This recorded webinar is designed for landlords and property managers to understand their safety obligations to make rental properties electrically safe.
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Electrical safety in rental properties
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to The Electrical Safety in Rental Properties webinar brought to you by The Electrical Safety Office. I'm Chris Bombolas from The Office of Industrial Relations. And I'm your host for this morning's proceedings.
Can I firstly acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians on the land on which we meet and Elders past, present and emerging. We're celebrating Electricity Safety Week this week with a range of free events and prizes.
So thanks for joining us here today. There's a range of legal responsibilities that landlords and property managers have to ensure their rental property is electrically safe whether that's a house, unit, duplex, granny flat, shed or townhouse.
And today you're going to hear all about them from our line-up of experts. Throughout today's session, there is an opportunity to ask our speakers questions, just type them into the live Q&A box on the right of your screen. And we will get to them during the panel session at the end of proceedings.
If you have any technical problems during the live stream, please make sure the sound on your computer is turned on. Try refreshing your browser and if that doesn't work, contact us via the live Q&A chat box.
To officially kick start today's event, it's good morning to Donna Heelan, Executive Director of The Electrical Safety Office. Welcome Donna.
Thanks Chris. Good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us here today on this very important topic. Queensland's got about half a million rental properties at the given time. And if you think that through, that's a lot of families, that's a lot of people that landlords and real estates have duties to ensure that they're kept safe every single day.
But more on that later, I want you to think about and take action on five things today when you walk away, just five things to think about and five things that you can talk to your landlord, talk to your real estate, or talk to the person in charge of your property that may be yourself and make sure you've got these things covered.
Have you got safety switches, safety switches on all circuits? The last two rental fatalities we have had have been in relation to items that did not have safety switches on those circuits.
Have you got a safety switch on your oven? Have you got a safety switch on your air conditioning unit? Have you got a safety switch on your hot water system?
If your property is an old dwelling, the answer to those questions usually will be no, particularly if it hasn't been renovated or sold in recent times.
So that's number one, number two, who tests your safety switches on your rental properties? Having them on all circuits is great and something that The Electrical Safety Office is a strong advocate for, but you need to check they work.
Don't assume that your landlord is checking them. And don't assume that your tenant is checking them. You need to ask the question and put a system in place to make sure these are checked on a regular basis.
Number three, do you have an electrical equipment maintenance system or schedule in place? Do you have a licensed person come to your premises and make sure that you have got your old electrical equipment supplied, maintained and inspected, things like air conditioners that I've spoken about, hot water systems. If these aren't maintained and installed correctly, they can pose a deadly threat to those people that are renting your premises.
Number four, I know COVID has changed the way in which we live and work. And many of us now are buying things online, but if you're buying electrical equipment online, I urge you to have a look and do some research about where that equipment is coming for.
Have a look for the RCM. I know in government, we talk frequently in acronyms, but I know Michael Thompson always speaking about the Regulatory Compliance Mark later today. Make sure you know where that equipment's coming from. Has it been designed for Australian standards? Has it been designed to make sure that the people using it are safe?
The fifth one is what is your system in place if your tenant reports a tap tingle? That's a bit hard to say, but a shock from a tingle sorry, a shock or tingle from a tap or other metal appliance. Please don't make a note on the property inspection report and file it away. Don't email it to the person that owns the property and don't make a note and book an electrical contractor to come and have a look at it at their next inspection in 2, 3, 4 weeks time. Tingles from taps can be a warning sign. And I know Aaron will speak about this, but it can cause very serious injury or death. And we have had a fatality in Queensland where that has been the case sadly.
Remember, always use the licensed electrical contractor for doing any electrical work in your premises and make sure that your tenants or you don't DIY electrical work. My final tidbit or tip for the day is go to our website. As the regulator, we're here to enforce and comply the electrical regulations in Queensland, but we're also here to provide information and assistance like today. We have a wealth of information available to you. If you go to our website or call our 1-300 number, we are always happy to help on these important topics.
Thanks again for joining us today. I hope you have a great weekend. Cheers.
Yeah. Thanks to Donna for joining us. Donna, I've got this down to because we love catchy phrases and summarizing things to the big five: safety switches, checking the safety switches, your maintenance schedule, your RCM of equipment and you tingle response.
That's pretty easy if you want to go through them again. Safety switches, checking them, maintenance schedule, RCM of equipment and tingle response. All right, let's move a tack now.
And I'd like to welcome in Michael Thompson, Principal Programs Officer OIR, who will talk about how to keep your rental property electrically safe. Now, Michael has been a licensed electrician for more than 25 years. He has experience in domestic, large commercial and industrial fields of electrical, of the electrical industry, and he's worked for the ESO for four years. Welcome Michael. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for that, Chris. Thanks for everyone today for joining us on the webinar. It's a very important topic that we feel needs to be talked about more, so thanks for joining us and coming on board today.
So first slide, it's safety switches. It's something that we very passionate about at the ESO. Safety switches that protects you from electric shock people, not equipment. So what are safety switches? So basically they have a test button on them. They cut the power off in a very short minimum amount of time to make sure that you don't receive a humongous shock and go into fibrillation of the heart. So domestic rental properties must have a safety switch to fit it to power points as a minimum.
At the ESO, we say, all circuits should be protected by safety switch, even retrofitting. We would like it that way. It's the best way to guarantee safety across the board in your home or your rental properties. The Australian standards, electric wiring rules, they actually say all the new work needs to be safety switches fitted to all new circuits, but for retrofitting it's a new requirement, but we do recommend that you do that with on your homes to make sure that you protect not only your family and your own homes, but also your tenants as well. The last thing you want to hear is get a phone call and say that tenants received a shock at your home, and hopefully not the worst outcome from that as well.
So, there's several different types of safety switches. They all vary in shapes, looks and design. As you see on the screen, there there's a few different types. So you've got a single power, which is the one on the far left, the dual power, see just how much space it takes up. And that will have different sort of looking buttons and different locations. You can see a couple of orange ones there in half circles and one in a square and the white one and the blue one on the top right.
