Country Club, Thursday 21 July; • Kent: Westerham Golf Club, Monday 25 July; • Co Durham: Rockliffe Hall, Thursday 28 July. Booking your place couldn’t be easier. Visit the website www.niceic-golf.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0845 123 3839.
p37 golf feature.4.indd Sec1:37
> Last year’s finalists (above) and (left) NICEIC golfers of the year 2010 Trevor Atkinson and Dean Watson
Archerfield Links Course on Scotland’s East Lothian coast. NICEIC Approved Contractor Trevor Atkinson and his playing partner Dean Watson were the 2010 victors, taking home the much coveted trophy, but will they be able to retain it this year? “I play a lot of club golf and have to say this is one of the best events I have ever played in,” says Atkinson, who runs JMI Electrics in Durham and plays off a handicap of 11. “The prizes on offer are fantastic and the chance to get to play at Archerfield again is a real incentive. It is a really classy venue and the hospitality afforded to us was just first class,” he says. As part of their prize, the winners were also invited to play the world famous Loch Lomond course in an event set up by one of the main sponsors. “It just seems to get better and better each year and we are looking forward to taking part again,” adds Watson. As usual, prizes will be awarded for teams finishing first, second and third at each regional round, which take place in June and July. The winning pair from each qualifier will then spend the weekend of the 16-18 September in the luxurious surroundings at Archerfield, with all accommodation expenses paid for, before playing two rounds of golf over the outstanding Fidra and Dirleton Links, with the eventual winners becoming the NICEIC golfers of the year. The entrance fee is £80 per pair and for this each team will get coffee and a bacon roll on arrival, 18 holes of golf, a two-course meal in the clubhouse afterwards, as well as a golfers’ goodie bag. There will also be various sponsor prizes on offer for the longest drive and closest to the pin. “The Golf Classic has proved to be a really popular event among our registered contractors and a great few days out for everyone involved,” says Alan Wells, head of certification at NICEIC. “As well as providing the chance for everyone to play golf in beautiful surroundings, it is a great networking occasion and has become a firm fixture in the NICEIC calendar,” says Wells. So don’t delay. Sign up today and make sure you are there when this year’s NICEIC Golf Classic tees off.
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Hidden dangers Electrical contractors could be unwittingly jeopardising their reputation and putting lives at risk by using unsafe cable. New initiatives aim to raise awareness of this threat By Rob Shepherd
lectrical cable is the lifeblood of any building, but sometimes it is taken for granted. The UK electrical cables and systems market is worth about £2 billion, but the British Cables Association (BCA) estimates that 20 per cent of cable products are non-approved, unsafe or counterfeit. There are a number of reasons for the growth in counterfeit cables, the main one being the escalating price of copper. At the end of 2010, copper prices hit an all-time high, well above the key $9,000 (£5,645) a tonne level. Unless you happen to be the owner of a copper mine, the problem is set to get even worse, with analysts and traders suggesting that prices could reach $12,000 (£7,526) a tonne on the back of the growing shortage. As a result, a number of unscrupulous producers have cut corners and used less copper than required for the manufacturing process. Some have cut back the diameter of the copper wire too much, which reduces the current rating and increases the resistivity of the cable. This can result in overheating, which can lead to fire or reduce the level of safety against electric shock. There have also been instances where materials other than pure copper, such as steel wire, copper-clad aluminium or badly recycled copper, have been used in cable manufacture. For nearly 40 years the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) has promoted independent cable testing and approval, and has been at the forefront in highlighting this important issue. “The electrical contracting sector is very price-driven, but this must not be at the expense of safety and quality,” says Jeremy Hodge, chief executive of BASEC. “Cutting down on copper is one way that suppliers can cheat their customers, and to help stamp
> MAKING A MARK
this out BASEC is conducting more unannounced spot checks on manufacturers and wholesalers. Efforts to expose these traders and manufacturers have been effective and more intelligence has been obtained about poor practices.” But it’s not just down to the supply chain to be vigilant; contractors also have a significant role to play in managing this issue. “The potential risk to the public is a real problem and contractors have a responsibility not to compound the issue any further by ensuring on each and every job delivered that the specification is correct and it is followed through to installation,” says Michael Simms, president of the BCA.
