Kate Jones finds out why qualified gasfitters are the only people who should be servicing gas appliances.
The reform of the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act has impacts for gasfitting, which highlights the need for far better compliance regime. Master Plumbers’ Chief Technical Adviser, Gary Bath explains.
The Victorian Government’s update of the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act this year has 130 reforms to be implemented with a view to making renting safer and fairer.
Of interest to our industry’s gasfitting sector is the mandated requirement to undertake a Gas Safety Check (GSC) every two years.
The Gas Safety Check defined in the Act has a mix of:
- Compliance audit items on the existing gas installation;
- Checking correct installation of isolating valves where required;
- Whether the gas cooker is secured;
- Clearance from combustible surfaces;
- Checking on the condition of gas appliance flue systems including chimneys;
- A requirement to test the existing gas fitting line for leakage; and
- A set of steps defined as servicing each gas appliance.
The release of the new prescriptive guidelines again show the failure of adequate regulation for the gas industry. Once again, the government is putting this responsibility in the hands of the attending gas service person.
Victoria has a long and celebrated gas industry that expanded with the natural gas reticulation in the 70’s and generated a strong appliance manufacturing, gas supply, gasfitting and servicing sector overseen by the then Gas & Fuel Corporation. The privatisation of the Gas & Fuel Corporation meant that there was a lack of training – specifically for gas service persons – for a number of years, the industry relying instead on ex-Gas & Fuel trained employees to carry out this work.
Servicing of gas appliances has long been recognised as a skill set that requires experience and knowledge above that of a general gasfitter, this is reflected in our current Licence regime where individuals who carry out this work must hold a specialised class of Gasfitting, namely Type an Appliance Servicing. Sadly, the lack of any compliance regime, i.e., oversight of who is carrying out the work, means that many who currently operate in this area are doing so illegally or don’t have the necessary skills and experience to do so.
Learning from the coroner’s report
The coroners’ findings in the Sofianopoulos case1 highlighted the need to not only mandate gas appliance servicing at a minimum of every two years for public housing, but to underline the importance of having a set of clear guidelines. These guidelines must define the minimum requirements for what should be done to maintain and service a gas appliance to ensure its continued safe and efficient operation.
AS4575 Gas Appliance – Quality of servicing is an Australian Standard reviewed and republished in 2018, it has yet to be called up by the Regulators in Victoria – ESV as the Technical Regulator for gas and VBA as the compliance regulator for Type A gas. Master Plumbers has advocated for this to happen as a platform for further developing what is currently a non-existent compliance/auditing regime for this specialised class of work.
Why we need change
When we look at what makes up the Gas Safety Check, we might well ask why there are so many installation compliance checks contained in the requirements. Gas appliances deteriorate through use. Hot combustion gases mixed with condensation and dirt and dust that is drawn into the appliance mean that regular servicing is required to check the operation of the safety devices; condition of the burner assemblies; and condition of the heat exchanger, flueways, etc. Once serviced, the appliance can continue to operate safely and won’t need costly replacement, similar to a motor vehicle where routine maintenance over time can prevent a far more expensive investment. This mandated two-year audit isn’t necessary for the gas fitting line and its components, in most cases they are either compliantly installed or not.
Our self-certification regime in Victoria means that the individual plumber/gasfitter certifies their work as compliant by lodging a Certificate of Compliance with the VBA. As a means of monitoring this compliance, the VBA conduct audits of each plumber/gasfitters completed work. With more than 420,000 plumbing compliance certificates lodged for the fiscal year 2019-20, the audit rate conducted by the VBA by percentage was 2.2% of all plumbing work. There is little doubt that there is a high non-compliance outcome for gasfitting installations currently. The more important question is: How we are adequately addressing it? Surely the answer isn’t to have gasfitters conduct inspection audits on previously certified installation work.
The outcomes from the Residential Tenancies Act in regards to mandating and defining a Gas Safety Check is seen by many in our industry as excessive and ultimately costly for the landlords where mandating servicing of each gas appliance would have the same outcome for less cost. The fact is that this will do little to achieve any greater oversight by our Regulator for these works as the records will reside in the filing cabinets of Property Managers and are not required to be recorded in any way by an independent body. The skills and experience required to service and maintain a gas appliance far exceed waving a gas tester in front of the appliance and deeming it safe.
We have a skilled workforce in Victoria that is able to deliver safe cost-effective servicing outcomes, but we need increased Regulator compliance outcomes for this work so that individuals without the required licence and skills don’t further undermine the industry in Victoria.
ESV gas safety checklists
ESV has released a gas safety checklist to assist gasfitters in meeting the requirements of the Act.
Gasfitters must hold the endorsed class of Type A Gas Appliance Servicing in order to carry out this work and a record indicating the requirements of what constitutes a Gas Safety Report has to be lodged on completion.