So that top right image sort of shows that the difference between the circuit breakers and the safety switch. You see circuit breakers, they don't have that actual test button. So that's important to look for to see if you do have safety switches. A circuit breaker only protects equipment. It does not protect people. So it will stop equipment from catching fire to a degree or circuits within your home, but it will not stop someone being receiving an electric shock or possibly being electrocuted. So testing safety switches. So this is very important to make sure that they actually still work and are operational. So that should be done at regular intervals. So tenants should be really doing the push button test. It'd be three months. So that's just a matter of being prepared that the power is going to go off to those power circuits that are protected by. And push the button, make sure that it activates, turns the power off for the circuit set to protect, which will be listed underneath it. Most of the time, it's more in mental properties, unless it's a new premises that would be the power only. And, then just turn it back on. So that's basically to make sure that it works and what we should do, but operation and time tests should be done by electrical contractors.
Now we do recommend that landlords and real estate agents arrange this as well. So what we do is what we suggest is that you do the same time, just as smoke alarm testing. It's bang for your buck. You know, you're getting them at the same time. It's gonna be a lot cheaper than getting them out separately and they can do that, that safety switch test. And basically they make sure that it's operating within the set times and parameters that it should. And for the leakage of current or electricity that's putting out with it should so. You need to really do that to make sure that they are operating the way they are intended to and designed to. But yeah, get it done at the same time. You know, it's bang for your buck and most companies or electrical contractors that are doing smoke alarm testing can do the safety switch testing as well.
Tingles or shocks from metal fittings. A tingle is from electric, from a tap or a metal fitting within your home is actually a shock. So don't ignore it. You know, there have been several fatalities around this. You need to contact your electricity entity, but Aaron Smith from Ergon Energy's will be talking more about that a bit later. So I'll leave that to him. He is the expert.
And this is more about the permanent appliances. So air conditioners, light fittings, hot water systems. It can be along the same lines of what I just spoke about. But if you do, if your tenants actually has advised that they've received a shock from an item, you need to tell them to stop using it immediately.
And if you're the tenant, stop it, just put it aside. Don't touch it. And contact a licensed electrician to come and have a look and inspect and test equipment. There might be something wrong internally with it, and you don't want to take the risk that it could turn a lot worse. And advise the other people within the home, too. It's the best way to do it.
Do-it-yourself electrical work. Now this is something that is we sternly, like I said like cancer, it's not illegal, but it's dangerous and most likely will void your insurance. It can only be performed by a licensed electrical contractor. So, you know, re-wiring houses or anything like that. Unfortunately we do see it still out there these days. We don't look favorably on it.
And it's one of our focus areas where we will take necessary action as people there are performing this work because it is very dangerous, not only for themselves, but for anyone around them and their loved ones and family or tenants or even the landlords, if you're a tenant you're doing this work yourself. So be aware that it is illegal, we will find you, and it won't be a good outcome. But it's important to check also as well, when you do hire or engage an electrical contractor that you do check they're licensed, their license is relevant and current. And unfortunately there are people that pose as electricians as well. So you can go to the website for that, the ESO website, and do that check.
Electrical equipment maintenance. So as a landlord, you have an obligation to maintain any equipment or appliances that you supply. So any equipment within the home, you need to make sure that it's safe and electrically safe for the use. Excuse me. So the best way to do that, it's actually a maintenance schedule for the property and process for electrical repairs.
So that might be a guideline to actually tell your tenant how to report faults, and then what the process will be around that. That way everyone knows what's going on and there's a quick process around getting an electrical contractor there to have a look or do the maintenance schedule, if there's any issues with any equipment quicker the better, really when you've got a fault with an equipment, because you don't want to leave it sitting there, especially if it's not turned off and basically it's been dangerous. But once again, always use a licensed electrical contractor, have them set up, have a process around it. And that way it all works and flows without too much drama.
Portable electrical equipment. So what it means by "portable"? It is your plug-in equipment. So anything that you supply, excuse me, which is not, it can't be within fully furnished terms of your rental property or your tenancy is fully furnished. And this may be the case with plug-in equipment and supply for use by all the tenants. Make sure that if you buy any appliances that it has a Regulatory Compliance Mark, the RCM. So that's that big tick and the triangle.
So that means it's compliant with Australian standards and safe for use, avoid buying from equipment from overseas, from the Internet. It may not comply with Australian standards. Seen it happen many times before. And if it's actually fixed equipment, a lot of electricians will not install it as well because it doesn't comply. So if you do import it as well, it actually falls into a whole other category of importer responsibilities and duties as well. So it's best to avoid it because if you start importing categorized as importing goods, then you have a lot more duties fall upon you, which you might not be meeting. And only use the equipment for what it's designed for.
So tenants should follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and maintenance. Don't has it damp, stuff like that, unless it's meant to be, and always check before using. This is probably a key point to this whole conversation. It's always check your equipment for use, the cases, the leads, the plugs. So many times we're seeing electric shocks from damaged cables. So they might have exposed leads with inside or exposed cables and people are getting shocks from it. So you need to make sure that they're safe prior to use every time, not just once every four years, when you think it's not working properly. Every time before you use it, is best policy.
Solar systems. Sort of along the same lines, so they must be regularly checked and maintained. Have a maintenance schedule for the system, which really should be supplied anyhow. It's a requirement that the installer supplies that for you and check, basically it's to check the system performance and safety. So the, always hear someone who knows what they're doing, a licensed electrical contractor or electrician they'll come in and check to make sure it's safe and performing the way it should be. You won't get the most out of them. I like to use the analogy of a car, so you're happy to spend 10 grand on a car, but you get it serviced and checked regularly, but you'll spend the same amount of money on a solar system and you won't do the same thing. You just put it on the roof in a harsh environment. It'll stay up there for many years before it even gets looked at and it will start to degrade. So you need to make sure that you get it checked regularly usually about every year. But the maintenance schedule will say that. So there's certain components that need to be done quicker than others, and also claims. So they get the best performance out of it. As I said, always use a licensed electrician for that. It can be dangerous up on the roof and they know what they're doing, and they know how to fix things and work around that sort of stuff. You know, solar panels are always alive when the Sun's shining. So just remember that.
On that sort of same vein, roof spaces. There are dangerous area with hidden hazards. So I always make sure you turn the power off before anyone enters and that's anyone yourself, if yourself, if you're a tenant, if you're a landlord or any tradesman and going up there, many incidents up there, many dangers, some of the old houses have exposed cabling, exposed parts of live components with electricity flowing through them. So make sure that you turn off the main switch. Remember this the main switch and the hot water switch. The hot water switches are separate. So they have separate circuits, but always be aware that if you've got an overhead incoming power, there's a live cable always in there, no matter what you do, because it runs down to the house from the power lines. So you need to turn the power from the stage and just prepare your tenants if you need to turn off to do some work at the home.