Taking action Last year saw the launch of the Approved Cables Initiative (ACI), which aims to educate contractors about the dangers of purchasing and installing non-compliant cables. It has received widespread support from industry trade bodies, including NICEIC, BASEC and BCA, and has pledged to name and shame suspect importers, manufacturers and distributors. It is also lobbying government to enforce legislation, ensuring that only cables that fully comply with British, European or international standards and carry a third-party certification can be manufactured, distributed or installed in the UK. Identifying a non-compliant or counterfeit cable is not always easy. While some cables carry no markings at all, the majority are fraudulently marked, showing standards and approvals for which they have no claim. They are clearly intended to mislead the distributor, wholesaler and contractor and it is often difficult to
LEAVING NOTHING TO CHANCE
Electrical cable should have the following markings to demonstrate that it is authentic and meets acceptable quality standards: • A manufacturer’s name and mark; • A British Standard (BS) number to signify that the manufacturer has confirmed conformity to this standard; • A BASEC marking if the cable has been tested by BASEC; • Harmonised cable and designation markings that denote the cable is harmonised; • A conductor size mark denoting the cross-sectional area of the copper conductor; • A letter attributable to its year of manufacture; • The cable’s country of origin; • A mark signifying that the core colours are in line with the rest of Europe. Source: Draka
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> CASE STUDY
SOURCING COMPLIANT CABLE
tell that a cable is not manufactured to the appropriate standard merely by looking at it. The ACI is urging the supply chain to routinely check cable markings and reels, looking for a recognised manufacturer’s identification, so if there is a problem it will help trace the cable back through the supply chain. Companies that sell, supply or install unsafe cable are contravening health and safety regulations, could void their insurances and may also face serious criminal allegations, which can result in a custodial sentence. Jim Duffy, chief executive of AEI Cables, believes it is important to emphasise the importance of traceability. “Contractors need to ensure that the cable specified has been correctly sourced and installed, and independently tested,” he says. “Wholesalers need to be clear that the products they are selling are fit for purpose and tested, while end-users should also work with the contractor to make sure that what is installed is working correctly and passes all relevant tests.”
Making progress A recent example of the problems of non-compliant cable entering the market comes from the Turkish manufacturer Atlas Kablo, which was suspended by BASEC last summer. Identified as underspecified and therefore unsafe, this manufacturer’s cable was the subject of a product recall and the cable is now in the process of being destroyed. However, despite this finding, some distributors are continuing to sell it. Nicholas Wakefield, quality assurance manager at Eland Cables, suggests that, if in doubt, contractors should ask questions. “They should not be afraid to ask their supplier for relevant test certification and certificates of conformance to relevant specification should they have any concerns about the cables they are purchasing,” he says. Firms that install fire detection and emergency lighting systems have to be especially vigilant that the cable they install can withstand the damage caused by a fire. Eddie Bean, technical manager at Norfolk-based T&P Fire, believes that, when it comes to cable, if a deal looks too good to be true, it normally is. “We are well aware of there being non-compliant cable on the market and would encourage any contractors to buy only from established and trusted sources,” he says. “In my experience there is no such thing as cheap, quality cable and anything that
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NICEIC Approved Contractor WH Good, based in Rossendale, Lancashire, believes electrical contractors should be at the forefront of the battle against counterfeiters. “The problem of non-compliant cable is very real and we have made sure that all of our staff are aware of the issue,” says managing director Phil Sumner. “Our supply chain management process means that we only ever buy cable from trusted wholesalers.” Being able to identify that a cable has been through the correct tests and is marked accordingly is an important factor in ensuring that any non-compliant cable is identified straightaway, he adds. “All of our team are asked to check a cable’s markings prior to installation,” says Sumner. “We know that anything that has a BASEC mark will have been through a rigorous third-party testing procedure and will perform as expected. However, we leave nothing to chance and our staff also perform tests at the end of the installation to make sure the cable performs as expected.”
