Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE), considers how a lack of enforcement of water, building, and gas safety regulations is endangering the public.
With the exception of gas installers, anyone can establish a plumbing and heating business regardless of relevant and supporting qualifications. This is an issue the CIPHE has often highlighted, arguing that the industry needs to introduce a licence to practice. When you consider that approximately 200,000 individuals are engaged in the UK plumbing and heating industry, it is clear that a comprehensive approach must be taken to ensure the safety of the general public.
Introducing statutory licensing of plumbing and heating engineers can sound like an arduous task for those on the front line, but it is nothing to be worried about for the vast majority of the highly-skilled, appropriately qualified workforce in the industry. It should be viewed as an opportunity to distinguish between qualified professionals and those who are seeking to take advantage of the vulnerable, ultimately boosting the profile of talented installers.
Whenever we discuss the CIPHE position on this issue, economic factors are inevitably raised – including the expense of maintaining a record of registered individuals, and if this charge will be passed on to the professional who is listed.
However, the CIPHE already maintains accessible lists of installers who are members of the Institute, and qualified in plumbing, heating and renewables for the public benefit, which helps to efficiently identify skilled and credible engineers. It also has responsibilities for the official Register of Plumbers and Register of Heating Professionals.
In respect of costs to individuals, it is untrained and unqualified people operating in the plumbing and heating industry that have led to a driving down of costs and standards in the current environment. Professionally registered individuals in a regulated industry would expect to earn more than any registration fees they may incur.
A formal licensing process would also contribute to a greater pride within the industry. Plumbing and heating is an engineering discipline, and those who practice it should be recognised accordingly.
Water, Gas Safety, and Building Regulations exist to ensure certain processes are followed, and that the safety of the public is not endangered by poorly installed plumbing systems. However, unless these are rigorously enforced, with prosecutions and heavy penalties for those who do not comply, then they are largely irrelevant.
The reasons for a lack of enforcement are numerous, but it is certainly true that the risk-based approach taken to inspection limits the capacity for regulations to be enforced. While most plumbing and heating engineers will complete installations and maintenance safely, a lack of regulatory enforcement opens the door for a rogue operator culture to arise.
This makes it critical to not only vigorously enforce regulations, but to do so loudly and publicly. If the plumbing and heating industry is to improve its image, it has to extinguish the damaging effects of an undesirable minority. This can be done through increasing links between regulation enforcement and grass roots engineers.
How much more effectively could the industry operate if those within it were actually involved in the policing of regulation breeches and failures? However, there is not yet a sufficient incentive for those involved at the frontline of delivering plumbing and heating services to take this step.
While campaigning for greater regulatory enforcement and introducing licensing, it is important to note that the CIPHE views this as an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the skilled professionals within our industry. By working together to remove the dangerous operators who stain the image of the plumbing and heating world, we can continue to safeguard the public and strive towards a better future.
If you want to assist the CIPHE in promoting the professional values of the plumbing and heating industry and improving the safety, health and welfare of the public, contact Tim Sainty: [email protected]