Auditing gas installations, workers and contractors
Authorised officers from the Office of the Technical Regulator (OTR) ;have the authority to audit gas installations, workers and contractors at random or in response to complaints.
The audits are undertaken to ensure the safety of gas installations and their adherence to necessary technical requirements under the Gas Act 1997.
Proactive audits are undertaken either as field audits or desktop audits.
Field audits examine completed domestic, industrial and commercial gas installations for compliance with Australian standards AS/NZS 5601 and AS 3814 where applicable. The audits are also to ascertain that gas appliances used have the necessary safety approvals.
Desktop audits examine gas contractors' technical competence and their knowledge of gas installations in areas such as fluing, ventilation and gas appliances.
The audits are usually undertaken on the contractor's premises and each audit takes approximately two hours.
During the audit, the contractor's records of certificates of compliance as well as the currency of standards used by the contractor are scrutinised. Safety and testing equipment is checked and the contractor's staff members are tested in the use of the equipment.
Investigation of incidents and customer complaints
The OTR investigates situations where safety is compromised or technical standards are ignored. The audits aim to identify people undertaking non-compliant work and installation issues that need rectification.
Investigations undertaken by the OTR show that in most instances gas works are carried out by unlicensed persons or by licensed contractors working outside the scope of their licenses. These matters are referred to the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs for further action.
Customer complaints concerning financial matters such as fees charged for gas work are also referred to Consumer and Business Services.
The most common problems found during audits are:
- lack of ventilation for room heaters without flues - deteriorating air quality
- undersized gas piping causing poor performance
- incorrect placement of external appliances causing ventilation problems
- gas leaks.
The audit strategy of the Office of Technical Regulator is to allow for auditing each gas contractor once every year. Normally, two of the contractor's installations are audited.
Gas contractors who are found to be performing below expectations are audited more often and may be subject to investigative interviews at the Office of the Technical Regulator. In some cases, the contractor may be required to undertake further training at a TAFE SA college.
Where required, warnings or expiations are served for non-compliant gas installations.
Auditing LPG installations
Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a more dangerous fuel than natural gas. In vapour form, LPG contains twice the energy of natural gas per unit. LPG is stored in pressurised liquid form in cylinders. It is heavier than air so escaping LPG concentrates in low-lying areas unless it is dispersed by air movement. This means that LPG installations receive special attention and are audited more often than natural gas installations.
Given the higher rate of non-compliance in LPG installations and the number of complaints received by the Office of the Technical Regulator, these installations have been audited at a higher rate in the past few years.
The high rates of non-compliance and failure in LPG installations in the past can be attributed to inadequate licensing processes before 1995 as well as lack of appropriate training in the area. The Plumbers, Gas Fitters and Electricians Act 1995 requires gas workers to obtain appropriate licenses before performing any LPG installation.
The standards of LPG installations have improved due to cooperation between the Office of the Technical Regulator and TAFE SA in setting up refresher and update courses for gas workers. Easier access to these courses for LPG workers in remote and regional areas (through distance education arrangements) and regular information sessions conducted by the Office of the Technical Regulator have also encouraged participation.