And also I would advise any landlords out there to do some recall checks. I should've mentioned that for the equipment as well. Always make sure that you keep on the, on the recalls for equipment and also the cables. So there was a raft of electrical cables sold a few years ago and now called Infinity. And they are recalled, so I needed to make sure that the house wasn't full of that because they are dangerous.
Once again, overhead and underground power lines. Always make sure you, be aware of the overhead power lines into your house and the undergrounds that supply electricity house that if we dig them up, we'll hit them. There are a lot of contacts with that sort of stuff.
Contact Dial Before You Dig and obviously underground so you know where they are. And think ahead when planting trees and gardens. You aren't be planting a tree that grows 40 foot high, right under your power lines or your incoming main. So have a think about that and just be aware of it. The purchase and sale of property, say, if you are buying a house, you'll see that they have the checklist that, if a safety switch's installed, if it's not, within three months of the date of possession, you must actually install one if you're buying a house that doesn't have one. So just be aware of that, always check it. And you know, maybe when asked to put one in to clinch the deal.
So, but as we said, we suggest upgrading your switchboards and having all circuits covered by safety switches, just to be safe. And reporting issues to ESO. So we are very interested in unsafe and dangerous wiring or equipment.
So, if you see anything like that, please contact us. Unlicensed work, So anything that you feel that has been done by maybe someone who is not competent or licensed to do that work, any shocks or dangerous events or incidents where definitely shouldn't have lots of stuff. And it's not with the shocks and dangers, it's not about finding a culprit, but it's about us investigating and seeing what the cause was to make sure it doesn't happen again because that's our main concern. Our main mandate is to make sure the community and industry is safe from electricity.
So it was a quick roll through, but any more information that you may need please con visit the website or call that number. And we're also on Facebook as well. We do a lot of stuff on Facebook. So please click on it, join, follow, like, and we'll go from there. Thank you very much.
Thanks, Michael. Some great advice and practical tips. Really appreciate that. And of course, if I can take it one step further that perhaps another tip that you, you didn't touch on that might be handy for landlords or real estate agencies, perhaps to encourage the tenants, to test their safety switches when their rates bill or water bill comes in because that's every quarter, every three months could get into a nice handy system of just checking that every time. So that's not a bad little tip.
And if you'd like to ask Michael some questions a little later on when we moved to the panel session or any of our speakers that are coming up, please do that via the Q&A box.
It's now time to move to Assistant Workplace Health and Safety Prosecutor, David Gore, who's going to run through the electrical safety legal responsibilities for rental properties. David is a barrister with 10 years’ experience in government practice and a specialist in criminal and regulatory prosecutions with extensive trial advocacy experience. Welcome David.
Thank you very much, Chris. I'll be talking about electrical safety in rental properties from a legal perspective. The principal piece of legislation is The Electrical Safety Act of 2002. This imposes legal duties in respect of the electrical safety on both landlords and tenants and others at rental properties.
The legal duties of persons conducting businesses are undertaking often referred to as PCB use and corporate offices of PCB use is beyond the scope of my presentation.
The first takeaway from my presentation today is that the person's in control of electrical equipment at rental properties is the landlord, the Act says so. One might not unreasonably think that the person, best placed to monitor and force the safety of electrical equipment, might be the occupier of the premises, namely the tenant. That's certainly the position that the parliament took in respect of commercial, non-residential rental properties, but it's not the case in respect of residential tenancies.
The duties remain on the the landlord and they cannot be contracted out of. In the case of a commercial lease, the owner of the premises is not the person in control of the equipment, the occupier is, and that person can contract with another person, whether it's an agency or an electrical contractor, to be responsible for the electrical safety of the equipment at the premises, but that can't be done in the case of residential tenancies. I'll talk later about a particular aspect of tenant's duties that informs that there is some mechanism there to improve the amount of control or the level of control that a landlord will have over the equipment. But that's the first thing to note.
The duty is to ensure the safety of electrical equipment at the property. It's not to all equipment to the equipment that both forms part of or is supplied for you at the premises and is owned by the landlord. So perhaps obviously, if a tenant was to purchase an electric heater, plug it into the wall and it caused problems or create a risk of death or injury, that is something that the landlord is not going to be legally responsible for. But if the tenant purchased that same heater provided it to the tenant for use at the premises and retain ownership of it, the landlord would remain, would be legally responsible for the safety of that equipment.
Some examples of equipment that would ordinarily be the responsibility of the landlord. I think Michael talked about some of these more fixed or permanent fixtures earlier, but they would include quite clearly light switches and fittings, power points, fixed appliances things that would usually be fixtures upon the sale of the property, ovens, cook tops, air conditioners, pool pumps, things that would usually stay with the property upon sale, and of course, electrical cables and wiring in the roof space and wall cavities.
What does ensuring safety require? Well, the Act says that safety is ensured when the risk of death, injury or property damage arising from the equipment in respect of electricity has both, if it's reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk and it's been eliminated, or if it's not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk that it has been minimized so far as is reasonably practicable. Now, the Act provides a definition of what is reasonably practicable and it talks about the duty to do all that is reasonably able to be done. It sets out some considerations that a court would look at in taking into account in a particular case, whether what was done or not done was reasonably practicable. It requires a consideration of the likelihood of the risk occurring, requires a consideration of the degree of harm that the risk might result in. This is often considered to be the magnitude of the risk, those elements combined.
What is the magnitude of the risk? I hasten to say that in the case of electricity, you're almost always dealing with a potential risk of death or serious injury. It requires consideration of what was known about the risk, in this case, what was known by the landlord, but not only what was subjectively known, but also what ought reasonably to have been known by the landlords that will be assessed objectively as I said, which will require a consideration of what a reasonable landlord and the circumstances would have known or should have known. It also requires a consideration of the availability and suitability of ways of minimizing or eliminating the risk. Now, in the case of electricity, it's, once again, almost always going to be the engagement of the licensed electrical contractor. That will usually be the only thing besides not touching certain equipment that a landlord could do. Some other comments about this question of reasonable practicability. It really obliges what I've said in the slides there, a proactive, responsive and systematic risk management approach akin to that adopted by industry.
