With regular changes to legislation putting increased pressure on heating engineers, Martin Cooke, Managing Director at EOGB Energy Products Ltd and Alan Black, Oil and Technical Standards Trainer at EOGB Energy Products Ltd, discuss the importance of regular update training.


Keeping up to speed


The heating industry is a sector where best practice and standards are continually changing and almost every year we see more legislative changes coming into force.


Therefore, with increased regulatory demands on engineers, a training course which covers the same basics a minimum of once every five years is not sufficient to protect them from the pitfalls of carrying out their job. Of course the basics should be covered for those that need them, but how, where and when can engineers learn what has changed and how it affects their day to day working practices? Update training should ideally be carried out each year or at least every couple of years to ensure engineers are abreast of all regulatory changes that affect them.


Currently, the onus of responsibility is left entirely on the engineer to seek out new information, much of which is written by manufacturers and may not be appropriate to engineers in general terms, especially those who utilise different types of equipment. This means that in some cases engineers discover at their cyclic five year training course that they have not been working compliantly, despite their best endeavours, and are legally responsible for the works which they have carried out.


Potential risks


If work is found to be non-compliant, engineers can face legal action which, at worst, could result in a prison sentence. Therefore, it’s critical that engineers are aware of changes to standards to ensure that they are not unwittingly putting themselves at risk – or their customers.


Unfortunately, the current system often lets engineers down and does not offer them the support they need. Ironically, this is the same system which may well be called upon to give evidence in court to show that the engineer had not carried out works which were compliant with ‘current’ standards and regulations at the time.


Those in places of influence often forget that many engineers are self-employed or owners of small businesses so are legally obliged to comply with company law, health and safety, HMRC etc as well as being expected to read through every trade magazine which lands on their doorstep to see if there is any news which may affect them.


In order to tackle this issue, it’s vital that we see an increase in appropriate and proactive update training, both classroom-based and practical. Practical experience, without manufacturer bias, is essential to prevent an army of engineers with a head full of regulations and standards but unable to put them to sound practical use in the workplace.


New regulations


By way of example, just recently we have seen a number of regulatory changes and updates within the heating industry, including the BS5410 part 2 (oil installations over 45 KW) and The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.


With the renewable market now established this brings further questions regarding installations and keeping up with changing markets. For example, engineers also now need to consider the ventilation implications when they come across plants with both renewable and fossil fuel installations.


Skills gap


As well as a lack of update courses for established engineers, training for new entrants in the heating industry has gone into rapid decline over the past decade, with many apprenticeship schemes no longer existing. This opened up the industry to many fast-track programmes where vital initial grounding engineering skills were sadly lost.


With many heating businesses no longer investing in training for financial reasons, it is not viable for colleges to offer training to only a small number of people. Also, with minimum wage restrictions and young people not wanting to accept low pay, employing trainees can be expensive.


This is a ticking time bomb for businesses and the industry as a whole as the next generation of skilled engineers is not coming through. Who then will have the skills and knowledge to maintain equipment within the industry?


If the situation is not addressed, it’s likely that we will see far more serious life threatening incidents in the coming years.