By Andre Wagener, Chairman, Highveld Region Executive Committee
I’ve been in the electrical contracting industry for 15 years and it still amazes me that many clients still believe that the Certificate of Compliance (CoC) is the only legal requirement to be considered when selecting a contractor.
I’ve worked on contracts for domestic, commercial and industrial installations as well as for temporary installations using solar power and generators – and in my experience, clients worry more about the cost of the work than they do about compliance.
I’ve found that clients often award contracts to unregistered electricians because their prices are cheaper – as long as the client gets a CoC when the job is completed. However, only electrical contractors who are registered with the Department of Labour can issue CoCs.
There are also those clients who don’t even bother about getting a CoC for the work until they need to sell the property – and then they complain about the cost of rectifying the work and bringing it up to code.
This is mostly due to clients’ lack of knowledge about the legal side of electrical contracting.
What the client doesn’t realise is that electrical contractors have to incur significant expenses to be legally registered and compliant with all the various regulations that govern this industry: the Department of Labour (DoL); The National Bargaining Council for the Electrical Industry (NBCEI); Workman’s Compensation; and VAT and Tax are all compulsory. Belonging to the ECA(SA) and other associations is voluntary and there are membership fees to pay, but this expense is justified because most larger companies prefer to use electrical contacting companies that are affiliated to a professional association to work on contracts.
What the client doesn’t know (or chooses to ignore) is that a CoC does not exempt them from any legal or civil claims that may arise for whatever reason. The Occupation Health and Safety (OHS) Act requires that all electrical work shall be done by electrical contractors who are registered with the Department of Labour. This requirement is found in clause 6 (1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act No 85 of 1993 (incorporated under the Electrical Installation Regulations), which states that “no person may do electrical work as an electrical contractor unless that person has been registered as an electrical contractor in terms of these regulations”.
The consequences for illegal work can be found under ‘offences and penalties’ in Clause 15 of the Electrical Installation Regulations (2009): “ … anyone who fails to comply with the regulations shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period of 12 months”.
Failure to comply can invalidate insurance cover and, if someone is injured or dies due to negligence, it also opens the client to legal claims from the people using the facilities if they are in a ‘public space’. The Department of Labour has the power to bring charges against the client and if they’re found guilty, they will face fines or even jail time depending on the offence. In South African law the rule ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ (‘Ignorantia juris non excusat’) applies so unfortunately, in a court of law, pleading ignorance won’t help.
This is why it’s so important when choosing a contractor for a job to first look at the scope of works and then match it to an electrical contractor who is qualified and has the necessary experience to undertake the work. Ask for references, phone them to confirm that the contractor completed the work and that they are satisfied. If you don’t know the legal requirements for the type of work that needs to be done, contact the ECA(SA) in your region and their technical advisors will gladly advise.
There’s a lot more to employing an electrical contractor than price – we are professionals and because we issue legal documents, including CoCs, we have a legal obligation to keep ourselves up-to-date with any changes in the codes; if we don’t we could find ourselves facing the full force of the law.
Keeping the electrical contracting industry clean and compliant begins with choosing a registered electrical contractor.