It's long been obvious to most people that some form of regulation is essential in order to ensure that engineers who work on gas repairs and/or installations are able to do so in a safe, effective manner.
Way back in 1968, a major gas explosion in Ronan Point apartment block, London, was attributed to the poor standard of gas work that had been carried out. Tragically, five people were killed as a result of the event and many more injured.
In untrained hands, gas can be dangerous!
This prompted the formation of CORGI in 1970 - an organisation tasked with improving gas safety and providing a framework for registration. Initially voluntary, CORGI registration rapidly became seen as one of the benchmarks of industry excellence.
Legislative changes in the early '90s led to CORGI registration becoming compulsory for gas engineers and those in related industries. This situation continued until 2008, when Capita won the contract to provide the compulsory registration scheme, which led to Gas Safe Registration becoming the new legal requirement.
What is CGCS UKAS accreditation?
Designed by the the Capita Gas Compliance Services (CGCS) and accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), the scheme is intended to provide, "....businesses with the opportunity to distinguish their processes as operating to a level that can be considered as best practice and set themselves apart from their competition... " [Matthew Hickman, MD at CGCS].
The CGCS UKAS accreditation is a voluntary one, which is separate to the legal need to meet the necessary requirements to be on the Gas Safe Register. CGCS runs both the Gas Safe Register and the CGCD UKAS accreditation, but each initiative is run separately by the company.
As well as the CGCS UKAS accreditation, there is a number of other non-compulsory certifications which gas engineers/companies can opt for, including the CORGI Customer First scheme and a number of BPEC accreditation options.
Potential issues with the new scheme
Whilst additional accreditation may demonstrate a breadth and depth of knowledge and customer care, it's important to note that the required standards to operate legally and safely as a gas engineer are those required for Gas Safe registration.
Additional certifications, especially when run by the same company that administers the Gas Safety Register, could create a number of difficulties for gas engineers, particularly those who are self-employed or part of a small business.
Some of the key issues are highlighted below:
# Sufficient knowledge and ability to work safely with gas is required to gain Gas Safe Registration
It's unclear how a further certification could make a gas engineer "more safe", as suitable safety standards already need to be adhered to for Gas Safety Registration. Despite reassurances to the contrary, it is feared that the introduction of the CGCS UKAS accreditation will mean that Gas Safety Registration is no longer seen as good enough.
# Customers may well become confused between CGCS Gas Safe Registration and CGCS UKAS accreditation
Customers may well become confused between CGCS Gas Safe Registration (compulsory for gas engineers) and CGCS UKAS accreditation (voluntary), dissuading them from choosing competent professionals because they don't know which CGCS initiative is required. There may also be the mistaken belief that "more CGCS accreditation means more safety", even if that is not the case.
# Cost is an issue
Gas engineers already face significant overheads due to the need for Gas Safe Registration as well as the steep premiums on appropriate insurance. CGCS accreditation needs to be paid for, potentially placing an additional burden on businesses that are already running at a very tight profit margin.
Additional accreditation may well focus on variables that are pertinent to a larger organisation, but actually fairly meaningless to a one-man-band or small business. For example, focus on core standards of customer care may be relevant for a business employing fifty or so engineers, but of limited value to a self-employed gas engineer, who’s reliance on repeat business and a good name in order to survive is normally enough to ensure an exceptional level of customer care at every stage.
Advantages of the new scheme
Although the scheme is independently accredited and may contain information which is of worth, without an objective comparison with other, similar accredited schemes, it's difficult to ascertain how much added value it might have.
# Might result in more efficient, effective business practices
It almost certainly provides a framework that, if appropriate to the organisation, might result in more efficient, effective business practices.
Obviously, the outcomes really depend on how the information is interpreted and how realistic the recommendations might be - what might be achievable in a larger company with more resources might be virtually impossible to replicate in a smaller enterprise.
# A "one size fits all" initiative
In some circumstances, the scheme may be beneficial, but as a "one size fits all" initiative, it's hard to see how it will always have a universally positive effect.
How is this new scheme likely to affect the gas, plumbing and heating industry?
The industry is already under significant strain, due to the wealth of legislation with which it is required to comply. Not only do workers need to have an exceptionally high level of competence, risk awareness and customer-orientated service, there is also a need for every gas engineer to be appropriately registered and have the right equipment and training to do their job effectively.
# CGCS will increase engineers costs
Coupled with the costs involved for entry onto the Gas Safe Register, insurance premiums and other overheads, it is becoming increasingly difficult for self-employed gas engineers or smaller businesses to survive.
An additional accreditation (which costs money as well as time and resources to obtain), particularly one that can all too easily be seen as an indicator of safer working than the sufficiently rigorous Gas Safety Registration, could see smaller gas engineering companies collapse as they are unable to afford yet more costly accreditation.
# The new CGCS UKAS accreditation may create unnecessary confusion
Efficient, effective working and outstanding customer care are at the heart of what most gas engineers do, but should not be confused with the need for safe, competent gas work, as laid down by the law and demonstrated by inclusion in the Gas Safety Register. For this reason, the new CGCS UKAS accreditation may create unnecessary confusion to customers and additional pressure on already tightly squeezed gas engineering businesses, many of whom may feel compelled to undertake this optional accreditation in order to avoid being sidelined.