Electrical Safety: Who is Enforcing and What Should be Done?

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Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
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As building inspectors, we regularly find areas of non-compliance with electrical items, and we are continually shocked at the number of electrical defects that are left unfixed upon the transfer of sale.

In Perth, laws introduced in 2009 require all home sellers (before sale) and landlords to install at least two RCDs to protect all power points and lighting circuits. EnergySafety’s findings in 2011 supported these laws being introduced, as they found that 23 of the 29 people who have died as a result of electrocution could have been saved had RCDs been fitted. Penalties of up to $15,000 for individuals and up to $100,000 for a body corporate may be imposed should these regulations be breached.

Building regulations also require the owner of a dwelling to have smoke alarms installed prior to the transfer of ownership. Penalties also apply under the regulations; a local government may issue an infringement notice under the Criminal Procedure Act 2004, which attracts a penalty of $1,000 for a prescribed offence, or the local government may prosecute an owner for non-compliance resulting in a penalty of up to $5,000 for a prescribed offence.

The problem is not with the requirements themselves, it is with the enforcement of these requirements.

Often, real estate agents are visually inspecting the RCDs themselves, and if two are present then they are citing compliance, or settlement agents are allowing the current owner of the property to sign-off on compliance of RCDs and smoke alarms. Even if RCDs are present, are they connected to all power points and lighting circuits? Do they trip out in the specified time? The same principles apply to smoke alarm compliance.

I am guessing if I’m not qualified enough to report on these two legislated areas, a real estate agent, settlement agent, or owner of the property certainly isn’t either. Fortunately, many real estate agents are actively seeking an electrical safety certificate as part of the selling process, although in our experience, in around 50 per cent of transactions there is no intention of acquiring an electrical safety certificate until we strongly recommend that the purchaser request one.

Whether it be through ignorance or misunderstanding or the laws in place, unfortunately the new owner of the property is often the one left at risk. There are also no further compliance checks, so no one is made accountable until the smoke alarms or RCDs fail. The consequences of this process could be disastrous.

Furthermore, the standard REIWA annexure on the contract on sale will exclude electrical wiring as being deemed a ‘structural defect.’ This means that items such as exposed electrical cabling and downlights that do not comply with current Australian Standards are being left to the subsequent owner of the property to fix, or even worse, fall victim to.

The picture below is an example of work that would not be fixed upon a sale transaction in WA, and might not even be identified if a building inspection was not ordered. This plastic pot plant used to achieve insulation clearances combined with loose fill insulation resting on top of an uncapped downlight is a fire waiting to happen.

Downlight Protection

Although we are not licensed electricians and as such we should not be reporting on such defects, our professional duty to warn is often the only instance that inspection is being carried out. Again, the results could be disastrous. What if a building inspection was not ordered? The new owner of the property could unknowingly be living in a fire waiting to happen.

According to the Department of Fire & Emergency Services (DFES), more than 50 people across Australia die each year as a result of home fires, with many more injured. Steps have been taken to try to reduce this number, but unfortunately these processes are often left to be implemented by people unqualified to do so, and as a result, lives are being put at risk.

We believe everyone has the right to move into a safe house when they purchase an established property. Current checks for RCD and smoke alarm compliance can cost as little as $80, and they are deemed mandatory. Inspecting those elements as well as downlight compliance and exposed cabling can save lives. Why is there no serious push to enforce compulsory electrical inspections for these four items at a relatively low cost?

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