Proactive is in the sense that a landlord can't just be waiting for the tenant to call to say that there's an issue. There should be regular inspections. How regular, I'd have to defer to one of the other panel members, but it would depend on the circumstances.
Responsive meaning if you are advised or otherwise become aware of an issue to do with electrical equipment at the property, you must be responsive. How responsible, how quickly you would need to respond will depend on the circumstances.
Now, Donna at the start touched on this, but if you're aware of a potential risk to do with electrical equipment, if I would say in most cases, that will require immediate action. So that would, it makes of course in the circumstance or in certain cases would require the tenant to avoid touching certain properties, avoid entering certain rooms of the property until a contractor has attended. Now, if you've got something that's central to a property, for instance, an oven and it's sparking, or you can smell smoke coming from or something like that, and you've got children in the house, arranging a contractor to come out the following week would not be sufficient.
If someone was injured or killed in the circumstances, there would likely be a breach of the duty. You would have to arrange for someone to attend immediately. I would've thought, within hours, I've said there look practically, at least this requires landlords to ensure that is if one wishes to avoid liability for a criminal offense under the Act that you have all existing electrical equipment inspected, purchasing periodically as appropriate and all new electrical work is carried out by a licensed electrical contractor. I've underlined in the slide.
It's the main thrust of my presentation. It's certainly picked up by the other presenters. Licensed electrical contractors is the way around, certainly discharging your duties under the Act. The, I've noted in the dot point of the bottom common sense about bringing to bear a little common sense in the management of ordinary household hazards. That really, really goes to that point, that I've stated if there appears to be a problem, you have the reason to suspect there was an issue, whether it's because your tenant has reported it or you've observed it yourself upon an inspection. Really isolating people or quarantining people from that hazard will often be the best measure you can take immediately.
And then the engagement of a licensed electrical contractor will in effect, operate as a defacto indemnity for the landlord in terms of any possible criminal liability under the Act. In nine times out of 10, if I caught hearing a case in which a person has been injured or killed, he is the owner in a prompt way, got on to an electrical contractor and arrange for that attendance. If the work is done, if something's missed by that contractor, if the work that they do do is somehow negligently done, that will usually not flow back to the owner.
The engagement with that specialist contractor will be all that they, that the law can reasonably expect a landlord to do. Tenants and others. So any person at a rental property. And that's the point here, it's that any person at a rental property, whether they're tenants or otherwise, have duties under the Act. They've got the duty here, the first dot point, take reasonable care for others, as well as their own safety and respect of that equipment. This will certainly include doing intentional things, such as performing their own unlicensed electrical work at the property. That's certainly prohibited. Besides being a specific offense for carrying out electrical work, it's also a failure to take reasonable care for your own and other's safety. It will certainly include things like stealing electricity, which has happened in the past, trying to divert cables from one area of the property to avoid paying for that. But then this point that I referred to earlier is there's also a duty to comply with any reasonable instruction in respect of the equipment at the property by the landlord, to allow the landlord to comply with their duties.
So this goes back to the point I made at the start that landlords are at a disadvantage in a sense, because they're not the persons who are present at the property on a day-to-day basis usually. Sometimes they'll go years without actually setting foot on the premises. So they're relying on tenants and in some cases, the real estate agents they might've engaged to manage the property, to report back to them what the status of electrical safety is at the premises. This is a power which I would encourage landlords to use as appropriate to ensure that they have appropriate access to the equipment so that they can discharge their duties. This would involve, for instance, if electrical equipment is due for an inspection, you would advise the tenant that they need to make access access to the property available a certain time for a contractor to attend.
And if there's a failure to comply or to permit that access, if it became, it got to the point that there was a deadlock, yes, the tenant may be liable for a criminal offense for failing to permit that access. But of course in the interim, you might, an interim step might be to contact The Electrical Safety Office, to see what can be done to facilitate that access.
Finally, it is a criminal offense to breach a duty imposed by the Act. There are substantial penalties. They're identical in terms of the maximum penalties to that provided under mainstream work health and safety laws, in the case of an individual owner or tenant to maximum penalty of up to $150,000 that doubles in the case of an individual owner in business or a corporate officer or a person in business, or in the case of corporate owners, it's $1.5 million.
Those maximums double, where they can be recklessness proved on the part of the defendant. And in the case of individuals, you're liable to five years imprisonment if you're reckless with respect to electrical safety in premises.
Thank you very much for listening today. Thanks, Chris.
Thanks to David for informing us of the legal obligations. I think I take from that landlords be warned that shortcuts, stalling, putting off, doing shortcuts, doing the wrong thing, you may find yourself sitting across the dock from David and I don't think that'd be a pleasant thing to happen. So just be warned.
Okay. Yeah. If you do have questions for David, don't forget the Q&A panel. We welcome your questions and we'll be going to a panel session with all of our presenters at the end of this session.
It's time now to introduce Gordon Hemphrey, who is the Acting Superintendent of Investigations and Compliance at Queensland Fire and Emergency Services. Gordon will walk us through the new interconnected smoke alarm laws for residential rental properties. Gordon has got 32 years of experience as a firefighter with QFES. He's a qualified fire investigator for 21 years. He oversees post-fire investigations and management of compliance and prosecutions of building owners and occupiers that fail to comply with building fire safety regulations. Welcome Gordon. Thanks for joining us. We look forward to your presentation.
Thanks, Chris. And welcome to everybody who's joined us this morning. Domestic smoke alarm legislation in rental properties is what we're going to have a quick look at this morning.
In 2016, the Queensland government legislated that all smoke alarms within Queensland and now are going to have to change over on a 10-year process into interconnected smoke alarms. The idea is that they provide better protection for the occupants of the buildings that you'll be able to hear that smoke alarm activate quickly, efficiently, and you'll be able to get out of that property well before it becomes untenable, and your life would become at risk.
So what we're going to look at this morning though is specifically rental properties because in that 10-year process of introduction of that legislation, rental properties do become compliant and must be compliant from January 2022.
So from 2022 onwards, if you are in a rental property, if you own a rental property, that property must then start to comply with the smoke alarm legislation. The changes that we're going to be looking at, or that are becoming part of that compliance are that smoke alarms need to be interconnected as we can see. They also must be photoelectric. At the moment, you get ionization and photoelectrics that you can use, and from 2022 onwards for rentals they must be photoelectric. We've found that they are more efficient. They activate quicker for smoldering type fires, and they also have less false alarms.
