The challenges of training in the electrical contracting industry

August 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Vector, Featured: EE Publishers

 

Approved Electrical Inspection Authority (AIA) Nico van den Berg discusses issues such as copper theft; the need for a scrap metal dealers act; electric fence installation and a forum where contractors can share their knowledge.

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Nico van den Berg

While working as an assessor and moderator, Nico van den Berg of Centurion-based Independent Electrical Inspection Services founded the Electrical Contractors’ Forum, originally to address unit standards training for single and 3-phase electricians and master installation electricians (MIEs).

In the early days, the forum, which is hosted on Facebook, addressed issues not discussed in Van den Berg’s classroom and, in time, he started posting articles of interest to his students and the industry at large. To promote discussion and knowledge sharing, students are requested to post on the forum the questions they raise in class.

The forum, which today has approximately 1000 members and sports in excess of 200 “likes”, grew by word of mouth. Its membership now includes contractors and other interested parties from around the world who joined the forum to discuss and compare the various standards and legislation of the different countries now represented on the forum.

Guest speakers from the Department of Labour (DoL) often address free training and refresher seminars hosted at Van den Berg’s training centre. These lectures are also posted on the forum and NECSA is known to use some of this material in its own training courses.

First aid

A serious concern to Van den Berg is the almost complete lack of fist aid training for electrical contractors. He says only about 10% of electricians today are familiar with cardiovascular pulminory resuscitation (CPR). The DoL’s requirments for a wireman’s licence include N3, a trade test, installation rules and unit standards, among others, but not first aid.

“Nobody┬áprovides fist aid training – not the universities, colleges, technicons or even the Electrical Contractors Association of South Africa or ECA(SA) ; it just fell by the wayside. The exception is Eskom, which still provides first aid training for its technicians. We decided to include basic first aid into our training and we will be using the Contractors’ Forum to spread the information.”

Mechanical earth leakage units cause many injuries and fatalities and Van den Berg finds failed units in about 30% of the domestic homes he inspects. These units can be switched on again without causing a trip, even though the installation is energised.

Copper theft, unsafe connections

Another danger stems from copper theft. Technicians and contractors are pressured to make unsafe, “temporary” connections to supply power back to areas affected by cable theft. The intention is usually to return to these connections to make them safe but other incidences of cable theft usually prevent this – more temporary connections are made and invariably become “permanent”, posing a danger to Eskom workers, electricians and the public at large.

Van den Berg says this matter would have been discussed and possibly resolved at the Regional Electrical Safety Forum (RESF) founded by Eskom but this, too, has fallen by the wayside. He says there is no RESF representation in either Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town or Bloemfontein, where regional branches once existed.

“We have met with acting chief inspector Jakes Malatsi and DoL deputy director: mechanical and electrical engineering Pieter Laubscher to re-introduce the RESF. The promises at the time were encouraging but we are still waiting to see action in this regard.” He says the DoL could use the RESF to announce incidents of theft, identified risk areas, the location of “temporary” connections etc.

Scrap metal dealers’ act

The trouble with the Second Hand Dealers’ Act is rooted in its policing: cable thieves are caught but cannot be prosecuted as the rightful owners of the stolen metal cannot be identified and no legal case can be made against them.

Like many in the industry, Van den Berg calls for a scrap metal dealer act similar to that in the UK.

Such an act would force dealers to co-operate with and report to government, which would send inspectors to their premises to conduct audits.

“This works very well in England where scrap metal dealers register with the local labour departnent and are regulated. These dealers may lose their trading licences should they not comply. The South African Police Service also welcomes this proposed act – it will make its work so much easier.”

Electric fencing

Van den Berg says the industry is in the dark as far as the installation and issuing of CoCs for these fences are concerned.

In terms of testing, inspection and certification of premises, the unit standards for single-phase installations state that CoCs must be issued for single, 3-phase and hazardous locations.

When he was approached by the ECA(SA) to provide training for its members on the installation of gate motors, electric fencing and alarm systems, however, Van den Berg received a document from the DoL stating that only members of the South African Electric Fence Installers Association (SAEIFA) may become electric fence installers. This would mean that ECA(SA) members specialising in electric fencing would have to become members of an additional industry association.

ECA(SA) Bosveld/Pretoria regional director Cecil Lancaster suggested to the DoL that the ECA change its constitution to allow it to declare qualifying members electric fence installers. In this way, SAEIFA would not be the only regulating body for this market segment, a monopoly which Van den Berg believes should be reviewed by the Consumer Forum and in terms of the Consumer Protecion Act. A subsequent communique from the department stated simply that “no changes” would be affected in terms of the installation of electric fences.

In the end, only Van den Berg and SAEIFA president Cliff Cawood were granted permission to provide training for electric fence installers. Many of their students were qualified single and 3-phase master electricians who had focused purely on electric fence installations for periods of up to ten years. Recognition of prior learning (RPL) was, however, denied them.

Shortly after receiving accreditation to train electric fence installers, Van den Berg received a letter from SAEFA, stating in no uncertain terms that it intended to prevent electrical contractors from installing security fencing.

“I understand their concern,” he says. “Nothing prevents the electrician inspecting the electrical installations on a premises from also inspecting the electric fence. Personally, I see no problem with this, as long as the contractor complies with the standards.”

What does bother Van den Berg, however, is a Gauteng-based electrical contractor who claims to be the only DoL accredited electric fence inspector. This contractor conducts inspections on security fence installations on behalf of the DoL and also quotes on rectifying non-compliances. The AIA system, says Van den Berg, does not allow inspectors to be both “referee and player” – to find fault on installations and then to quote on their repairs.

“We have written to the DoL about this contractor numerous times but are yet to receive a reply.”

To comment on this article, contact vector@ee.co.za

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