‘We’ll end up leaving’: Electricians frustrated with new safety rules

Electrical contractors warn safety requirements imposed by New South Wales network provider Ausgrid are making it increasingly difficult to stay viable.

"We'll all end up leaving the industry for good — otherwise it's just more expense, more wages and increased costs to the customer," owner of Beames Electrical Glenn Beames said.

Electrical contractors say it’s getting more difficult to do business. Credit:Michele Mossop

Contractors and the National Electrical and Communications Authority criticised Ausgrid over changes to its policies around requirements for sub-contractors when completing "live works" on its network.

Following the death of an Ausgrid worker in April, the network implemented new rules meaning accredited contractors must now have another qualified observer with them when providing connection services on the Ausgrid network. This person cannot be an apprentice or observer who has not safety training, but must be another qualified electrical contractor.

Many of the businesses that perform these tasks are sole traders and said the sudden requirement to have another person present will increase costs and not be sustainable.

"It's like having a neurosurgeon working with another neurosurgeon watching behind him," Mr Beames said.

However, Ausgrid said the new measure comes after a comprehensive safety review and it's important contractors adjust the way they work.

"Ausgrid understands the concerns of some contractors on the requirement to have a qualified observer on site but our assessment has shown observers play a crucial role in helping prevent accidents from occurring," a spokesperson for the company said.

The network said it had been in regular contact with industry and customer groups and had worked hard to reduce "significant disruption to customers" which had been caused by a pause to live works.

Electrician Glenn Beames is concerned about the policy change at Ausgrid.

Chief executive of the National Electrical and Communications Authority Suresh Manickam said safety is also the number one priority for his members, but decisions like this show the stress that can be put on businesses when action is taken without consultation.

"Regulations are often there for a good reason, but when you have a regulator or a monopoly making policy on the run, it’s a daft approach to business," he said.

The conflict comes as subcontractors across the country said they have had to adjust to sudden policy decisions from regulators and energy companies.

Earlier this year the issue of smart meter installations and meter reads was front and centre. Legislation designed to make it easier for Australians to switch energy providers had the effect of moving meter services from energy distributors to the retailers, and contractors said it was more difficult for them to get work installing meters. 

Meanwhile in Queensland, those in the sector have watched an ongoing battle over who should be allowed to install solar panels. A government requirement that only qualified electricians be allowed to install solar panels was found in court to be invalid.

Having been in business 35 years, Mr Beames said it was more difficult now than ever to communicate with network providers.

"Points of contact and interaction with subcontractors has been appalling."

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