This blog post was originally published on June 24, 2018, I am re-publishing it to show everyone who follows my new blog on danstheengineer.co.uk and my career path.
At the end of this month (June 2018), I will not only be exiting my business, but also the industry I have been working in since leaving school. I am leaving to travel the world full time with my wife and kids and have booked a one-way ticket out of the UK. You can see our announcement here.
Many are asking me what plans I have when I get back and what I will do for work when I return. I have also been offered many jobs in various roles.
The truth is, I don’t have plans to come back. I don’t know where I will be in 6 months’ time, in a years’ time, in 3 years’ time. That is sort of the point! We stop off in Iceland first in August and have booked one-way tickets. We will adapt and mindset will alter on our amazing journey and I will remain open minded.
I have very mixed emotions right now.
I have been in the trade for 15 years and I boast some fantastic achievements in my time here. The last 12 months have been the most memorable and my career has been at an all time high…. I was accepted into The IET: The Institution of Engineering and Technology as a Fellow, I helped set up the #E5 Group as a founding member, turnover and profits within my business are at an all time high, I setup my YouTube Channel – Dans the Engineer which has gone rather well, carried out some prestigious projects and I have many contact me online to ask for my advice, help and guidance (which I am happy to).
Many didn’t expect my decision to leave but I have my reasons. I will openly admit that I love and loath the electrical and fire industries. I am a geek at heart, love the technical and engineering aspects of my job, love meeting interesting people all over the UK, building relationships and completing fantastic projects. BUT, the industry requires improvement. The type of improvement I mean is increased safety and procedures to prevent people getting hurt, or worse still – deaths.
My content online, articles written, and YouTube videos were to raise awareness of issues we face, to improve standards and to help people. It is something I am very passionate about.
This is where it gets complicated for me. I spend god knows how many hours focused on work and my business, learning and researching within my field of work. But my new Venture is to enjoy time with my family, watch them grow, travel and take some time out for me. We are filming Our Venture Beyond on YouTube and Instagram so others can follow what we do.
I decided that when I exit I will stop my focus on the industry and to focus on my new lifestyle. It is something I have to do for my family and for me.
Since announcing my decision to leave, many people including industry influencers and leaders have got in contact either wishing me well, thanking me, and/or offering something for the future. Honestly, it is very overwhelming!
I do have a few final things to say though.
The electrical and fire industries are very similar in many respects in that each industry is very vast in what it covers but legislation is similar for both.
What I am about to say in generally speaking about both industries.
Anybody and I mean anybody can work on fire alarm systems…. Worrying right? In fact it is the same for electrics too. Legislation allows this which I will touch on in a minute.
A person or organisation who owns or is in charge of a property is also responsible for the electrical and fire safety. It is down to them to determine how they do this. There are many ways to achieve this but in my honest opinion, this is a slight conflict of interest due to money. There is little way of enforcement to be compliant.
Responsible people can have work carried out with the intention ‘to be compliant’ but it doesn’t mean they are compliant, and it is down to client / person ordering the work to ensure it is carried out correctly. The problem with this is that the client needs to either be able to assess the work carried out themselves or contract somebody who can on their behalf. There is a risk of relying on the contractor carrying out the work to ensure they have done it correctly because it is a conflict of interest in many cases. The way contractors make money is by pricing a job, there will be a margin on labour and materials so the quicker they complete a job, the more profit there is. They are hardly going to highlight to you any issues because it will cost them! There seems to be a horrible culture in the industry where many have reduced costs so much that it is very easy to be so tight on making a profit that there isn’t room for any errors. When there is, many cut corners to maintain profit at the risk of reducing safety! Don’t get me wrong…. there are some fantastic contractors out there who consciously think about their actions and strive for a great install regardless if it won’t make as much profit as they hoped.
The accepted level and quality of training needs improving. Training providers seem to be in battle with each other to provide the cheapest training possible to win over clients based on price more than anything else. It seems to be the accepted by society. We all like a bargain but the quality can vary so much and can make such a difference. Some trainers will be happy making a little margin which is fine, but there are too many courses available which do not offer a good outcome for the trainee. That is not ethical.