So they're just a better unit to use all around. Those smoke alarms they must be less than 10 years old. Smoke alarms do have a life span. After 10 years, they start to reach the end of their life. So that smoke alarm that is fitted to your property must be less than 10 years old. And they must be in any rental property as is always has been, and will continue. They must be operational at all times. So that means not taking the battery out of any battery operated ones. And the big change that is coming through as we're looking at, is that we're going to interconnect the smoke alarms, whereas before if a smoke alarm activated in the kitchen and you had another one downstairs, may be in your family room, only the one in the kitchen would activate.
From now on, in from 2022 onwards, if one activates, they must all activate together. The idea of that is to make sure that everyone in that building upstairs, downstairs and out the back of the property in the outlying areas of the building perhaps, that all alarms activate so that everyone is notified, even when they've got asleep with a closed door in their bedroom.
And that activates downstairs, the smoke alarm that is in their bedroom will activate as well to ensure that person is made aware that it's time to evacuate the building. Smoke alarms are going to have to be installed on every floor of the building or every story of the building.
So if you've got a two-story building that is a two-story domestic dwelling, they must be installed upstairs and downstairs, which is common now and has been for a while. And that continues onwards.
Another big change is that from 2022 onwards, for any properties that are rented, they must have smoke alarms in every bedroom. The idea of that is that the intent of smoke alarm legislation has always been to cover buildings where people sleep, because that is when we've found that people need to be made aware that there is a fire occurring, maybe downstairs and they're asleep upstairs. The building could become untenable before they're even aware that there is a fire downstairs.
With that new interconnected smoke alarm in every bedroom you will be able to, you will get notified and be made aware straight away that there is a fire occurring in another part of the building and you need to be evacuating that building. Smoke alarms will also need to be fitted into hallways, which connect the bedrooms and the rest of the dwelling. Or if there is no hallway, they must be between the bedrooms and other parts of that story or level of that house to make sure that there is instant notification to everybody.
And another one is that we're moving into now is that smoke alarms must be hardwired or powered by a non-removable 10-year battery, or a combination of both may be allowed. If you have hardwired smoke alarms in your house at the moment that is rented, you can change those and put in interconnected Bluetooth 10-year batteries that are connected to a 240-volt base-station smoke alarm, as long as they all activate together. When one activates, they all got activate, we are happy.
So prescribed locations for installing smoke alarms is really important where you put your smoke alarm in your house. One, that we don't want false alarms. So don't go around putting them too close to the stove, the kitchen, or anything like that. But also they must be placed, they've should or not must, they should always be placed on the ceiling of that level. No point putting them on the walls or anywhere like that. They must be on the ceiling. They cannot be, or must not be placed within 300 mm of the walls of the building, because that's what we call a dead space for smoke. The smoke will circulate, and you do get little dead areas where the smoke alarm may not pick up that smoke quickly and efficiently.
They cannot be within 400 millimeters of an air conditioner, obviously because of air flow. The air flow from the air conditioner may push the smoke away from that smoke alarm. And it may not activate quickly and efficiently as what we'd like. Also then the same sort of thing that cannot be within 400 millimeters of a ceiling fan.
Once again, because of the air disturbance from that ceiling fan moves the air around the air, the smoke alarm may not activate efficiently. With houses that have high ceilings, open areas, there are special allowances and special regulations for stairways, sloping roofs if you've got big cathedral type ceilings in a house.
There is special regulations for those as into how the smoke alarm should be fitted and to ensure that they activate effectively and quickly, should there be smoke in that building at all. If you really want to look into that as on electrical contractor, and to make sure that you are fitting them in the exactly where they should be, have a look at The Building Fire Safety Regulations, 2008. It's clearly outlined in there where smoke alarms can be and should and shouldn't be fitted with inside a dwelling.
As I mentioned before, there is a number of ways that you can power your smoke alarms. The preferred method is probably hardwired for us at the moment and any new building will have hardwired smoke alarms put into it when that building is constructed. That has been in place since 2017, I believe that is hardwired smoke alarms are the preferred option because once they're in, they're there forever, they just need to be, maybe the head of the smoke alarm needs to be changed every 10 years to ensure that it remains reliable.
The hardwired smoke alarm must be connected to the home's main supply and must have a battery backup system that if the house main supply fails for any reason, which they do tend to do during fires, the smoke alarm will keep activating with that battery backup. These are considered more reliable in the longer term. And if the AC power fails, as we said, we'll always know that you're going to, that smoke alarm is going to keep working.
For rental properties, if you currently have hardwired smoke alarms fitted through the building and you're re-upgrading to the new interconnected systems, you must continue with hardwired. There is ways that you can intermingle, and we'll have a look at those later where you can use hardwired and battery back in 10-year battery systems as well. Nine-volt removable batteries, they are legal until January 2022.
So they will need to be changed if you have nine-volt standard smoke alarms at the moment. And they also can say, if it's just a normal owner-occupied dwelling, nine-volt batteries are okay up until 2027. Replacement smoke alarms. As we've sort of mentioned before in some of the other presentations this morning, it's really important that if you're putting in new smoke alarms that they do meet the Australian standard, AS3786-2014 is the standard that they need to meet when you're buying them, purchasing them, always have a look at the packaging and make sure that it does meet that Australian standard. As I alluded to before, there are ways of taking on 10-year battery systems with Bluetooth. This is a fairly new technology, but it's been found to be very reliable. You can intermingle.
You can have a 240-volt based system with 10-year non-removable batteries in the bedrooms that are connected by Bluetooth to that base station. That is 240-volt that is acceptable as long as it is operational and it works. And you can also, if you have batteries right through your rental property at the moment, and they need to be upgraded, they must be upgraded to the 10-year non-removable batteries with a full Bluetooth system. That is acceptable under the legislation as well.
And we spoke before just a little bit in one of the previous presentations about tenant's responsibilities. One of, probably the one to touch on is that you must allow a smoke alarm technician into your property if the landlord or your managing agent contacts you and says they wanted to bring someone in to upgrade your smoke alarms, it is your responsibility to allow that person in. In the world we live in at the moment and we do get, I have just answered a query just yesterday to an elderly person who was concerned about COVID and COVID safe practices. Just make sure that if you are concerned about people coming into your property, that they have a COVID safe plan and that they are, if they're going to do a 240-volt work on your property installing smoke alarms, that they are a licensed contractor.
