Industry figure warns of the perils of ‘cowboy’ electricians

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Stricter regulations within the electrical industry would have a significant uplift on the economy while also driving massive improvements in public safety, Fiona Harper, secretary of the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB), has said.

Speaking on 19 September on BBC Radio Scotland, Harper welcomed moves by the Scottish government to publish a consultation on the regulation of electricians. She told the BBC’s Andrew Black why change must come sooner rather than later.

“In Scotland, at this moment in time, anyone can call themselves an electrician and carry out electrical work,” she said. “Even if you decided tomorrow, Andrew, that radio is no longer for you, you could buy a van, call yourself an electrician, and it wouldn’t be against the law.

“But electrical installation is what is described as a safety-critical activity. It’s always important that installations are safe, because if not, they can result in injury or death.”

News of the consultation contained in the 2019-20 Programme for Government released earlier this month was immediately endorsed by SJIB and SELECT, the electrotechnical trade association. Both are among bodies campaigning to raise public awareness about the need to use registered electricians.

“Some faults lie hidden for years, lurking behind a socket, under a floorboard or hidden in a wall, just waiting for a combination of circumstances for a flashpoint to occur,” said Harper, who is also head of employment affairs at SELECT.

SELECT has estimated that as many as 16% of all domestic electricians operating in this country are either unqualified or under-qualified. They and others want the title of electrician protected in law, helping to ensure that anyone claiming to be an electrician would have the necessary qualifications, knowledge and experience to carry out work.

“We would estimate that up-skilling training would cost around £1,000 per person, so if that meant 10,000 unqualified or under-qualified people, that’s about £2 million,” Harper added.

“But the benefit to the Scottish economy would be huge. We have made a cautious estimate of the net benefits to Scotland from proper, recognised, regulated electricians of around £58 million.

“By up-skilling the workforce and regulating the playing field, we would inevitably reduce damage caused by faulty work, there would be fewer injuries and deaths and better-functioning installations – but most importantly, happier and safer consumers.”