The level of knowledge and skill has been watered down. It is very easy to do a short course and get some tools and start working on life safety and electrical systems. System that can cause fires or prevent suitable means of detecting fire. It is an important job and there is far more to it other than it just ‘working’. Courses I have attended and feedback from others suggest that they passed the course via a very easy system such as multiple choice but walked away not really knowing everything they should do. It seems like the pass result percentage is what matters and measures the success of the training. A bit like the UK education system. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the student. Correct and suitable training is vital!! IF people knew what they are doing and the dangers caused by their actions, they would have more of a chance in installing systems to a better standard.
Attitudes towards management of systems can completely change how effective a system is. I could install a brilliant compliant system, but if it isn’t maintained adequately, it is only as good as the day it was installed.
That doesn’t stop someone dying, does it?
I came across a project recently where the client has a procedure where the contractor has to sign a permit to agree that they will make good any penetrations to fire compartments to ‘the best of their ability’ as part of their works. They sign the permit in the morning, do the work and bring back the permit at the end of the day. When I carried out a survey I noticed tons of cable and pipe penetrations in the fire compartments, it was like swiss cheese and informed the client that clearly previous contractors have not installed fire barriers. The client turned around to be and said, ‘I have this bit of paper that says they have installed fire seals to their work’. I was gobsmacked!!!!! That paper DOES NOT STOP SOMEBODY DYING IN A FIRE!!!!
Common sense seems to be a thing from the past. It almost seems like we are trained to be robots who cannot think for themselves outside their pre-programme. I say, step outside of the norm and think for yourself. Question everything!! Why do we use this cable. Why do we install smoke detectors there. As a parent it can be funny at first but then frustrating when your child keeps asking why…. but honestly, I encourage my kids to ask why. Then we explore the reason why together.
Who on earth designed that?
In 2017, BS5839 Part 1 was revised and one of the good changes in my opinion was that manual call points are to have covers. So there is a plastic cover that you lift before activating the call point. This is to reduce false alarms by people accidentally pressing them. It is a great idea and has reduced false alarms in the many properties that I manage. But I have seen so many covers installed but have old signage above them advising how to active the call point by pressing it failing to provide the vital information that you need to lift the cover first! It seems obvious to people who are in the know, but in an emergency, a layman may not know this and it reduces the chance of activating an all important system. An example of this was a very fancy building in London I was in recently had manual call points with covers and pointless signage above and all the smoke detection was literally right by an air conditioning ventilation system blowing air into the room. If there were a fire, the smoke would be blown away from the detectors so manual call points would be vital because I believe the smoke detection to be pretty ineffective in this premises.
Who on earth designed that? Design is so important but what is more important is that the design is to be verified by the designer once installed. I strongly believe in third party consultancy where the consultant designs a system based on the clients needs who signs design documentation, oversees the installation and commissioning and testing, then signs a verification of the system to effectively takes responsibility of the system. This is supposed to happen with fire alarm systems but often what happens is either the contractor is the designer and carries out verification or a third party does it but doesn’t sign the documentation at all and leaves it to the contractor as well. Going back to my previous statement, I believe this is a conflict of interest.
If a third party was involved from the outset, it would be in everybody’s interest to make sure everything is how it should be! The problem being is cost. It would cost much more contracting a consultant or third party but can a client who isn’t able to make the necessary judgements themselves afford NOT to have a third party? I mean, I know clients responsible for the electrical systems and fire safety who have never read or even heard of the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989 or the The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Guess what? Both are free. Click each link and you can download it. Every person involved in systems and management inside the scope of these documents should read them from an apprentice to a manager. They really are not complicated.
