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Kate Jones finds out why qualified gasfitters are the only people who should be servicing gas appliances.
COVID-19 Stage 3 and 4 restrictions have seen many people forced to work, study and play at home. In the southern states this has seen gas heating appliances work hard; even though it is Spring!
These appliances need to be regularly serviced and maintained by qualified and licensed gas fitters, but the industry is battling illegal unqualified workers who are decommissioning a high number of appliances that in many cases, just require correct servicing.
Servicing gas appliances saves consumers from either long days and nights with no heating, gas cooktops or hot water systems, or from the expense of buying a new appliance when an appliance fails completely.
Veteran plumber and long-time Master Plumbers member Rick Taylor said unqualified gas service workers are doing consumers no favours.
“There are third-party entrepreneurial companies going around checking, for want of a better word because they’re definitely not testing appliances,” he said.
An increased public awareness about carbon monoxide poisoning has alerted consumers to the importance of regular gas appliance servicing. However, it has also seen a rise in the number of disconnected appliances that simply need servicing rather than replacing.
“These people will come on the premises to do a carbon monoxide check or gas safety check, and they will always find something, but they don’t do the repairing,” explained Taylor.
“They’ll say, ‘You’ve got a problem with your heater, so I’ve got to turn the gas off and you’ve got to get someone to repair or replace it”.
“You can’t just disconnect a heater unless it’s actually unsafe and you can’t do that without express permission of the owner.
“A lot of these people are just cutting the gas off and doing stupid things like cutting the power cord to them so they can’t be used.”
Master Plumbers Chief Technical Officer, Gary Bath, said there was another reason why properly licensed gasfitters should be carrying out servicing on appliances.
He said gasfitters need to properly record and communicate issues with manufacturers and the technical regulator (Energy Safe Victoria (ESV)) to ensure the appliances continue to operate safely and efficiently.
“Appliances operating with normal ‘wear and tear’ issues, can display faults that may not be readily identifiable in the appliance’s certification process, which is conducted in a laboratory,” he said.
“Recording and communicating these issues can lead to a formal investigation and possible testing by the technical regulator Energy Safe Victoria.”
Gary said the operating information gasfitters collect from their maintenance and service work is valuable for manufacturers.
“Our gasfitters get to see these appliances operating in a degraded state. They test the operational effectiveness of the appliance in reality rather than in pristine showroom condition. Often, after it has been installed but never commissioned, it can have issues.” he said.
“In these circumstances the person carrying out the service will also look for installation issues that, depending on the age of the appliance, the original installer should have rectified.”
Master Plumbers continues to advocate for qualified and experienced operators to undertake this specialised work.
Qualified gasfitters must carry a photo identification card provided by the Victorian Building Authority. They will also have a unique identification number and expiry date listed on the card.
A Master Plumbers member will supply a service report as per the recommendations of AS4575 Type A Gas Appliance Servicing standard, which will detail what was carried out at the time of the service.
The perils of not getting a licensed gasfitter can be fatal, said Master Plumbers member and gasfitter Michael Tomlinson.
“It could result in potential death to the consumer as well as to the tradesperson if they’re not 100 per cent competent and haven’t been licensed by the regulatory body after doing their exams and their training,” he said.
“A lot of bosses let their apprentices and tradesman, who aren’t registered in that category, work off their license and that’s illegal.
“We see a lot of people out there doing unregistered and unlicensed work in the industry.
“We want to get rid of that type of work. We want everybody to be qualified and we want people to know what’s going on, and be aware of servicing and testing for carbon monoxide.”
He said many consumers weren’t aware of the differences between a plumber and gasfitter, but the easiest way to tell is by asking to see an ID card. The back of the card will indicate what plumbing work that person can legally carry out.
“There’s a lot of mums and dads who think a plumber is a plumber and a plumber can do everything,” he said.
“They really need to see the license and see the tick on the back. So when you phone a plumber, ask the initial question about gasfitting on the first phone call and then sight the card on arrival.”