31 August 2021

Can you call on an electrician during lockdown? There's a flicker of doubt

| James Coleman
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G6 Electrical electrician

G6 Electrical electrician installing new circuits. Photo: Supplied.

Your heat pump has stopped working. Your washing machine is flashing an error code. Those lights still won’t turn on, despite having a variety of bulbs plugged into them and your tongue trying out a variety of contortions.

The ACT is in full stay-at-home lockdown mode (at least until Thursday, at this stage). But question marks remain over whether or not you can call on an electrician between now and then.

Electricians are classified as essential workers according to the guidelines laid out by ACT Health, alongside those repairing heating systems and plumbing. Electrical emergencies such as power outages, sparking boards, and fallen power lines require a trained technician’s prompt attention.

However, the rules around other electrical work are subject to interpretation.

Owner of G6 Electrical, Blake Harlock, says he has heard of police turning up to someone’s house after seeing workers repairing an air-conditioning system.

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“I would argue that heating is essential in the thick of a Canberra winter. So it’s all largely at the discretion of the officers. It’s a very vague statement that ACT Health has made for essential workers,” Blake says.

If you do happen to call out an electrician and police turn up to find out what’s going on, any wrongdoing is on the tradesperson, not you. You, as the customer, won’t cop the fine.

“The tradesperson is the one that turned up to the premises,” Blake says.

“But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much we try to abide by the rules, it all comes down to the officer. We still have to second-guess ourselves: ‘Are we allowed to do this, or not?’ And it’s $10,000-15,000 worth if we get stung.”

It remains a mysterious and potentially costly grey area for trades, and Blake says they need ACT Health to send out a detailed email to all trades, construction and renovation industries.

The G6 team at work. Photo: Blake Harlock.

As it stands, electricians aren’t going out to install pretty downlights and water features, but certainly for those without power, lighting, heating, or running water, help is at hand.

Blake also runs two heating and renovation companies in Canberra and says he currently has 12 unfinished bathrooms on the to-do list, two of them being the only bathroom in the house.

“That also comes under the banner of essential services. But, for instance, if someone has a working bathroom already, we’re not going back to finish their second bathroom.”

The trade has made a few changes since lockdowns began to minimise contact with customers.

Tradespeople wear face masks while undertaking any work on your property and wipe down any surfaces they’ve worked on. They may also have their own QR-codes and sign-in sheets.

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Blake says they also let the client know when they have arrived so they can move to the opposite end of the house from where the work will be done.

“Whenever we work on split-system air-conditioners, we go into the room, pull the old unit off, put the new unit in, wipe everything down and then finish the rest outside – that sort of thing.”

He says the transition to the new lockdown situation has been smooth for most trades and that support from the government is excellent.

“The clients are also very accepting of having work done during the lockdown. It’s the nosy neighbours that are the ones usually causing the issues. Many of them are misinformed and would be better served asking the question, ‘Should you be working?’, rather than telling us that we shouldn’t be working.”

Blake’s parting message is for people not to go off social-media hearsay and attempt potentially dangerous DIY fixes, but to continue calling tradies about electrical and plumbing issues.

“We’re the ones that will be able to justify whether or not we can do something and explain that over the phone to clients.”

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