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Public buildings and electrical compliance

Tim Beardsmore, Commercial Director of Calbarrie Compliance Services, explains the particular challenges faced when managing the electrical compliance of public buildings

Electrical safety testing in the public sector raises specific concerns. Whilst ensuring that the public are safe the services need to be accessible with minimum disruption. Management of the building is often outsourced to a facilities management company; and the over-arching relationship between the client, the FM and the sub-contractor is key, requiring shared responsibilities and common goals.

Health and safety should be at the top of the priority list for all businesses, and a service provider can demonstrate a commitment to their clients’ objectives by attaining an industry standard such as ISO 18001. Membership of a reputable safety body such as RoSPA and compliance with recognised codes of practice will provide further evidence of an effective safety management system. Engineers who have received specialist training in areas of health and safety and working in public areas can put in place measures to help manage risk to the public. Insurance cover is also essential for the company, with £10 million public liability being the minimum.

Access is a challenge when testing in the public sector; and flexibility is crucial in order to minimise disruption to services. Public buildings such as museums, libraries and leisure centres, for instance, will require testing ‘out-of-hours’, and a site survey will identify the specifics of the testing and the scheduling requirements. Testing in hospitals and emergency response centres (where essential equipment cannot be ‘powered down’) also requires careful planning. Schools and colleges like to test during school holidays and our figures show that testing done during these periods is at least 20 per cent more productive than in term-time.

In a modern world where threats to security have become commonplace, a contractor who has an established labour-force and vigilantly carries out regular checks on work permits and security clearances should inspire confidence. Pre-start surveys and meetings will identify any specific security risks posed by the site and requirements for additional access training. On secure sites such as government offices and HM Prisons, the client should consider the use of a chaperone – a client representative – who will accompany the engineer around the site to ensure that all systems and services are left as found.

The risk to data security is also a key concern for public sector clients, and powering down of sensitive and critical communications equipment requires careful planning and collaboration between the contractor, site security and IT representatives. A contractor can reduce the risk of data loss with tailored IT systems for record-keeping. Furthermore, an Application Programming Interface (API) can enable secure and effective communication between systems, with the contractor uploading data directly onto the client’s software. An experienced service provider should also have its own information security management system and trained employees for managing personal data.

Schools and colleges have their own set of challenges when it comes to electrical compliance, and statistics show that children and young people are more at risk of injury due to electrical faults than other age groups. Day-to-day running of the school, including responsibility for the health and safety of employees and pupils, is normally delegated to the head teacher and school management team. They have a key role in making sure risks are managed effectively on site.

Historically, testing of electrical appliances in schools and colleges has been carried out by a caretaker. Outsourcing, however, is becoming more common as compliance testing carried out by a school caretaker, albeit with the best intentions, is not going to be as effective or efficient as a trained engineer. With multiple tasks to complete the caretaker will often test sporadically to fit around other more urgent or reactive duties. Suitable training will be required which comes at a cost. A qualified, experienced engineer will conduct in excess of double the tests per day and complete a whole site efficiently whilst freeing up the caretaker to carry out other key responsibilities. As well as allowing the caretaker to carry out more jobs it also reduces the opportunity cost and ensures that the job is completed by a fully qualified test engineer with experience of working on educational sites.

Some schools like to benefit from fixed prices and schedule their testing up to five years ahead, with the same engineers returning year after year as they are familiar with the site. In this way the school remains compliant and confident that the environment is safe and they have demonstrated cost-efficiency whilst securing their budgets for the future.

With budget cuts and the need to demonstrate sensible spending of public funds, public bodies have to consider more cost-effective ways of service delivery. During the tender process the public sector should be asking service providers to demonstrate how their core values mirror those of their own and what added-value they can bring. As well as safety, the service provider will need to demonstrate a commitment to other core values such as quality, environmental and training by having tried and tested management systems, and initiatives in place to support energy and social values for instance.

An experienced provider will have the ability to share the public body’s responsibilities. A good company should offer a total compliance service with online recording of testing dates and the setting of reminders for when inspection and testing is due. Public bodies who value technical expertise and tailored delivery above low-cost service provision will benefit from a proposition that is service-driven and sustainable. Ultimately an expert provider can manage the challenges faced by the public sector around electrical compliance by building long-term relationships and committing to shared values that improve performance, reduce costs and increase control.


About Sarah OBeirne


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