How Gas Engineers Get Caught Out During Inspections

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Doing Work, Technical Knowledge

No matter how important inspections may be, having your work checked over is a stressful experience. These inspections can come at any time, regardless of whether you’re newly-registered or have decades of experience in the industry, so it’s important to stay up-to-date and prepared. 

We recently invited Terry Sawyer, an ex-Gas Safe Inspector, onto the podcast. To start things off, he was absolutely adamant that any engineer who follows good safety practices has nothing to worry about. But in an industry with ever-changing regulations and lots to remember, it’s all too easy to miss something out or make a mistake – many of which he’s seen time and time again.

The good news is that most of these mistakes are easily avoided. We’ve put together this guide to help you with your next inspection, packed full of advice from Terry and everything else you need to know. Let’s begin from the very basics:

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What are inspectors looking for?

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Inspectors like Terry are employed to ensure work is being carried out according to the latest safety standards. There are three main sections they’ll look over:

  • A technical knowledge assessment
  • An inspection of your gas safety equipment
  • A practical assessment of your work

From start to finish, inspections should only take 2-3 hours. This might sound like a lot, but it’s crucial to the safety of the industry. If there’s one thing to take away from our conversation with Terry, it’s this: 

Inspectors aren’t trying to catch you out

“Most of them are [nervous], especially the new guys,” Terry explains. “But I tell people to take their time… Noone knows all the answers and as long as you can get a book and find the answer, then you’re doing it as safely as you possibly can.” This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood parts of safety inspections. They’re not assessments, they’re open book, and they’re supposed to emulate a real-world situation – not a tricky exam paper. “[Inspections] are not anything to catch people out… No trick questions,” Terry repeats.

“[Inspections] are not anything to catch people out… No trick questions.”

It’s best to think of the whole process as learning and improvement, even if it’s all a bit nerve-wracking: “As an inspector, you’re there to pick it apart almost. If you pick something apart, the engineer won’t do it again.” At the same time, if an engineer doesn’t know something, the inspector will take the time to go through it with them. 

In short, if you’ve got your qualifications and aren’t trying to skip tests and checks to save time, there should be nothing to worry about. Do keep in mind, though, that inspectors are obliged to test you on all your qualifications even if you don’t actively use them.

Full details on what to expect on your inspection can be found here. But where do engineers get caught out?

5 things that engineers get wrong

 Key Takeaways

  • Your answer might be right in practice, but it needs to be right by the books too.
  • Flue integrity tests need to be more than a visual test.
  • Keep the unsafe situations booklet with you. Here’s a link to a free download.
  • Avoid over-categorising safety issues.
  • Remember to fill in minimum gas rates as well as maximum.
  • Always do all the safety tests rather than just writing down manufacturers info. 
  • Brush up your knowledge for gas rating different smart meters.

#1: Tightness testing

It’s not always the young and inexperienced engineers who run into trouble on their inspections. For example, tightness testing should be known off the top of your head.

“New guys [would] know exactly what pressure it needs to be at for how long. Some of the older guys would jump straight into giving me just one number… but you can do the test to a range and they’d just start guessing,” he explains.

Terry clarified that the number they’d give for the tightness test wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s not the answer inspectors are looking for.

#2: Flue integrity tests

Terry also noted flue integrity tests as an area where many stumble. When he would ask engineers to do a flue integrity test, they would start looking around the flue for a visual test. “But that’s not what a flue integrity test is,” he explains.

Commissioning a boiler requires proper oxygen readings on the air intake: “You’re testing the flue seals, you’re testing if the flue is blocked, if there’s an issue somewhere with the flue. But so many people had no clue what I was talking about.”

    #3: Unsafe situations

    How engineers approach an unsafe situation is something else Terry has picked up on. If you’re absolutely certain an appliance is posing immediate danger, you’ll cap it. But when you notice something slightly wrong with a boiler (probably justifying an AR classification), it can be tempting to still ID it and prevent the customer from using it… just in case. Despite the good intentions, it isn’t quite this simple: “Technically, you can’t start capping it off unless you’ve got permission to do so,” explains Terry.

    “I was probably guilty of [over-categorising a safety issue] before I was an inspector,” he admits. “I didn’t want to leave something that I thought was potentially dangerous.”

    Terry recommended keeping a copy of the unsafe situations book with you at all times. It tells you what Gas Safe says is an unsafe situation, whether it’s immediately dangerous or at risk, and helps lift the decision from weighing on your shoulders.

    Download a free copy here.

    The solution is all in how you communicate the issue to the customer. If you tell them their boiler’s at risk – it might just be flue readings slightly out, but could get worse – most people will use their common sense, see the warning notice, and won’t use it: “They’re so petrified…but it’s how you portray the the the severity of it.”

    #4: Boiler service modes

    Knowing how to get into the boiler’s service mode seems to be another thing catching some engineers up. Terry would frequently encounter situations where a boiler had been installed and commissioned without ever going into the service mode: “How did you commission it if you didn’t get into service mode?” he would reply.

    Without service mode, people would miss things on the commissioning sheet because they couldn’t do the tests properly. “Maximum rate test was normally always filled in – but minimum rate test a lot of the time was left blank.” 

    “You can guarantee that one time you’re doing an inspection and you didn’t write it in, it will fail, and you’ll have a problem with that boiler.”

    #5: Smart meters

    Lastly, smart meters are another thing people seem to struggle with: “There’s so many different smart meters now where they never used to be,” he explains. Some engineers aren’t sure how to operate these meters and therefore can’t properly gas rate them. Terry’s advice is to follow technical bulletins and stay up to date. “I’d have guys who’ve printed out that technical bulletin and kept it in their van so when they come across that meter they go to me ‘yeah no worries’.”

    Gas Engineer Software can pull data directly from your analyser straight to the certificate and comes with an included gas rate calculator to make your work simple, easy, and accurate.

    How to prepare for a safety inspection

    5 tips for your next hire
    If you’ve been given notice of an upcoming inspection, you’re probably keen to know how you can best prepare for it. 

    According to Terry, here’s what you can do: 

    • Learn all the service modes and familiarise yourself with the appliances that you work on. If you know them all off by heart, whenever an inspector asks you to do something you’ll know exactly how to get into the service mode.
    • Prepare a checklist for the work you do, either printed or on your phone. Inspections are all open book and, according to Terry, it’s often the less experienced but very diligent engineers who have flawless inspections.  
    • Look through existing Gas Safety Records if they’re available. Using software makes them all accessible in seconds. 
    • Read through technical bulletins, as they’re really good sources of information.
    • Take the time to do things properly, and don’t take any shortcuts.

    These tips will not only help ensure a smooth inspection, but help you get into a routine of doing things safely and by the books.

    How we can help with your inspections

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    Gas Engineer Software is an all-in-one job management solution which gives you everything you need to run your business efficiently. Hours saved each week on admin and paperwork mean you won’t feel rushed from one job to the next and will have all the time you need to do your best work.

    Start a free trial today or click the button below to find out why we’re the choice of over 5000 UK heating & plumbing businesses.

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