There is a huge problem in the appliance industry when we start to talk about gas appliances such as gas ovens, gas hobs and gas cookers as, quite simply there are not enough repairers to either repair or install these appliances and so it can be difficult to get a repair and, when and if you do, it can prove costly. The problem is worse still when it comes to gas tumble dryers as they are so rare that very few repairers will touch them due to the low volumes.
This is a problem for people as they can’t get appliances repaired cost effectively.
It is a problem for the environment because many people simply give up and buy a new appliance just because it is too difficult to get a repair done or too hard. It probably means that thousands of appliances are just “binned” every year needlessly.
So why is this?
Well it stems back to 1991 when the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) made it mandatory in law for any professional person working on a gas appliance to be registered with a gas safety scheme to assess that the person was competent to do so. The body awarded with the task of doing this was CORGI, which had been promoting gas safety since 1970 as it was formed in the wake of the Ronan Point disaster in 1968 which killed five people in a gas explosion.
When this legislation was introduced it was accompanied by a certification scheme that involved what was then known as ACOPS, a relatively straight forward assessment of an individual’s ability to work on gas products. It was also relatively cheap to complete, so there was not too much complaint about it... except from the appliance repairers which of course fell on deaf ears. Of course this was helped little by the climate at the time, which was totally about locking down safety and the fact that DASA (the trade association) did little to represent the industry.
As we are often reminded, we’re not important and our opinion is rarely heard as we don’t kill enough people. Now, in a great many ways that is a compliment and testament to the fact that we don’t have many so-called “cowboys” left in this industry, but annoying as we want to keep it that way and yet still make it a viable business to be in.
The old ACOPS scheme had its flaws in that it asked us, appliance engineers, to look at flue rates for boilers, gas fires and water heaters and a host of other things that just simply do not apply to our industry. It really is this simple; if the fault lies beyond the shut off point for the cooker, oven, hob or dryer we will not investigate any further. We are appliance repairers, not heating engineers or plumbers we simply will not touch any other gas appliance other than the one mentioned and, if we find a problem beyond our little bit, we walk away.
This may strike some as being a bit off in some ways but it is not at all, it is the safest possible action that we can take.
The simple fact of it is we don’t know much about gas heaters, boilers, fires or whatever but we do know a lot about cooking appliances, a lot more than most plumbers or gas fitters will ever know about them. This is not being derogatory to the good people that repair and install these other gas products at all either, as most will openly tell you; we know a lot more about the domestic appliances than they do just as we openly tell people we know little about areas in which we do not specialise. It is therefore not sensible to have an appliance repairer trying to pass an exam on boilers, heaters and fires, is it?
Sadly, that is exactly where we found ourselves with ACOPS and the situation has worsened with the later, ACS (Accredited Certification Scheme) scheme introduced around 1997.
Because of the current regime many appliance repairers are “put off” applying for registration with CORGI and sitting the ACS course as it is too hard and involves knowledge of products of which they have little or no experience or understanding of. They don’t need to; they don’t repair them and have no desire to do so either.
The next thing is the cost of the scheme.
With the downtime when the engineer is on a course it has been calculated that the cost to train an employee is between £3000 and £4000 to repair gas cooking only. This increases if you also want the operative to be able to repair gas tumble dryers.
On average most repairers that carry out repairs to gas cookers will break into a gas supply for an appliance once or twice a week. This makes the cost of gaining the certification totally non viable for most repairers as there is no way to recoup the training costs on that sort of work level.
The simple fact of the matter is that the repairs business is not a high profit one, many repairers and, especially sole traders, often struggle to earn £200 per week in profit and/or salary so you can see, quite plainly, that a training course that will cost as much as this is simply not financially viable for them. A fact made even more acute by the low call volumes on the appliances as it represents only a tiny part of a repairer’s portfolio of work.
Yet the fact remains that the appliance repairers are the best people and, the safest, to actually do this type of work.
Here we enter yet another problem with the system as it stands today. To be accepted for an ACS course you have to show a body of work that proves that you have been working on gas products for some time to prove that you are “competent” to sit the course.
Well, just how does an appliance repairer do that?
We don’t have plumbing experience as the ACS and colleges recognise them, we don’t work on the appliances as we’re not allowed to if we are not certified and we can’t get the experience as we don’t see enough of the products to qualify anyway.
It is a classic Catch 22 situation whereby there will be few, if any, new recruits into this area of the industry simply because the system employed precludes people before they even start.
In short, it is a crazy system that is designed solely to cater to heating and boiler engineers. And, even they’re not happy with it.
What Can Be Done?
Already UK Whitegoods has taken many of these concerns to the HSE during the review of gas safety in 2006 and, along with many others, voiced our concerns about the safety issues and the difficulty about getting trained. Some of these concerns have been noted but, almost a year later, little appears to have happened.
What we need is a specific domestic appliance certification at a far lower cost as well as the framework changed to clearly define the role of the appliance repairers when attending a gas fuelled product. We shall continue to discuss these matters with the HSE and CORGI in the hope that they see sense and understand the appliance repairer’s point of view.
In the end, the consumer is best served both commercially and from a safety perspective, by having a proper appliance repairer who will have a vast knowledge of cooking and drying products across a huge range of products as opposed to someone who rarely, if ever, sees these machines.