Probably just to finish off, some basic fire safety. The number of house fires, QFES every year, we are attending well over 1500, in the last year between 2020 and 2021, 1791 house fires QFES attended. Out of those, four in 10 of those fires started in the kitchen. That is by far the most common cause of fires is unattended cooking or cooking that is left unattended and electrical appliances that fail in the kitchen.
And I must say, as an investigator, it's quite interesting. I always hear this. It's an electrical failure, probably nine times out of 10, when we do our investigation. It's not the electrical appliance that fails. It's operator error. They're using that appliance in a manner that it was never designed for. Overloading power boards, those sorts of things are very common issues and do create house fires. And as we looked down there, two in three houses do not have smoke alarms currently in their bedrooms. So this is why we bought this legislation in is to make sure that if you're asleep or you're a child, very common these days for people to use noise-canceling headphones, and to be using them in their bedroom, listening to the TV, listening to whatever they like on their computer.
If a smoke alarm activates downstairs, when you've got your headphones on, is every chance you won't hear it. That is why we would like to see, or we want to see smoke alarms in every bedroom. So yes, 17% of households have not tested or maintained their smoke alarms. It's an important point.
As a tenant and as a landlord, the landlord is ultimately responsible for a smoke alarm, legislation compliance, but it's also the responsibility of the tenant to make sure that that smoke alarms in their property are operational. They don't remove them off the ceilings or anything else. And if they see a fault, it's their responsibility to let the landlord or their managing agent know straightaway and get that seeing to, to make sure that it's brought to the attention and that they are rectified straightaway.
If you have any more or would like any more information on smoke alarms and the new legislation, is there is a quite a big change that we're going through over the next few years through till 2027, but especially for rental properties in January 2022, go to the QFES website, qfes.qld.gov.au.
We have a large amount of information there that outlines to tenants, landlords of what your responsibilities are and how you can meet that legislative requirement. Thank you very much.
Thanks Gordon. A couple of key points that might just reiterate the buzzwords are interconnected smoke alarms. They are in and coming and 1 January next year is a key date. So keep those two things in mind, interconnected smoke alarms, 1 January 2022.
If you'd like to ask Gordon a question during our panel session, please submit your questions. I can see there's a number of questions already. It's good to see that people are interactive in our presentation and the Q&A panel is coming up very shortly. So please, I encourage you to keep those questions coming.
Time now for Michael Gibson from The Electrical Safety Office, to tell us about unlicensed electrical work and what you can do to avoid it. Gibson has been involved in the electrical industry for 35 years, 20 of those working for the ESO. Please, welcome Michael.
Ah, thank you, Chris. And good morning, everybody. We want to use this opportunity just to reinforce the message about unlicensed work and those risks.
So I'll have a couple of quick points in regard to that work. Now, I think if anyone's got any confusion out there about what is or isn't electrical work, our legislation takes two pages to define it, but it's actually not that complicated.
If you're doing any changes, alterations, additions, repairs, or maintenance on your installation. There's a really good chance that that is electrical work is to find a legal license.
And this is very similar for electrical equipment. If you're starting to open equipment, you're doing repairs, you're working on the terminals of that equipment. You are doing electrical work.
One of the core areas is our license regime that we look after in The Electrical Safety Office. And I think Donna has spoken previously about the number of contractor license we have. We've got about, I thought, about 14,000 contractor license, about 58,000 workers licenses and a myriad of about 24 restricted license holders that are out there associated with trades.
So we just want to cover off some of those license requirements. The main one you'll see, and you'll have to use is a gold contractor license. That license allows the holder to perform all types of electrical work. So whether it's installation work, maintenance on repairs, all of that type of thing. We've used a couple examples there.
So if I'm getting power points changed. I'm getting new points added, new circuits, lighting circuits changed, that is electrical contractor gold license work. There is no issues there.
The second license you may come across is what we call a restricted contractor license. It's a silver license. This would be held by a person doing, mostly doing equipment repairs. Now it's really important to note that the license has a description of the equipment or it defines the equipment that license holder can work on. That's really important.
So if somebody shows you a silver license, the work that they can perform, the equipment they can work on is clearly detailed on the front of that license. So look for that work. That license does not allow the person to do installation work. That license does not allow a person to work on other equipment that's not defined on the license.
The third license you may see is a license that is affiliated with a trade. So we have plumbers, air conditioning workers, all those other auxiliary trades, and some of them will have a restricted license.
Now that restricted license will be restricted to the work they're doing, and often for a plumber, it will be to disconnect and reconnect of a hot water system. And that's similar to an air-con type installation. A restricted license holder cannot perform electrical installation work. They can't alter an electrical installation. They can do work affiliated to the work of their main trade, like we said, a plumber and air-con.
Now we're looking at the risks of unlicensed electrical work. And I really want to highlight some of the things we've found in the work we do. Obviously the first risk is the risk of you, the person doing that unlicensed work getting electric shock. Let's make no mistakes. You are not competent. You're not trained. You don't have the ability to do the installation work in a way that's electrically safe, that is tested to ensure it's electrically safe, and it's actually compliant to a myriad of standards that it would be required to be compliant to. So you receiving a shock, you doing uncompliant or unsafe work, is critical for somebody in that house, a homeowner or a child could receive a shock.
And the third one is the risk of that installation you've done causing a fire, whether through a poor connection, overloaded circuit, whatever, that is a huge risk that Gordon has previously spoke about. And on top of that, it's illegal, right in the last 12 months a year. So I was issued about a hundred thousand dollars in fines for unlicensed work. We've got a whole pile of a bit of a triangle of enforcement that we can take to address unlicensed work. Now whether it's on-the-spot fines, or if the person is conducting a business that includes that unlicensed work, we will prosecute them in a court of law.
So it's illegal and it's illegal and we want to stop it. The only other point we're looking at is we're getting a couple examples where people are, what we'd say, they're providing false or misleading information, so whether the license is a little bit funny or they are actually giving somebody else's number. So there's a little bit of that. We are aware of it and we're going to follow it up. That's why and I think on Michael's PowerPoint as well, we really want people to double check if I'm running a business and I'm using contractors, it's a little bit of due diligence, go to our website and check that their license is valid. And the people on it are the people that are representing on that license. So that's critical.
