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Should I be concerned about what the test engineer does?

What are the problems you could face when the engineers arrive on site

 

When things go wrong with these services, they fall into two areas.

Let's take the more obvious one first, or, the one that customers highlight the most.

 

On-site Business Interruption

Having interviewed hundreds of prospective clients about their previous experiences of fixed wire testing services, this was the biggest complaint by far.  

Issues tended to revolve around engineers switching off circuits. I'll get feedback like "you engineers switched off the service circuits" or "the fire alarm was switched off", and "the monitoring centre was going to call the fire brigade" etc.

So why does this happen?

The two leading causes of business interruption when Fixed Wire Testing is taking place are;

  • Underestimating  preparation (customer & contractor)

The testing process requires the engineers to switch off the power to a particular circuit (and the whole building in some cases). Knowing this, we must ensure that the engineers and site contacts on the day all have clarity on what areas can be switched off. Without clear guidance from the customer, the engineers are highly likely to cause some sort of business interruption. 

Why is this?

The testing company hasn't spent enough time ensuring a definitive business continuity plan is in place to minimise power outages to critical customer systems.  Coupled to the fact that customers who haven't had to buy this type of service before tend to put too much faith in the testing company when it comes to what engineers can and cannot test.

Customers understandably assume it the engineers know what they cannot switch off. Not true. 

If an engineer is not sure about the testing of any particular circuit, they might, of course, switch it off by mistake. What we often find is they decide not to test a cluster of circuits in an area to stay on the safe side, thus diluting the testing process.

 

  • Circuit Labelling 

It can be challenging to tell what circuit is feeding power to what services. Often they are not labelled, badly labelled or worse still are being used for a completely different function. E.g. It says sockets to the kitchen, you switch those sockets off because you've got to test it, you find it's switched off a server in the room adjacent "OUCH!".

If you're not sure what the circuit is powering, then don't expect the engineer to be so sure either. 

Make sure that as best as possible, you know what the circuits do. Especially when it comes to critical systems such as servers, communication systems fire alarms etc

The first time you may become aware of any problems is on Monday morning when the IT guys call you and give you the bad news!

The advice we give to clients get prepared and ask questions around your sensitive equipment.

 Put in place a business continuity plan written down, so all stakeholders have clarity around what can and cannot be tested. Ensure these details are communicated, and the site testing team are made fully aware of them.

Ultimate Compliance has developed an online in-house simple to complete business continuity process to let us know what we can test; we call it our "Business Continuity Blueprint."  

It's a critical process we use to ensure minimal disruption to you on our testing days.

So now you've got your business continuity plan in place what's next.

The next problem we often see, but it tends not to so well understand by to the customer is ensuring they get the Fixed Wire Testing Report that they can rely upon.

Several factors can contribute to the overall quality of the final report. 

In no particular order, they are as follows; 

 

  1. The experience of the engineers 

 

Having a suitably qualified engineer should be a base requirement of doing the job. We would give equal weight to work experience. The ability to see another electrician's work and have an opinion on that requires a few years experience under your belt. 

I've seen a considerable number of missed observations which should be on a report but because the engineers haven't seen enough real-world problems before it gets ignored or the incorrect level of risk to the client misdiagnosed.

Engineers can't always differentiate between what is and what isn't compliant, They're not used to looking out for the differences, they can't spot the problems. It doesn't mean they're lousy electricians; they just haven't had enough experience. 

An electrical system might seem to operate correctly, but that does not mean it is safe. We would advise at least the engineering team leaders, to have at least three years experience and ideally have been apprentices, even if they've got other more junior engineers working with them.

  1. The Testing Process Matters

Next up, make sure that the integrity of the testing is detailed enough to deliver what you need and what you're expecting.

Fixed wire testing certificates are mandated to prove that your site infrastructure is safe, its primary function is to confirm that your customers and staff won't get an electric shock and to minimise the risk of fire in the property from an electrical issue. Most of the testing is designed to prove this is or isn't the case.

You'll want to know you're not going to get an electric shock if you touch a piece of metalwork or that your premises won't burn down. 

3.What type of testing have you been offered

The problem is that these certificates all look very similar. It's tough if you're not an electrician to spot that maybe these certificates that don't have the depth of testing for your site's circumstances.

The testing procedure needs to be intensive enough to satisfy you, and any other stakeholders that you have an electrically safe environment.

You have an obligation under the Electricity At work Act 1989 to prove that you have taken all reasonable measures to determine that this is the case.

So with that in mind, how do you meet those obligations? 

It's not easy, but I would ask for the following information;

  • Make sure that the testing company you use is very clear about what testing its plans to carry out at your site and satisfy yourself this the testing process will meet your requirements.
  • Ensure that they are carrying the type of testing you need on each circuit, so you are confident that the testing data will help identify any issues or demonstrate to a reasonable degree that those circuits tested are safe to use

As an aside, we have an easy guide to the kind of testing carried out and what it means for the customer here.

I give some more details in another article, but in essence, you do need to make sure that the level of testing is suitable for your needs.

Ultimate offers different testing solutions depending on your site circumstances.

Make sure that you know exactly what you're getting for your money.

4 Customer Agreed Limitations

Lastly, make sure that you're happy that the site is tested as expected and in the areas agreed.

Having discussed with clients their previous certificate they often had no idea up to that point (five years later in some cases), that for example, the sports hall has never tested. 

I would highlight to them that it, states they had agreed to this limitation of not testing the sports hall in the certificate.

When asked did you agree to this. The client would look surprised and say "NO."

So make sure that all limitations are made clear to you, and you understand what you're signing too.

On a final note 

Fixed Wire Testing Services come in all shapes and sizes even though this is not immediately obvious from the google ads. 

Finding the balance between the testing process your site needs and the price you're willing to pay can be tricky to unravel.  

I have written a few more guides that might help you one is on pricing,  - HERE

The other is my guide. 

'What to look out for when buying fixed wire testing services' 

 

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