Monday , October 15 2018

The truth about ‘test and tag’

Is it merely a licence to print money or will you actually get anything from employing test and tag?

For many disreputable test and tag companies it is merely a quick way to transfer money from your account to theirs and what’s even worse is that your hotel may be less safe after having them come through than it was before.

Recently in New Zealand there was a scandal surrounding dodgy WOF stickers for cars: if you don’t know the vehicle you are driving, e.g. your vehicle has not undergone a rigorous inspection and merely had a sticker applied, then it is likely you could be trusting in a parachute that may not open! However, had you known that your car had not actually been checked, you may have taken considerably greater care. Turning from cars to electrical safety, and in particular testing and tagging, the same rule surely applies.

You may be thinking, we’re a worldwide chain we can’t be caught by cowboys, but think again because you are just a bigger target with a bigger pay-off! Poor quality paint/fittings/fixtures, etc., will be found out eventually but with electrical safety, and in particular testing, you may not know until the worst happens! Many people are just tagging items without testing them and this is not only illegal and fraudulent but also very dangerous.

So what issues should raise red flags?

AS/NZS3760, the test and tag standard, has specific requirements for testing and what is on the tag.

• Among other things, the actual date the test was carried out must be on the tag (think of this as your date of birth with a day, month and year). I often see tags in hotels where the test date is just a month and the same with retest date. A non-specific test date gives a warning sign, as does the lack of reference to AS/NZS3760, which is mandated under the standard.
• No records supplied or basic pass/fail results only.
• If computers show no sign of being shut down (necessary for testing), then again no testing has been done, rather the bill has just been sent!
• Testing completed very quickly.
• Permanently wired appliances and phone cables tagged (see picture).
• In decades gone by, the used car industry had a very bad reputation and I often wonder if many of these guys have taken up test and tag as an occupation.

Here is why the test and tag industry may be considered dodgy:

• In New Zealand, no qualifications are required to run a test and tag company. This is much the same in Australia and the UK; where there are similar problems with ‘tagging only’ being carried out.

• There is no governing body, hence no one is policing the industry.

• Usually no one is watching the person doing the testing (to avoid disruption a lot of testing is done after-hours).

• The more tags they put on the more money they make, so speed is the key to more money. Normally, payment is per item not per hour.

• If issues do occur, e.g. questions raised regarding tests carried out, and records have been supplied without testing values, then proving either way will be difficult.

What’s the solution?

Records are part of the solution to avoiding getting caught; however, for this to work the records you are given must include numerical values of all test results making sure results are less likely to have been made up! An itemised spreadsheet may look good with pass and fail written all over it but it might as well not exist as you cannot do an audit from this. Actual test values can easily be measured but who can measure an earth resistance that says ‘pass’ and compare? These records should not add to the cost of the testing; it is data that is automatically saved by many portable appliance testers (PATs). One reasonably priced PAT available can even print out numerical results on the tag and an audit code
Before going any further, now might be the time to mention that there are various options for testing, not just using a test and tag company. A good option could be training up existing staff members, not necessarily your maintenance staff who may already be run off their feet but perhaps a senior housekeeper. Think they are not qualified for the job? Think again, they may be more qualified and better able to do the job.

Not sure if you’ve got a cowboy or a good provider?

Here’s what you can do with new and existing providers:

• Insist records include test values.
• Ensure tags fully meet the requirements of AS/NZS3760.
• Require them to provide on-site calibration certificates to match tester serial numbers.
• Where repairs are being undertaken, does the individual have a current EWRB practicing licence? (This is a legal requirement.)
• Audit the work: retest a room or two, especially items with a protective earth, e.g. the iron/fridge. Are the results similar? They should be.
• In a safely controlled environment, set up a few items with defects (not visual defects) and see if these are picked up on. If not, then place a few more items. Are these picked up? They all should be.

Note: Ensure that this is all kept within safe boundaries and that the testing company are not aware of what you are doing.

• Ask for a demonstration of what they will be doing/providing to you and document it.
• Get confirmation, in writing, that their testing is compliant with the testing requirements of the AS/NZS3760 standard (latest edition).
• Find out what experience they or their staff have. Do they have any people who hold a current NZ practicing licence issued by the EWRB?

In summary, I hope that you are in the likely minority that are getting real safety testing done; not just a box ticked, a tag attached and cheque banked.

About Mark Goldthorpe, Director, Metrotest