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New electrical installation regulations leave much to be desired, although they are clearer than their vague predecessors.

The new regulations, effective from the beginning of last month, also apply to dwellings, even though they were published in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act No 85 of 1993 primarily for work place safety, which is administered by the Department of Labour.
In assessing the regulations, bear in mind they are intended for consumer protection and will impact the use and transfer of dwellings and other buildings.

Electrical contractors who do electrical installation work have to register annually with the Department of Labour in terms of Regulation 6. No installation work which requires a new supply may commence without first notifying the electricity supplier in a prescribed form in terms of Regulation 8, unless the supplier has waived this requirement. Regulation 8 also provides no new electrical installation may be connected to the electricity supply without a Certificate of Compliance.

In terms of Regulation 2, the "user or lessor" of an electrical installation is responsible for the safety, safe use and maintenance of the electrical installation he or she uses. The user or lessor is normally the owner of the building, though the tenant may take on that responsibility in terms of a written agreement between the lessor and tenant in terms of Regulation 2(3).

From May 2009 a Certificate of Compliance must be in a prescribed format, accompanied by a test report and issued by a person registered to do so by the Department of Labour. Every user of an electrical installation (except those installations that have not been changed since October 23 1992 and where there has been no change in ownership since March 1 1994) is obliged to have a valid Certificate of Compliance in terms of Regulation 7(1), and, in terms of regulation 7(2) must produce it on request to an authorised inspector or the supplier of electricity.

If any changes are made to an electrical installation, a Certificate of Compliance must be obtained for the addition or alteration. If there was no certificate for an old installation, where there had been no change in ownership since March 1994, a Certificate of Compliance is required for the electrical installation once additions or alterations are effected. If electrical work is done by an electrical contractor, the contractor has to issue a Certificate of Compliance.

In terms of Regulation 7(5) "the user or lessor may not allow change in ownership if the Certificate of Compliance is older than two years".
What does this mean and how is this meant to be enforced? While the previous regulations did not have a similar provision, there was an urban legend you could not transfer a dwelling without a Certificate of Compliance. The provision of a Certificate of Compliance was often a condition in an agreement of sale of a dwelling, but was not compulsory. The old regulations did not provide that certificates were only valid for two years.

Is limiting the validity to two years scientifically justifiable?

In terms of Regulation 10, it is a criminal offence not to comply with several of the regulations' provisions, including regulation 7. An offender, if convicted, is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a maximum of 12 months. It is unlikely the police or prosecuting authorities have the capacity to investigate or prosecute many such offences; they have more important fare on their plates.

In effect, the new regulations comprise first world legislation which is out of touch with South African realities. How will it be enforced in hundreds of thousands of dwellings in former townships?

By enacting these regulations with criminal sanctions, most of the dwellers in those townships will be contravening the regulations by not having Certificates of Compliance and will technically be guilty of criminal offences. This type of regulation reflects negatively on SA's rule of law.

Rather, the regulations should provide that:

  • The user of an electrical installation has a valid Certificate of Compliance;
  • The seller of a building provides the purchaser with a Certificate of Compliance before registration of transfer of ownership is effected;
  • The supplier of electricity may not connect a new user or change the user of an electricity supply without a copy of the Certificate of Compliance; and
  • Periodic inspections be made at the request of the suppliers of electricity and, if the Certificate of Compliance is not in order, provision should be made for the electricity supply to be cut off if an acceptable certificate is not provided within a certain period.

A more efficient system of enforcement should be devised, taking into account the realities of present conditions in SA.

Bobby Bertrand is a director at Bowman Gilfillan, Cape Town.

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