And once again, we'll just reinforce if you're aware or you suspect your tenant or your property manager, your business owner, is doing an unlicensed electrical work that is reportable. There's a requirement to report it. And we will look at all reports and notifications. So thank you. Thanks, Chris.
Again, the key message I think from Michael is, do not even contemplate, let alone, use unlicensed electrical work. It's illegal and dangerous. If you've got a question for Michael coming up very shortly is our panel, our Q&A. And so just get in there with that.
And just before we go to the panel session, let's head north to Townsville and I'd like to call in Aaron Smith from Energy Queensland.
Aaron's going to talk about shocks and tingles from taps, metal fittings and electrical equipment. Aaron works on Energy Queensland's community safety program to engage and educate the community about electrical safety, to reduce injury and damage as a result of contact with overhead and underground lines.
Aaron is a Director of Dial Before You Dig Queensland, a position he's held for 11 years. Welcome Aaron, thanks for joining us.
Thank you, Chris. Hope you can hear me okay there. Okay. Sort of just to revert to the opening statement that Donna made in relation to shocks and tingles. And that's quite an obvious statement that if you're getting shocks and tingles, it means there's something wrong.
So today we're just going to go through some of the key points and more importantly, what actions should be taken when that happens. So to start off with, it's a very, very widespread problem with nearly a quarter a week, and that leads into this sort of the fact that it's not always on top of mind. People think incidences are pretty rare because it doesn't happen to them, or they don't know anyone that actually has been impacted by that, and don't always see the consequences of an electric shock.
So, you know, like I said, nearly 50 a week. Keeping in mind they're the ones that we know about. They're the ones that are actually people have made the effort to report. So, you know, our view is probably significantly by that. Some people might not choose to report, particularly if, just like Mark said, they've done something wrong and you know that caused the shock themselves. So there's also a little bit of a disconnect with what people actually believe they should do, and the correct course of action for them to take. So we'll cover that as well. And not everyone, not everyone actually acts immediately.
We've got some anecdotal sort of around that. We will go through and they're fairly sort of honest, and there's a belief that electrical safety is just common sense. And that sort of, we see that in the house and, you know, people know it's dangerous, so everyone knows what to do. But we see that a lot contact with an overhead or underground power as well. So there's certain people complacency within the community, A couple of these anecdotes. And unfortunately, we've got plenty more that we could share. And these are, these are actually anecdotal quotes that have come from our call center where customers actually have caught up and they've been documented.
So in this first case, customers receiving a shock from the taps in the shower, and they advised a real estate and they were told that basically when you have a share, and we see that a lot in laundries, too. That people will then sort of, you know, just wear, put a mat down, or wear shoes or thongs to avoid it rather than contact us straight away. And in this case here was six months. So I've tried to sort of use different scenarios here.
So the next one, their customer mentioned that her daughter wasn't able to use a power point in a room, because she has got a zap every time she tried to use it. So the advice was just, yeah, just not to use the power point anymore, and this went on for about six months before they actually reported it and an action was taken. There in the last one, customer got a shock from a tap outside, thought it was quite funny. So, you know, got his nephew to come and touch it and, you know, sort of kept doing that until somebody rightly so, advised them to give us a call straight away. And unfortunately a little bit more that we know about behaviors. And I'm not sure if anyone on the webinar or in the panels actually received the shock themselves, but there is, there is a bit of a temptation to touch it again to test if it was real and just to sort of double, double check that it actually happened when really the last thing, that's the last thing you should be doing.
And, and we get our staff often have multiple reports of shocks from the one resident because they'll say, hey, I think I've got a shock from the tap or from an appliance and somebody else will automatically then go and go and touch it. So if that happens and we talked a little bit about portable pieces of equipment, but if that happens in, please, you know, if you can't safely disconnect the equipment before you call up, then do so. Otherwise just stay away from all metal parts and attachments to the house or particular appliances that may be causing an issue until we've attended. And make safe will actually just touch a little bit around that forward action as well.
So I guess to put that we sort of focused on what is an electric shock. And my slides will catch up with me in a minute. The electric shocks happens when an electric current from a live object passes through our body. So we were a very good conductor of electricity given the amount of fluid that's in our body. And the shock can sort of be quite painful, particularly if it's quite a high voltage, quite high current, or it can just be sort of like a bit of, a bit of a zap, and the severity of that shock is impacted by, you know, if it's from hand to hand and it actually runs through your chest area through your heart, as opposed to, you know, quicker pass, maybe down at your feet.
So, so yeah, from perspective of a tingle it's sort of like on a lower level, but it does actually feel like pins and needles when your body makes contact. So you actually sort of feel pins and needles type sensation up your hand if you hand touched it. And static electricity, we've all felt static. That's quite a short shock, spot particularly, you know, the time of year that we're in or we've just been in. So, and look, you know, if you're not sure, then please make sure you contact us straight away and get a check there.
So, and look, you know, some of the obvious ones, if you've got cracked power point slide, switches, appliances, particularly with power points slide, particularly if you've got wet hands, because it's much easier path for it to get through the switch in the kitchen. And that's things like, you know, when you've washed your hands, you've done the washing and now you're going to turn the insinkerator on, it's quite common and things like roofs, gutters, pull ladders, if there's anything wrong in the house, then certainly can be, you know, coming from that metal things as well.
So what should you do? So we know what a shock is. We know some of the effects it is. We know people that react very quick enough, a lot of the time. So we actually have a new shock and tingle campaign out now. And it's sort of runs along the theme of the next thing you touch and the touch should be to be fine. And the thing is, like I said, keep everyone else away.
And if it's in the Ergon area, then, you know, contact Ergon and down in southeast, Energex. And we actually treat that as a life-threatening situation. So it doesn't matter what time of the day, seven days a week, that our crew will attend to immediately. What happens when you contact? Well, make contact with our call center, they contact the crew. You'll need to be in attendance or somebody will need to be in attendance when the crews arrive at the property to make sure that we've got the information that we need and can sort of trace back to the source that affects the area and determine whether it's a private issue or a network issue.
And I'll, I'll talk about that shortly. What I will do want to hit it right away from the electrical aspect is that we have multiple, multiple dog attacks with our meter readers and our staff every week, that prior to our attendance, if you can sort of security any dogs to make it safe for us to be able to come and help and investigate the issue. So, electricity network issue means, you know, maybe an issue in the street with our working system or our attachment.