claims to be is either counterfeit or stolen. I also think that most contractors are aware of this.” BASEC’s Hodge urges contractors to become familiar with design codes such as BS5839, BS5266 and BS8519 to help determine the necessary grade of cable to use. “The key consideration is the length of time the electrical system must effectively operate after a fire starts while maintaining necessary levels of safety and protection,” he says. “Also, make sure the cable used carries a suitable approval marking.” Contractors need to be well informed to reduce the chances of being fooled into paying good money for an inferior product. “As a time-served electrician myself I continue to be amazed at how little time is spent on learning about the different types of cables during formal training,” says Wakefield. “Education is essential to ensuring that electricians understand the key parameters and materials that go into cable design,” he adds. “This knowledge would help promote the use of quality cables and the selection of the correct one for each installation.” > Rob Shepherd is a freelance journalist specialising in the electrical industry
> FACTS OF THE MATTER • 20 per cent of cable products in the UK supply chain are thought to be non-approved, unsafe or counterfeit; • 15 deaths have resulted from faulty electric cable in England over the past five years; • 1,200 non-fatal major accidents have been attributed to faulty electrical wires and cables over the past five years; • 27 per cent of all electrical fires are attributable to faulty wire and cables; • In 2007, 4,093 fires across England were attributable to faulty wires and cables in homes and businesses. Source: Department of Communities and Local Government
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jobs for the girls
Breaking down barriers The electrical contracting industry is still seen by many as a male-only environment. NICEICâ€™s campaign aims to dispel this myth and highlight the opportunities for women in the trade By FranĂ§oise Snobel
> CAMPAIGN NICEIC JOBS FOR THE GIRLS
> Women in the industry: Elecchicks is bucking the trend
This recently launched campaign aims to encourage and recruit more women into the electrical trades. By challenging gender stereotypes and promoting opportunities in the industry, NICEIC hopes to inspire women to come forward and help close the skills gap. NICEIC is also hoping to recruit more young women to its newly launched apprentice academy, which aims to provide students with the necessary training and skills to meet the demanding challenges of the electrotechnical industry. A dedicated Jobs for the Girls area has been added to the NICEIC website, containing statistics, case studies of female electricians, links to radio interviews discussing the campaign and a practical guide for employers to help understand equality issues. For more information on the Jobs for the Girls campaign, visit: www.niceic.com/contractor/jobs-for-the-girls
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ender equality in Britain has come a long way in the past couple of decades, bringing the national averages of numbers of men versus women in employment nearly level. Sadly, however, this equality does not extend to the electrical trades. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that about 98 per cent of people employed in the electrical industry in 2010 were men, and of the two per cent that were women, only a fraction were contractors. The figures are just as dismal for younger generations entering the industry, with NICEIC figures showing that in 2007-08 women made up just one per cent of electrotechnical apprentice starters. Despite these disheartening figures, a career in the electrotechnical industry can be both fulfilling and accommodating for women. Jayne McFarlane, who works for Intertest in Slough, has been an electrician and electrical consultant for more than 27 years and has no regrets. “Once you are trained and qualified you have a skill for life, whether you are male or female,” she says. “Women considering this career should go for it. Through my apprenticeship I became a confident woman and developed confidence in my abilities.” Now focusing on testing and consultancy, McFarlane says her job is also flexible enough to juggle with having a family. She is also keen to debunk myths used to justify the low numbers of women in the industry. “This is not a strength-based job,” she says. “Sure, there is an element of fitness needed, but what’s important is having the ability to think on your feet.” Electrical designer Caroline Bell says she experienced such prejudices when she entered the trade 12 years ago because her employer at the time didn’t think it appropriate to have her onsite, due to her shy disposition and gender. “You need to prove you are good and at the same level as the men,” she says. Now working for Rugby-based Morgan Sindall Electrical Services, she believes she is finally being treated as an equal. Both McFarlane and Bell believe opportunities in the electrical trades have to be presented to young women while they are still at school, providing them with a chance to make early decisions and associate it as being a viable career option.
the number of potential apprentices,” says SummitSkills chief executive Keith Marshall. “In theory, this will create a bigger pool of people with higher grades which may, in fact, benefit women because they tend to have higher grades than men,” he adds. “However, the challenge remains the perception of the industry.”
