Who would have thought it?
The High Court Judge, The Honourable Mr Justice Weatherup, used a hot-tubing session to help distinguish the qualified from the unqualified Electrician. This is a matter that has plagued the Electrical Contracting Industry and some of its clients for many years and now it has finally been settled...
During the last week of February 2011, Mr Justice Weatherup made legal history in Northern Ireland by employing a hot-tubing technique. This involved bringing four expert witnesses’ forward for concurrent testimony and cross-examination. The system had common sense, efficiency and cost-saving written all over it and it appeared to work well for all concerned over the two day hearing at Belfast High Court.
The Court had a very significant matter to consider and one that has immense ramification for the NI and UK Construction Industry. The key question; what is a “Qualified Electrician”? This matter has appeared before the NI Court for the first time, which is quite surprising given the number of sparks who work in the Industry on the basis of their experience and not necessarily their paper qualifications. Which qualifications should be held in order to be deemed competent and qualified?
In this particular case the term “Qualified Electrician” appears in the text of the clients’ specification obliging the Contractor and consequently the Electrical Sub-Contractor to exclusively use only those Electricians that are qualified by some objective or accredited means. The Court decided not to state what the qualifications for “qualified” should be; and held the view that this was a matter for the Industry to determine.
During the two day hearing the Court heard from four expert witnesses who all agreed that the best means of becoming a Qualified Electrician was through an NVQ Level 3 based Electrical Apprenticeship. The Court also heard about an approved alternative scheme referred to as “Accreditation of Prior Learning," this will provide mature operatives currently working in the Industry with an opportunity to become qualified outside of the established classroom based Electrical Apprenticeship.
The bottom line is this; Electrical Contractors who employ Electricians directly on the PAYE system or indirectly as Sub-Contractors need to take heed to this important ruling by the NI Courts.
Where a client makes use of the term “Qualified Electrician” it must be taken to mean something of significance. By using such a term the client is intending to convey a special requirement. The concise Oxford Dictionary says qualified means “a condition that must be fulfilled before a right is acquired or an office held”; the requirement to be “qualified” must be taken to mean that a measureable standard is applicable to the individuals executing the work.
The Honourable Mr Justice Weatherup ruling on this case recognised that some in the Industry may describe themselves or even be described by their employers as being an Electrician but only those with objective accredited qualifications could describe themselves as being a “Qualified Electrician”.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. The final outcome in this case will surely involve loss of money and perhaps a dent to the reputation for at least one of the parties. In light of this important ruling all Electrical Contractors should take a close look at the qualifications of the operatives that they are relying on to do the work. If your client wants “Qualified Electricians” be prepared to prove it, otherwise you could find yourself in breach of contract and become liable to court proceedings.
More information on recognised electrical qualifications to prove competency.