Electrical Compliance – Who is to blame when things go wrong?
by Danie Esterhuizen
It is a warm summer afternoon and you have just shown your son how the electric lawnmower works. He is demonstrating his newly acquired skill when the unthinkable happens: he accidentally cuts through the electrical cord and falls to the ground. He has received an electrical shock and is rushed to hospital. This is not something we think about until it happens to us! Why did he receive an electrical shock?
Why didn’t the earth leakage safety device or overload protection device prevent this accident? What went wrong?
In South Africa, our electrical wiring code (SANS 10142-1) does say that it is concerned with the “protection of people, animals and property” when it comes to electrical installations, but who is to blame?
Who is responsible for the safety, safe use and maintenance of the electrical installation?
This is one of the first questions asked after an accident has occurred. For the answer, we refer to Clause 2 of the Electrical Installation Regulations of 2009:
Electrical Installation Regulations 2009 2. Responsibility for Electrical Installations
Subject to sub regulation (3), the user or lessor of an electrical installation, as the case may be, shall be responsible for the safety, safe use and maintenance of the electrical installation he or she uses or leases.
The user or lessor of an electrical installation, as the case may be, shall be responsible for the safety of the conductors on his or her premises connecting the electrical installation to the point of supply in the case where the point of supply is not the point of control.
Where there is a written undertaking between a user or lessor and a lessee whereby the responsibility for an electrical installation has been transferred to the lessee, the lessee shall be responsible for that installation as if he or she were the user or lessor.
This is not the answer homeowners generally expect to hear – even though there is no ambiguity about what the law states … But then the next question that automatically comes to mind is:
How can I ensure my electrical installation is safe?
A valid electrical certificate of compliance (CoC) issued by a registered person as prescribed by Clause 9 of the Electrical Installation Regulations of 2009 is proof that your electrical installation complies with the minimum safety standard.
Let’s look at what the law says about the CoC: First, it is the law that every user or lessor of an electrical installation must have a valid CoC as stated in Clause 7.
- Certificate of Compliance
- Subject to the provisions of sub regulation (3) every user or lessor of an electrical installation, as the case may be, shall have a valid certificate of compliance for that installation in the form of Annexure 1, which shall be accompanied by a test report in the format approved by the chief inspector, in respect of every such electrical installation.
Who can issue a COC?
The law is quite clear on this: 9. Issuing of certificate of compliance
(1) No person other than a registered person may issue a certificate of compliance.
(2) A registered person may issue a certificate of compliance accompanied by the required test report after having satisfied himself or herself by means of an inspection and test that
(a) a new electrical installation complies with the provisions of regulation 5(1) and was carried out under his or her general control; or
(b) an electrical installation which existed prior to the publication of the current edition of the health and safety standard incorporated into these Regulations in terms of regulation 5(1), complies with the general safety principles of such standard; or
(c) an electrical installation referred to in paragraph (b), to which extensions or alterations have been effected, that
(i) the existing part of the electrical installation complies with the general safety principles of such standard and is reasonably safe, and
(ii) the extensions or alterations effected comply with the provisions of regulation 5(1) and were carried out under his or her general control.
(3) If at any time prior to the issuing of a certificate of compliance any fault or defect is detected in any part of the electrical installation, the registered person shall refuse to issue such certificate until that fault or defect has been rectified: Provided that if such fault or defect in the opinion of the registered person constitutes an immediate danger to persons in a case where electricity is already supplied, he or she shall forthwith take steps to disconnect the supply to the circuit in which the fault or defect was detected and notify the chief inspector thereof.
(4) Any person who undertakes to do electrical installation work shall ensure that a valid certificate of compliance is issued for that work.
I know this is a lot of jargon to take in, but a properly qualified and registered electrician will be able to guide you through the requirements and ensure that your electrical installation is safe. If you’re unsure whether an electrician is registered, remember that all electrical contractors who are members of the ECA are duly registered, as it’s a condition of membership.
How long is a compliance certificate valid for?
There is no specific reference in the regulation as to how long the electrical certificate of compliance remains valid for (as long as no alterations or changes have been made). However, when there is a change in ownership of the property, clause 7 (5) of the Electrical Installation Regulations stipulates the following: Certificate of compliance
(5) Subject to the provisions in section 10(4) of the Act, the user or lessor may not allow a change of ownership if the certificate of compliance is older than two years. And, to put everything in a nutshell, Clause 2 requires the user or lessor to maintain the electrical installation to ensure that the installation remains safe: Responsibility for electrical installations 2. (1) Subject to subregulation (3), the user or lessor of an electrical installation, as the case may be, shall be responsible for the safety, safe use and maintenance of the electrical installation he or she uses or leases.
Here are some tips you can follow to ensure that your electrical installation remains safe:
Test your earth leakage device regularly by pressing the test button on the distribution board to ensure that it is still in working order.
Be on the lookout for discolouration of sockets and switches – any yellowing or blackening is a clear sign of overloading and the need for replacement; and that some maintenance is urgently required.
Be on the lookout for any open wires or electrical enclosures that are cracked and no longer weatherproof. Water and electricity are a lethal combination.
Contact a registered person – such as an ECA member – to perform an inspection of your electrical installation to ensure your installation is safe and that it’s safe to use.
A valid CoC is proof that your electrical installation is safe and must be kept in a safe place along with any additional CoCs that are issued when any electrical alterations are made to the property. In the event of an accident or a fire, these documents will be required by your insurer to validate any claims.
Remember that accidents do happen, but most accidents can be avoided by being proactively safety conscious.