I walk around premises all the time and notice issues with fire and electrical safety. The problem is, you cannot un-see them. It could be a pub where a fire exit sign is pointing down instead of left. Or a hanging exit sign which is double sided effectively directing you back into the property. I believe that exit signage is confusing to the layman. Professionals keep saying it isn’t confusing at all. Well of course it isn’t confusing to someone who deals with it day in a day out but in the event of an emergency, the majority of people who need to understand signage, won’t. When I was in the US recently in Disney World, Orlando, in most of the areas, the signage is so clear I felt confident I would be able to find my way out. Every sign was electrically illuminated, directional, says clearly EXIT, and was supplemented by low level signs in places. It just made sense yet I was standing in a very large shopping centre in the South of England the other day and it has the smallest exit signs only located at the exit point which are not obvious unless you look for them because generally they are not at the main entrances and the colour clashes with the colours of all the fantastic shop front displays. It is confusing in normal circumstances. I hold little hope when the place is full of smoke!
A few years ago a client has a fire in their property and it was reported that people struggled to see to get out due to smoke filling the place as the emergency lighting did not illuminate. Well it wouldn’t! It is run in FP200 fire rated cable and only activates when the mains fails. The mains didn’t fail because the cable withstood the fire! Nobody could turn on the functional light due to the panic of the emergency and didn’t want to locate the switches as they were near the fire.
And just to clarify to a few contractors…. exit signs are not necessarily emergency lights. Think about it.
Just because a contractor is part of a CPS (Competent Person Scheme) does not mean they are competent and/or carry out works to the relevant standards. It is up to the person ordering the work to carry out due diligence to assess if they are able to carry out the work and then review the work is acceptable. Cost SHOULD NOT be the main factor on choosing who does the work and just because they are part of a CPS is not good enough due diligence at all.
Remember, the British Standards are a GUIDE. However, unless you have sufficient knowledge and experience to deviate from the standards, you should stick to them as the minimum. There has been many situations where I have deviated as a designer but I have been happy to take that responsibility without reducing the risk of the level of safety of the system(s).
I believe we all have a duty to improve standards in the industry and can all make steps to assist this:
- Individuals and companies to continue training externally and internally
- Review management procedures
- DO NOT put pressure on time to complete tasks but penalising individuals but also financial incentives to complete tasks in impossible times. There will be errors in this way
- Stop boasting how cheaply jobs can be done. I am all up for saving money where possible, but under cutting others usually isn’t as transparent as it may seem. When cost goes down, often quality does too
- Putting safety first…. always…. without compromise. Let’s go to bed every evening, knowing what we have done could save a life
- Use this fantastic site as a forum to help each other, share experiences and ideas. There are some seriously clever guys and girls on Linkedin who can provide so much help. This is pretty much what #e5 is all about so being part of it is to help each other.
- Remember that people are humans and not robots
- We all need to earn a living, but let’s not allow offers to suffer as a result of greed
In the words of Paul Meenan, we should have assurance, not insurance when talking about electrical and life safety systems. Ask yourself, have you done everything you possibly can to ensure you have done your part including highlighting any shortfalls on the parts you may not necessarily be responsible for. If not, you may be breaking the law!
Grenfell was a national disaster but speaking to professionals within the industry, it is no surprise a tragedy like this occurred. The problem with fire and electrical safety is that it only tends to be apparent there is a problem when an accident or disaster occurs, not before hand. IF all fire measures were in place in Grenfell, it may have been a different story. One where many people wouldn’t have lost their homes and lives.
This is how I see ‘The Industry’
I am about to leave my company to set off on an amazing trip, but I believe that every one of my team who works for my company matters. Whether it be my head electrician, my fellow director, receptionist, clients, the guy who supplies my materials and even the cleaner! We all have a role and together, we are a team. The team cannot operate without the team players. This is how I see ‘The Industry’ . We are all involved and linked together. We have our roles and the goal should be to provide safe systems to protect each other and the public. If one team player doesn’t pull their weight, the goal will not be achieved.
I could keep going with this but I hope you get the idea of what I am talking about and can relate, maybe stop and think about a few things I have mentioned.
I would post lots of fancy pictures for this article but my van got broken into and my photos were on a hard drive that also got stolen. Those photos probably will mean nothing to the thieves but little do they know, that they are evidence that could potentially save their lives one day!
Now you’ll have to excuse me because I am currently doing some research on mountain hikes 😉 Must go!
Written by Dan Jackson AKA Dans the Engineer in Kent, England