DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN CERTIFICATE OF COMPLIANCE FRAUD
By Anthony Schewitz, Technical Advisor, ECA(SA) Highveld region
My life’s motto is ‘Trust no one, question everything’ and I’ve learnt this the hard way, as one does, by making mistakes.
Right now, it’s a good motto for electrical contractors, too, and one to keep in mind when considering the consequences of sharing your Certificates of Compliance and giving other people access to your registration details. Trust no one.
Why do I say this? Well, the ECA(SA) Highveld region has, over the past few months, come across an extremely dodgy practice that’s going on in the electrical contracting industry: Certificate of Compliance fraud. And, unfortunately, the good guys always lose.
Contractors need to protect their CoCs and their registration details as carefully as they protect their PIN numbers and passwords because, should something go wrong, it’s going to go very, very wrong. At best, the repercussions may complicate your life, but the worst-case scenario is that your reputation will take a hammering and you could harm your business.
First, absolutely nobody – and that includes the guys working for you – should know your Department of Labour (DoL) registration details and how you complete CoCs. Keep this information to yourself along with your unique CoCs and never, ever give anyone a signed blank CoC.
If you do this and the proverbial paw-paw hits the fan, the harsh reality is that you alone are legally and civilly responsible for the installations that are certified in your name.
And there’s still the Consumer Protection Act to consider … but I’ll leave that for another day.
If you still need to be convinced, let me tell you about two cases of ‘identity theft’ that the Highveld region has dealt with recently.
The first tale is about a small electrical contracting business owner, who has been doing excellent work, and another small electrical business – let’s call them Contractor A and Contractor B.
The ECA(SA Highveld region received a complaint – supported with photographic evidence and inspection reports – about a non-compliant installation, for which a CoC had been issued, ostensibly by Contractor A. An investigation revealed that the CoC in question had been bought using Contractor A’s registration details.
At the meeting, it was established that Contractor A had, in fact, never been to the installation address, and that some of the details in the CoC were suspect. After making further enquiries, it was discovered that one of Contractor A’s former employees had bought a batch of CoCs using Contractor A’s DoL registration details shortly after his employment had been terminated.
We recommended that Contactor A go to the police and submit an affidavit also and lay a charge of fraud against his former employee.
Contractor A made the installation safe at his own expense – and learned a valuable lesson: that the registered person (or contractor) who issues the CoC takes legal responsibility for the certification of the installation. The user or lesser is responsible for the safety and maintenance of the installation.
Electrical Installation Regulations (2009)
Responsibility for electrical installations
- (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.
Certificate of compliance
- (1) Subject to the provisions of subregulation (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.
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 only after having satisfied himself or herself by means of an inspection and test…
The approved test report can be found in SANS 10142-1 (Edition 2) and the contents of the installation are mentioned in sections 3 to 5 of the test report. In addition, Note 2 on the test report states: This report covers only the part of the installation described in section 3.
It cannot be stressed enough: Every electrical contractor and registered person must keep his/her registration details safe. Don’t even let your staff have access to your documentation and ensure that your certificates are as safe as your passwords. Don’t leave certificates and important documents lying around and, although it may seem extreme, don’t even let anyone see how you fill in your CoCs. Protect your information or you may find you’ve set yourself up for a fall.
The second tale may get a bit confusing … nothing like this has ever been witnessed at the Highveld office. It involves four contractors and the four registered persons in their employ.
Let’s simply call them Contractor A, Contactor B, Contractor C and Contractor D.
The Highveld office received a complaint involving a CoC that had been issued for a house where it was found that, amongst other things, plugs were dangling from conductors – in complete contradiction to the CoC that had been issued for the installation.
We contacted Contractor A, whose details were on the CoC (the registered person), and informed him about the non-compliant installation. He was instructed to carry out the repairs necessary to ensure the installation complied with legislation.
Contractor A informed us that he had, in fact, never been to the installation. We examined the entries made in the CoC and found that many of the details had been slightly altered and that the signature on the CoC was not Contractor A’s signature.
Contractor A was advised to make an affidavit at a police station as we were now looking at fraud.
The CoC’s unique number was traced to a batch that had been bought by Contractor B, who was then called in to give his side of the story and explain why his CoC was completed using Contractor A’s details.
Contractor B said he had been sent to carry out the inspection by an employee of Contractor C, however, as he wasn’t available he had sent Contractor D to inspect the installation.
After further investigation, the Highveld technical team found that Contractor D had passed away a few weeks earlier so some questions will never be answered.
The tale ends well: The installation was made safe after the seller employed another electrical contractor to complete the installation and issue a new, valid CoC for the premises.
In the end, both situations could have been avoided if the contractors had not shared their DoL registration details.
Let’s not forget the electronic CoC (e-CoC). The ECA(SA) has come across another ‘accident waiting to happen’ where it has been discovered that admin staff have full access to the registered person’s and company owner’s passwords as well as their electronic signatures! If this situation had to ‘go south’, neither would have any recourse as they have given the admin staff access. Guess who will end up carrying that can!
Clean the mess
Be aware that you will have to clean up the mess if other people, who have access to your information, use it dishonestly to carry out sloppy work (in your name), issue an invalid CoC for a non-compliant installation, collect the cash and duck. Even if it isn’t your mess.
Ultimately, the buck stops with you because you are legally responsible for installations that are certified with your DoL registration details – even if it was done fraudulently; in which case you will have to pay for the repairs.
It gets worse: If CoC fraud is committed with your DoL registration details, the onus is on you to prove that fraud has indeed occurred and that, in fact, it is not your signature on the CoC. This can be a very expensive exercise … can your business take that kind of knock?
You’ve worked hard for your qualification and you’ve memorised a lot of legislation to get where you are and, if you don’t keep your registration details to yourself, it could cost you everything you’ve worked for.
If you have any queries about your legal or contractual obligations, need some technical advice, or want clarification on CoCs, contact your nearest ECA(SA) branch.
Highveld: (010) 271 0686
Bosveld: (012) 342 3242
KwaZulu-Natal: (031) 312 6313
Free State: (051) 447 0859
Port Elizabeth: (041) 363 1990
East London: (043) 726 6359
Western Cape: (021) 462 2690