Paying off Anthony Cartwright of AJC Electrical Services in Wallasey, Merseyside, took on his first female apprentice eight years ago and says other contractors should do likewise. “Gender is not an issue; what you need are apprentices who are interested,” he says. “You need that spark – boy or girl – then they just blossom.” There are also business advantages for firms recruiting a diverse workforce that includes women. “Public sector organisations and corporations with robust equal opportunities policies look favourably on firms that can demonstrate a diverse workforce when bidding for work,” says Yasmin Damree-Ralph, equality and diversity officer electrical at training provider JTL. “Women are also very popular with female customers who are on their own or who come from ethnic groups that object to having men in the house.” Female electricians Leah Burman and Christine Vaghela noticed this gap in the market and decided to set up women-only firm Elecchicks. Both were working in other industries but, after doing a bit of research and realising the potential untapped business opportunity, decided to train as electricians. Since qualifying and setting up their firm in 2010, they’ve had very positive reactions. “We’re not saying we are better than men,” says Burman. “We just want people to have a choice.” Elecchicks, based in Borehamwood in Hertfordshire, is regularly consulted by female entrepreneurs wanting advice on becoming electricians and starting a business. “Women considering the profession should go for it. We were welcomed with open arms. Women can do this job,” says Vaghela. > Françoise Snobel is a freelance journalist specialising in the electrical industry
Confronting the issue NICEIC has recently launched its Jobs for the Girls campaign to raise awareness about the need for more women in the industry and to work in partnership with key industry organisations to take practical steps to closing the gender gap. “This campaign will challenge stereotypes and promote opportunities for women in the industry,” says NICEIC chief executive officer Emma McCarthy. “We need to make sure the message gets out there to women who are thinking of a career in the electrical trades. This is a fantastic industry to be in and anyone can have a lifelong fulfilling career.” For both genders, the recession has made breaking into the industry even more competitive. SummitSkills – the Sector Skills Council for the building services engineering sector – believes women in particular may be adversely affected by a knock-on effect – less recruitment of new operatives and apprentices, and those made redundant being the first to be re-employed. Then, of course, there is the rise in tuition fees and the effect that will have on apprenticeships and training. “As the impact of the increase in tuition fees becomes a reality, and more young people are unable or unwilling to go to university, this will drive up
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> FACTS OF THE MATTER • Nearly half (47 per cent) of female homeowners admit to feeling intimidated when having to deal with a male sparky; • 63 per cent of 16 to 24-year-old women are more interested in learning a skilled trade than a profession; • The top trades women want to learn are electrician (35 per cent), carpenter (21 per cent), plumber (20 per cent), builder (10 per cent) and farrier (6 per cent). Least popular is a bricklayer (1 per cent); • 50 per cent of women would feel more comfortable if faced with a female contractor; • 31 per cent say they are more likely to trust a woman’s opinion over a man’s; • 11 per cent say they’ll only have a man in the house if they’re not alone; • More than a quarter (26 per cent) say it would make a refreshing change to see a woman in charge of the tools. Source: NICEIC
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What price peace of mind? Many sole traders and electrical firms are leaving themselves vulnerable by failing to insure against unexpected events that could threaten the future of their business By Alex Blyth
he electrical industry is inherently risky. Whether it’s the threat of an accident to staff or clients, loss of stock or equipment from stores or vans, or the hazards every business faces such as flooding, fire or IT failure, the potential for something to go wrong is all too obvious. For many electrical firms, such an incident could be catastrophic. A few years ago Mike Langton, affinity consultant with NICEIC’s parent company Ascertiva Group, dealt with an electrical company that was facing an unexpected bill of £3 million. It was a small company and, worse, it was a bill for damages that its contractor had not even caused. “There had been a fire at a project he was working on,” explains Langton. “Basically the court had been unable to determine which of the contractors was responsible so it decided to split the costs equally among them.” Fortunately, Langton’s client was covered, but he reports that these situations are all too common, and that too few electrical contractors have adequate insurance cover against such scenarios. “This industry needs to become much more aware of insurance,” he says. “I’ve dealt with six claims worth more than £1 million each, and if the contractor involved lacks adequate insurance cover it can destroy not only their business but also their life. Those dreadful consequences can be avoided by spending an hour arranging proper cover, and an outlay of a few hundred pounds a year. It amazes me that more people don’t bother to get it right.”
