Face to face: Eddie Arrowsmith, NICEIC Middle East
Eddie Arrowsmith explains why Middle East facilities management firms are lining up to have their electricians assessed by NICEIC, and outlines the organisation’s plans to raise electrical safety standards within the region’s construction sector
For more than 60 years, NICEIC has been benchmarking standards within the United Kingdom’s electrical contracting sector. Formerly known as the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting, the voluntary regulatory body was established in 1956 to provide distribution network operators (DNOs) with assurances that they were connecting to safe systems.
Today, as part of Certsure – a limited liability partnership (LLP) between Electrical Safety First (ESF) and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) – NICEIC boasts more than 35,000 registered contractors. Its registrants are responsible for approximately 90% of all electrical work conducted in the UK, carrying out 1.25 million domestic and 750,000 commercial jobs, on average, every year.
As regional engineering manager of NICEIC Middle East, Eddie Arrowsmith is working diligently to spread this message of certified competence among electricians in the GCC and wider Levant – and with significant success. Speaking to Construction Week in April, during his third regional visit of 2017, Arrowsmith says that NICEIC has gained the attention of some of the Middle East’s largest facilities management (FM) companies.
“Farnek, Cofely Besix Facility Management, and Visible Energy Solutions have already successfully registered with NICEIC,” he explains. “By the end of the week, I expect to be able to add Emrill and Carillion Qatar to that list, and we’re also in talks with Imdaad and Transguard.”
In truth, the term ‘register’ belies the robustness of NICEIC’s assessment process; companies cannot simply sign up to become part of the organisation’s approved cohort. On the contrary, Arrowsmith and his colleagues are unapologetic about making applicants earn and retain their accreditation.
“NICEIC’s primary focus is safety; our registrants are assessed on a regular basis to ensure high standards,” Arrowsmith explains. “That’s what we’re about. NICEIC approval is not a badge of convenience; you’ve got to earn the badge, and continue to [work for] it.”
In order to register with NICEIC, a company must submit an application form for its head office, and additional forms for each branch from which electrical work is arranged or carried out. During the subsequent assessment, the organisation focusses on two key personnel: the firm’s principal duty holder, who acts as the point of contact; and its qualified supervisors, of which there may be several.
“Depending on the applicant’s line of work and geographic spread, NICEIC will stipulate the number of qualified supervisors that are necessary,” says Arrowsmith. “Because if you have one employee who’s responsible for tendering, ordering materials, and overseeing work at multiple sites that may be hundreds of kilometres apart, there’s actually no supervision taking place.
“If you want to become a NICEIC registrant and maintain your accreditation, you must employ a sufficient number of competent professionals to cover your operations,” he adds.
At the beginning of the assessment process, NICEIC holds an introductory meeting to ensure that the appropriate staff members are present. It then conducts an office audit to ensure that the business is in possession of appropriate tools and materials, and all core documents. Following this,NICEIC conducts an onsite inspection, during which it checks a minimum of three samples of electrical work consistent with the firm’s range and scope. The final step involves a brief closing meeting at the applicant’s business premises before the assessment report is compiled.
All businesses that achieve NICEIC registration must demonstrate that their work complies with national or regional safety standards, and IEC 60364.
“All electrical work must have a term of reference which, in this case, is IEC 60364 – the worldwide, harmonised standard for wiring,” says Arrowsmith. “[Regional authorities, such as] Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), refer to this all the time, so NICEIC stipulates that its registrants must install and maintain to it. If a company doesn’t own a copy of IEC 60364, it has no term of reference.”
Following the assessment, NICEIC will supply a report containing one of three possible outcomes: acceptance, further action, or deferment. Acceptance is issued in cases where no major examples of non-compliance were identified. Further action, or provisional acceptance, requires the applicant to provide additional evidence to prove that specified issues have been addressed. Deferments, meanwhile, are issued in cases where the NICEIC assessor observed major instances of non-compliance. And in order to retain their status as NICEIC registrants, successful applicants have to undergo annual follow-up inspections to ensure that standards have been maintained.
At first glance, the stringent nature of NICEIC assessments may seem at odds with its status as a voluntary regulatory authority. So why do companies put themselves through this technically demanding registration process if there is no legal requirement for them to do so?
As Arrowsmith explains, NICEIC’s success is market driven. If clients demand NICEIC registration when awarding contracts, electrical contractors will volunteer to undergo assessment.
“In the UK, prequalification specifications usually require a company to be NICEIC approved in order to bid on a tender. This is because clients appreciate what it means to be a NICEIC registrant. Put simply, we’ve made it important for electrical contractors to be registered with us.”
With a heritage stretching back more than six decades, it’s easy to understand why NICEIC registration means so much in the organisation’s domestic market. But how does Arrowsmith explain the body’s success within the Middle East’s FM segment?
“NICEIC first came to the Middle East in 2015,” he recounts. “We actually came at the behest of a major regional player that wanted a third party to attest that its electrical staff were being properly supervised. This company came to us because we offer an ISO/IEC 17065 Managed Scheme for electricians, and nobody else in the UAE does. NICEIC’s product is competence, and competence is not dependent on qualifications; it’s based on assessment.”
Following this initial foray, Arrowsmith was granted a modest budget to grow NICEIC’s activities in the Middle East.
“I decided to attend one of the Middle East Facility Management Association’s (MEFMA) conferences,” he says. “From there, I was introduced to a number of key people, and NICEIC began to garner interest from some of the top FM companies in the Middle East.
“The MEFMA conference was all about benchmarking and self-evaluation, and I explained that NICEIC registration is the benchmark when it comes to electrical contracting,” Arrowsmith continues, recalling the challenge he laid down to the firms in attendance. “I said that if you really want
to know how good you are, NICEIC will assess you. Today, these companies are working with us to drive home that message of [evidence-based] excellence.”
While Arrowsmith concedes that it will take time and effort to increase awareness of NICEIC’s work in the Middle East, he is justifiably pleased with the progress that has been made to date, and the growing recognition that the body is attracting.
“Our activities are being noticed in this region,” he says. “Companies are interested in what we’re doing. We do sometimes encounter the misconception that NICEIC approval is expensive whereas, actually, it’s not. In fact, as NICEIC is part owned by the charity, ESF, and the ECA, its profits are reinvested back into the electrical industry to fund consumer safety initiatives and improve electricians’ working conditions.
“NICEIC didn’t come to the Middle East to make a stack of money. We are simply looking to cover our costs, and improve safety and competency standards within the region’s electrical contracting sector,” Arrowsmith adds, noting that NICEIC registrants tend to spend more on marketing the fact that they have been approved than they do on gaining approval in the first place.
NICEIC Middle East’s next step, according to Arrowsmith, will be to replicate its FM-related success within the region’s construction sector.
He concludes: “In this respect, NICEIC’s primary strategy is to speak with [owners, developers, and operators] from the region’s property market. We need to convey the message that companies that have been assessed for competency [represent a lower risk] than those that have not. It will be a long process, but I am confident that there’s a real desire to raise the bar in the Middle East.”