It may be an apocryphal tale, but in the days of the Empire it is said that many passengers embarking for the tropics were persuaded to buy small packages labelled "Insect Destroyer", and further labelled with the instructions "do not open until required". When the packages were finally opened, it was discovered that they contained only two small blocks of wood and the instructions "Place the insect on one block and strike sharply with the other".

In these days of Consumer Protection and Trading Standards it might be hoped that this type of con is very much a thing of the past, but according to a report from the Electrical Safety Council, it is still very much with us. The latest manifestation is a range of "plug-in energy savers", normally sold over the internet pr at car boot sales.

These devices claim to save money on electricity bills by doing some kind of "conditioning" to the supply which makes appliances run more efficiently. This is nonsense. The Electrical Safety Council tested four different models, all of which actually increased power consumption rather than reducing it.

More worryingly, all the devices tested failed to meet basic product standards. In all cases the pin dimensions were not correct. This means that the device would be a loose fit in the socket-outlet, which would cause arcing and overheating. All the devices tested were also of poor internal construction, making them a fire hazard. Several of them were CE marked, but the poor quality of construction would suggest that these marks were almost certainly forgeries. 

There have been reports that these devices are also being sold over the phone. Many elderly people have been targeted by telephone sales calls purporting to originate with one of more of the energy suppliers. Often the caller has the persons' name and address, and on some occasions even part of their credit card number. These calls are bogus and originate overseas, many from a holding company in the USA.

If you should be offered one of these devices, Action Fraud (www.actionfraud.police.uk) would like to know. You can also contact them on 0300 123 2040.

- Mark Jenkins

This is a question posed by many a householder, however of the reality is that it might not need to be changed. If the fuse board is damaged and there's a chance that people could touch "live" parts (risking an electric shock), then it does need to be changed.

The old fuse board will not meet the requirements of the BS7671 Wiring Regulations 17th Edition Ammendment 1 (2011). The fact that the installation does not meet the requirements doesn't mean it is illegal or indeed unsafe, however the new requirements are intended to make the installation "more" safe by reducing the chances of getting an electric shock.

In order for your domestic installation to meet the requirements of the "Regs" it must also meet the new RCD (Residual Current Device) requirements. RCDs cannot be fitted in older style fuse boards so if your installation needs to be brought up to date and made safer a new consumer unit will be needed.

There are numerous areas where RCDs are required, which should be rated at 30mA. These include;

  • Any cable buried in a wall or partition at a depth of less than 50mm from the surface requires protecting by an RCD unless it is protected by earthed metalwork such as conduit or trunking.
  • Any cable passing through a wall or partition that contains metal parts other than screws or nails.
  • Any cable that is installed outside the 'cable safe zones' needs protecting with both earthed metalwork and an RCD.
  • Every socket outlet rated 20A or less that is used by "ordinary persons" (i.e. home owners) intended for general use, require RCD protection.
  • Mobile equipment used outdoors rated up to 32A.
  • All circuits supplying power to a room that contains a bath or shower are required to be RCD protected.
If you ask an electrician to install a new socket and you do not have RCD protection, then this new work will need to meet the requirements. This could mean that your fuse board will need to be replaced so that the RCDs can be installed! This simple and relatively cheap job has now become much more expensive, but the end result is that your electrical installation is much safer.

Should you be planning to do this (or any other electrical task) yourself, have you considered taking one of Access Training's bespoke electrician courses? Whether you're looking to gain new DIY skills to help you around the home or professional qualifications in order to become an electrician, we can help you.

For more information contact us at 0800 345 7492.

- Mark Jenkins

Thinking of going self-employed? Need to join a Competent Person scheme? Well if you don't have the current entry requirements (an electrical installation qualification, 17th Edition Wiring Regulation qualification plus anything else your chosen scheme requires of you), you may well encounter problems if you haven't applied for membership by 6th April 2013.

As of this date entry requirements to a Competent Person scheme are changing. You will need a level 3 NVQ that includes installing electrical installations, Inspection and Testing of electrical installations and Ensuring Compliance of Electrical Installations with building regulations.

Sounds easy? A number of awarding bodies have produced relevant qualifications, but the problem will be the time it will take people to achieve the required level of competence and produce a portfolio as the proof that all the elements have been covered. I would suggest that you will be looking at 18+ months to put the portfolio together!

The knock-on effect of this will be that no one will be eligible to join a Competent Person scheme for some time, causing a void in so-called competent persons. Home owners may find it difficult to find existing electricians that are prepared to take on small jobs - such as installing extra sockets (these are the kind of jobs newly qualified persons use to gain experience), as the current competent electricians will be looking for bigger contracts.

Does this mean home owners will be more tempted to "have a go" themselves? Causing mistakes to be made that could result in dangerous situations occurring? Possibly!

- Mark Jenkins

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