‘Administrative error’: Electrical work watchdog chair signs disciplinary hearing for own employee

The chairperson of the electrical work watchdog signing off on a disciplinary hearing involving an electrician from his own company was an “administrative error”, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) says.

In November, the Electrical Workers Registration Board (EWRB) found an electrician guilty of serious safety risks and falsely certifying work as safe at a property in Masterton in 2021.

The electrician under investigation was employed by Mackenzie’s Electrical, co-owned by EWRB chairperson Russell Keys.

Although there is no evidence that Keys was present at the hearing, his signature appeared on the decision to fine the electrician $1225.

Documents obtained by RNZ via the Official Information Act revealed that Keys declared a conflict of interest in the hearing involving his own employee.

However, this declaration was not noted on the official hearing documents, where his signature appeared.

MBIE national manager Duncan Connor said the ministry was “fully aware” of Keys’ relationship with the investigated electrician and found no conflict of interest.

“The hearing was held, and the decision was prepared by Mr. Mel Orange, deputy presiding member of the Board.

“I can confirm that Mr. Keys was not present at the hearing and was not involved in the disciplinary action.”

After RNZ contacted MBIE to understand why Keys had signed off on the decision despite not being present and despite the conflict of interest, Connor explained that the signature was added to the decision by mistake due to an “administrative error”.

“The decision has been removed from the EWRB website, and the correct version will be published soon,” Connor said.

When contacted by RNZ, Keys said he agreed with MBIE’s response.

“I can reiterate there was no conflict of interest and due process was followed,” he said.

However, New Zealand Electrical Inspectors Association’s Peter MacMillan said Keys’ signature could raise questions about the transparency of the hearing.

He noted that the hearing records lacked detail, making it difficult to judge if the fine was appropriate.

“There should have been a sequence of events that stated what happened, what was the cause, and what was the effect. There seems to be nothing on the effects… Was anyone put at risk? It doesn’t mention that…

“When you don’t necessarily know the exact circumstances of how this came about, I think that’s unusual for a hearing.”

The complaint

In 2021, Nathan* hired Mackenzie’s Electrical for a job at his Masterton property.

“After my gas installation happened, it was highlighted that I needed to rewire. So, I arranged some quotes and went with the same company that did the installation of the gas, Mackenzie’s Electrical.”

Electrical work done at the Masterton property in 2021.

Almost two years later, a Vector electrician came to upgrade Nathan’s internet modem and identified safety hazards in the switchboard, including exposed live wires.

“When he came in and looked at the switchboard, he said straight up, ‘I can’t touch this’.

“He pointed out the exposed live main wire and said the connections weren’t safe, that it was dangerous and could cause a fire.”

After identifying the hazards and noticing the lack of a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) for the job done previously, the electrician contacted Mackenzie’s Electrical.

In the original complaint document obtained by RNZ, the electrician said the company brushed off his concerns.

“Contact was made with Mackenzie’s Electrical, the company that completed the recent rewire, to query the lack of CoC and Record of Inspection for the work completed, and why they would have left the mains in the state it is for over 18 months…

“My concerns were dismissed, quoting ‘Our electricians wouldn’t do that level of work, someone else must have been there since,’ the document reads.”

Electrical work done at the Masterton property in 2021.

After the complaint was made by the Vector electrician, Mackenzie’s Electrical offered to fix Nathan’s switchboard for free, which MacMillan found unusual.

“However, Mackenzie’s [Electrical] have a long-standing relationship in the Wairarapa, and I’m guessing to keep their good name, they might want to actually do this job for nothing just as a show of good faith,” MacMillan said.

Broader issues

In the past three years, Fire and Emergency NZ attended 6683 electrical fires.

During the same period, the EWRB received 131 complaints about non-registered electrical work.

In February, an electrician in Nelson was put on home detention and ordered to pay $150,000 after a builder was killed by an electric shock from an unearthed kitchen appliance.

Nathan said if it was not for the Vector electrician identifying the hazards and placing the complaint, his family could have been in danger.

“You rely on those electricians; you pay them, you expect the job to be done as safely as possible, and they fail to do that. We don’t know any better; we trust their work.

“It’s pretty annoying, to be honest. You spend all that money and you’re not even safe.”

MBIE investigators relying on paperwork – Inspectors Association

The EWRB registers and certifies electrical workers in New Zealand and investigates complaints.

If a disciplinary offence was committed by a registered electrician, the Board has the power to decide what penalties were to be imposed.

Nathan* said after the complaint was made, he was left in the dark about what would happen next.

“Nothing happened after the complaint [was lodged]. At least not on my end as the property affected.

“Someone from the government rang me up to confirm some details in the complaint, and that’s all I’ve heard. Nobody came to my place to check the installations or ask any questions.”

MacMillan said MBIE investigators increasingly relied on documentation rather than site visits to reduce costs.

“In many cases, it is important someone visits the site, sees what happened, and maybe talks to the person who did the work.

“Of course, there’s a cost implication to that, and I suspect a lot of these complaints are being [investigated] based just on the paperwork submitted to reduce investigation costs.”

Connor said MBIE’s investigation process was robust, sometimes including independent advice.

“For someone filing a complaint, we require photographs as evidence. At times, as part of our investigation, we may visit the site if the evidence provided is not sufficient.

“Witnesses are contacted, and if the investigator finds that electrical standards and regulations have not been met, a recommendation is made for the Board to hold a hearing,” Connor said.

“In [Nathan’s case], the investigator was satisfied that the evidence provided was adequate, hence a site visit was not necessary.”

*name changed to protect privacy.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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