Now, if that's the case and we determined that we will do that, then we'll carry out the repairs straight away. And obviously there won't be any cost to the customer or the tenant, the owner. And if it's a property issue so if it's something to do with the wiring inside the property, or, you know, an appliance or basically any sort of wiring in the property, then we sort of recommend contacting or we recommend, we will actually advise to contact electrical contractor immediately to come and rectify the issue. And if it's not safe and something that we can, it can be sort of rectified straight away. We won't leave that property until we potentially have disconnected the source, or we've disconnected the power and issued you with, with a form to go and get those repairs. So that's the course of action to take. And here is just a little bit of a look quick at our Instagram.
So this is Ergon. This is for one for Energex. Well, so we just put the campaigns because of our network ownership. And please, if you get a couple of minutes, then can you jump on and go and have a look at the, if you haven't seen it on TV, jump on and have looked at the YouTube videos of the ads, and please share, please share the content and particularly not the content, the actual core message that we've just talked through.
So thank you, Bomber I know that was pretty quick, but also very conscious of the fact that we're really late on time as well. So thank you from a beautiful day in northern Queensland.
Thanks very much, Aaron, you stay online. We are getting to the Q&A panel right now. The other four guys have joined us, of course, in the studio. Lots of questions. We'll attempt to answer as many as we can during the webinar now. And we will try to get back and respond to as many as we can after this as well that we can.
So let's go to question one, this one's for you, Gibbo. And I know we're running over time. I do apologize, but we want to get to as many of these as we can in the next few minutes, and just stretch our time a little bit, from Sierra to Gibbo. Is it a legal requirement for landlords to test and tag electrical equipment supplied to the rental property?
Thanks Chris. They are. There's probably two steps to that question depending, let's just keep it to domestic residential properties. There is no requirement from the landlords to have a test and take process in place. What we want to focus on is the they've got a process if they are, have fixed equipment in that residence that is maintained. So there's a process to report any damage, that type of thing, and obviously the safety switch is in place and is tested and maintained. So that will be our requirements there.
Question two for Gordon. This is from Shane in old Queenslander type houses. The laundry is a normally downstairs, you know, the old laundry downstairs, but no other rooms, just open space. Do these require a smoke alarm with, you know, a lot of them have just the wood panels around the house.
Thanks Chris. Good question. This does get raised a bit in Queensland, especially with those style of houses. No, they don't. All we ask is that if you use it as a workshop or you use it as a carpark for your own safety, we would advise that you put one, it's not a requirement, but we would advise you put them there just in case if something catches fire down there, that you are notified upstairs with your interconnected smoke alarms.
Is it a bit different if it's in closed, fully enclosed?
If it's fully enclosed and it is part of the pathway out of the house, you must have a smoke alarm installed in the pathway or in the exit out of the house. But if it is a non-habitable area as we call it, so it's not a sleeping area or it's not used as a family room. No, it doesn't require them, but we advise that you put them.
Okay, thank you. Annabel asked for you, David, can landlords be liable for industrial manslaughter?
Thank you, Chris. And thanks Annabel for the question. You're quite right, that The Electrical Safety Act does provide for the offensive industrial manslaughter, whether or not, an owner of a residential rental property could be liable for that offense will depend on whether the property is owned as part of a business or undertaking, which in most instances, if you're talking mum-and-dad investor, only a few investment properties, the mere fact that they own a property that generates an income will not ordinarily be sufficient for them to have be considered to be carrying on a business. So in most cases, no. Additionally for that offense to be committed, the person who is killed must actually be a worker for the business, a contractor or an employee. So if, that's another matter that a prosecuting authority would take into account, so potentially, but in most cases, no.
This one is for you. Tommo from Dane and Dane asks, how do you tell if you have safety switches installed also, do you need a safety system certificate once you get those safety switches installed?
So as per my presentation, you need to go out to you switchboard and have a look at the circuit breaker. Some old houses will also have the fuses, which we recommend you get replaced, but they look very similar to a circuit breaker, but they have, with circuit breaker, you just have the toggle, whereas a safety switch elect, you have a little button that actually says test on it, in or around it, even on them. Circuit breakers do not have that button at all.
So they do come in a myriad of different sizes, shapes and views. So just look for that test button and in regards to the certificate, yes, that definitely means if you are getting them tested by an electrical contractor, they will provide that on their, basically a certificate of electrical safety and testing on their invoice. So that's part and parts of that. So you've definitely have both.
And it seems like we've shared the questions around one for Aaron. So you're still online. Hopefully Aaron, up there from beautiful Townsville. This is from Alex. How do I know which electricity entity to call if I have issues on my property?
Essentially it's a good point, essentially, it's the southeast corner. So the old, if you used to be serviced by SEQEB, then it's Energex. And if you're sort of north of the range. So if you are an Ergon customer originally, or you receive your bill from Ergon still, then you contact the Ergon number.
Cool, thanks very much, Aaron. And on that note, we're going to say goodbye to Townsville. Thanks for joining us today. And we appreciate each of our speakers. So to Michael, David, Gordon, Gibbo, and Aaron up there in Townsville and to Donna who spoke previously, thank you for your participation and your presentations. They were informative and insightful, and I'm sure our audience got plenty out of today.
And I thank those people at home and in offices and in workplaces who have joined us for this very special webinar. Today's webinar was recorded and will be available to watch and share with your friends or colleagues that may have missed it at electricalsafety.qld.gov.au.
That's also where you'll find a whole host of other resources and information on electrical safety in rental properties. You can also follow the ESO on Facebook. Keep your eye out for an email from us over the next few days to complete a feedback survey about today's event. We really do value your feedback. It helps us shape events in the future.
So if you could just spare us two minutes, we would really appreciate it and be honest and frank. That basically concludes today's webinar. Hope you took plenty out of it.
Thanks for joining us for The Electrical Safety in Rental Properties webinar, hope you took plenty home and you can join us in the very near future. As always, work safe, home safe.
[End of Transcript]
- Michael Gibson, Electrical Safety Office
- David Gore, Office of the Work Health and Safety Prosecutor
- Donna Heelan, Electrical Safety Office
- Gordon Hemphrey, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
- Aaron Smith, Energy Queensland
- Michael Thompson, Electrical Safety Office