Illegitimate business practices breed and encourage illegal installers

1st Aug 2017


Neil Macdonald, Technical Manager, HHIC

Readers will no doubt be aware that, based on a repeat airing of a well-known home improvements show, the industry has again been discussing the topic of “signing-off” gas-work. By this, I mean “work” – as defined by The Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations (GSIUR) – carried out by unregistered, unaccredited workers, which is then “signed off” by registered engineers’. In order to understand just why this arrangement is so wrong, it is worth considering the detail provided in Gas-Safe-Register TB 014 – “Gas Work”, which advises that the HSE in GB has used both the GSIUR and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) in applying their interpretation to the 2 situations below:

  1. While a non-registered person may carry out “wet work” i.e. install water pipes and radiators for a heating system, any work on the gas boiler itself and the final connection of the water pipework to the boiler, must be performed by a Gas Safe registered engineer (see note 2 below)
  1. It is not acceptable for a Gas Safe registered engineer to knowingly “sign off” gas work that has been carried out by a person who is not registered in order to circumvent the legal requirements. Where this has occurred, both the registered and unregistered installer may face prosecution*

*This does not however, mean that registered businesses/installers cannot undertake commissioning of installations where the gas user has “unwittingly” (for whatever reasons) had gas work carried out by an unregistered gas worker. In such situations, the registered installer needs to be clear what would be expected of them should they decide to undertake this activity

Note 2: The HSWA extends health and safety responsibilities to all parts of the work activities undertaken which may pose a risk to the public if not undertaken safely

So, it can be seen that this interpretation doesn’t preclude, for example, a competent plumber undertaking work on a “system” connected to, or to be connected to, a gas boiler, as is no doubt common practice for some businesses, particularly where a completely new system is being installed or replaced. It does however draw a clear line in the sand, not to be crossed, where unregistered operatives risk straying into areas outside of their validated competence.

Moving on to point 2, clearly it is the planning and collusion between registered and non-registered operatives that is of concern here, in contrast to engineers assisting customers who may have unknowingly been the victims of illegal gas work. Whilst the former is clearly wrong, the latter is itself fraught with difficulty and impracticality, however honourable the intentions of the gas engineer(s) in question. We know that anyone “signing off” gas work incurs liability for any defective workmanship which may be present, which won’t always be as obvious as a smell of gas on arrival, or finding a separated flue-system in the loft-space.  A registered engineer needs to satisfy themselves that the work they take responsibility for is 100% compliant with all relevant legislation and standards. This might sound feasible, but when you consider installation aspects such as concealed gas pipe runs, or the cutting/setting of telescopic flue-joints which may be concealed in wall cavities, it may well be almost impossible for a conscientious engineer to be comfortable that all these requirements have been met, and that all aspects of work are compliant, and safe (at least not without considerable time and effort, and not excluding completely reinstalling the appliance).

From such an innocuous source, for me this has been a real reminder of what legitimate tradesmen compete against on a daily basis, and a potential opportunity for the industry to galvanise itself in tackling all shapes and forms of illegal, and substandard gas-work. The illegitimate business practices outlined here simply breed and encourage illegal installers, increasing the risks to consumer safety, and devaluing the expertise and professionalism of the vast majority of registered gas engineers. Clearly consumers, as potential drivers for these practices, may also need better education on what to look for (a valid Gas-Safe ID card is a good start!) when engaging with tradesmen…..or to deter them from doing it themselves!