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‘By the nature of their work, electrical contractors are particularly exposed to risk and potential danger’
> CASE STUDY LOOKING CLOSER TO HOME John Stead runs John M Stead Electrics, a one-man operation based in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. He is an NICEIC Approved Contractor and Domestic Installer and has been in the trade for more than 40 years. He recently halved his premiums by moving his insurance cover to NICEIC. “I had seen the NICEIC adverts so decided to give them a call,” he adds. “I saved around £700 on my annual premium.” Stead’s cover is for general domestic, commercial and industrial and also includes work carried out by a sub-contractor who he sometimes employs. The policy gives him £2 million public liability cover, which he says is more than adequate for his needs, and up to £10 million employee liability. “I had a quick chat on the phone and everything was sorted out in a few days,” says Stead. “I only wish I had done it sooner.”
Philip Wilkinson, business advisor at Business Link in London, agrees. “All businesses need insurance to protect themselves against the risk of something going wrong,” he says. “By the nature of their work, electrical contractors are particularly exposed to risk and potential danger. So they should ensure they purchase enough cover to protect the business, themselves, their employees and the public. Failure to do this could be highly damaging.”
Types of insurance What types of insurance should you consider? Most of us tend to think about the insurance we buy as consumers, such as buildings, contents and motor vehicle insurance, and these are certainly important. Similarly, contractors tend to be well aware of the value of their tools so most have these well covered. Then there is employers’ liability. This is a legal requirement for any business that employs someone other than close family members (and even applies in this case if the firm in question is a limited company). It will enable you to meet the costs of damages and legal fees for employees who are injured or made ill through work. You need to be insured for at least £5 million, and for every day that you do not have employer’s liability insurance you can be fined £2,500. If you supply goods you should look into product liability, but for most firms the other crucial one is public liability insurance. This covers any award of damages to a member of the public because of an injury or damage to their property caused by you or your business. Premiums vary significantly depending on the size of the business and the type of activity involved. NICEIC recommends its members have at least £2 million of public liability cover. “With public liability insurance, it’s essential to look very closely at what it covers,” says Langton. “There are usually many exclusions, particularly in policies that aren’t designed specifically for electricians. For example, your policy might not cover you for
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working above 10 metres, or for the use of soldering irons. “A really common one we’re seeing at the moment is for anyone working with the microgeneration certification scheme, which offers training in installing renewable technologies such as solar panels,” he says. “If you’re doing that then most generalist policies won’t cover you. The same is true for portable appliance testing (PAT) and periodic inspection testing (PIR).” Langton also advises electrical contractors to look at efficacy cover. “If you install an alarm and it doesn’t work for whatever reason, so a fire causes more damage than it would have done had the alarm worked, then you are liable,” he explains. “Efficacy cover will protect you in these situations.” Finally, if you are a relatively small firm that is dependent on one or two people you might want to consider key person insurance, which will cover you if one of those people is unable to work through illness or injury.
Finding the right provider Langton estimates that more than 70 per cent of businesses use an insurance broker to get the best terms and cover. But whether you go for a broker or arrange cover yourself, he suggests you do two things: seek out insurance that has been designed with electrical contractors in mind, and spend time talking to an expert so you get suitable cover for your business. NICEIC electrical contractors’ insurance, for instance, comes from as little as £68.90 a year for registered contractors. It includes public and product liability cover up to £2 million, incidental PAT and PIR testing cover up to £75,000, incidental efficacy cover up to £100,000, tax investigation up to £50,000 and jury service protection, says Langton. “Crucially, NICEIC knows how contractors’ typical work is changing, and so is able to continually adapt the policy to ensure it gives electricians the cover they need,” he adds. Martin Butler has run his own company, Butler Electrical, in Leigh, Lancashire, since 2002. He joined NICEIC in 2009 and took up the insurance offering because he trusted the name. “One of the major benefits for me was that NICEIC could offer me indemnity for periodic testing and PAT testing under the one policy,” he says. “The policy was quick and easy to explain. I also found the price to be very competitive which was a bonus, as when it comes to insurance you don’t necessarily want the rock bottom price as it usually doesn’t have all the cover every electrician should have in place.” > Alex Blyth is a freelance business journalist
> FACTS OF THE MATTER • Between 1999 and 2009 the amount paid in claims in the UK increased by 44 per cent, from £15.4 billion to £22.2 billion; • In 2009, the UK insurance industry paid £3.8 million to businesses for damage to property; • It also paid out £6.4 million in liability claims, such as for accidents at work, professional liability and injuries to the public on commercial premises. Source: Association of British Insurers
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