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The future of gas safety in social housing

As we come to a new decade, Alastair Thorpe asks what the future of gas safety in social housing will look like.

Gas safety engineers form the backbone of the maintenance teams for most social housing enterprises. They are some of the most consistent visitors to a property, but also struggle the most when it comes to overcoming some of social housing’s most prominent problems.

On the whole, the gas safety industry is as safe as it has ever been – due in no small part to the improvements in gas safety awareness, a far greater use of carbon monoxide alarms, improvements that have been made to household appliances and better training and enforcement for gas safety. There are, however, worrying signs that the industry is starting to slip backwards – with a lack of focus on training, installation standards and technological innovation resulting in more operators acting less efficiently and incompliantly.

For the past few years, there has been growing fear in the gas safety and compliance industry that training standards are falling. There has been ongoing concern over the role of the Nationally Accredited Certification Scheme (ACS) in fast-tracking individuals into the industry without the appropriate training and resources to succeed. This also applies to training to keep current engineers up to date on maintaining new technologies being included in modern heating systems.

There has also been a bit of stagnation in terms of new technologies to help gas safety professionals do their job more effectively and with fewer mistakes. There have been significant changes in the technologies being included in new heating systems – but this has not translated into technological efficiency gains for gas safety engineers. Where other areas of social housing maintenance have been deploying automated and smart systems to help them manage paperwork, job assignment and maintenance logging – gas safety has been lagging. Technology upgrade

Utilising technology to improve on-going training

Going forward into the 2020s, we expect there to be significant improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of both initial and on-going training to keep gas safety engineers up-to-date on the latest and greatest technologies. We expect that remote training sessions conducted over live video, as well as online training, will begin to bridge the current gap between accreditation and large scale in-person training sessions. This should help ensure that engineers are not left stranded in the field attempting to understand a new control system improving the number of units serviced per day and improving resident satisfaction with the process. This will also help to improve the dropout rate for young gas safety engineers, as through online training they will begin to feel more secure in their abilities reducing burnout – whilst ensuring the quality of work they carry out is ever-improving.

Better remote diagnostic equipment

With the remote diagnostic improvements happening in other areas of social housing, we expect there to be significant improvements to remote assessment and testing of boilers. Here at Switchee, we are already providing gas safety engineers with the ability to remotely test boilers for failure at scale. This helps to reduce the number of unnecessary visits by ensuring boiler faults are diagnosed immediately and improving the winter-rush by spreading out broken boiler callouts across the previous two months before winter. Further improvements will be made both to our products as well as to the industry as a whole that will allow remote boiler failure code reading, as well as smart testing – ensuring boilers are remotely tested automatically when property performance indicators suggest a boiler might be performing at below optimal levels. This should also reduce the number of callouts that require parts not currently in an engineer’s inventory. Gas safety engineers will now be able to go to a property with the parts needed to fix the issue with the appointment being generated automatically based upon a remote detection of decreased efficiency.

remote diagnostic

Improved efficiency through technology reduces cost and improves overall user experience

With modern IoT technologies, large-scale scheduling efficiencies are now possible. Traditionally a large percentage of a gas engineer’s time has been spent driving to properties to attempt to gain access. This wastes valuable time, increases boiler repair and compliance wait times and costs maintenance and compliance departments money. The majority of this can be resolved by having in-property technology aiding appointment scheduling with automated appointment scheduling deriving the shortest journey between each confirmed appointment. This should reduce the time spent driving to empty properties and increase user satisfaction with the process. It should also free up engineer time to improve their technical skills with additional training and mentor programmes.

So what does this all mean?

Technology in the next few years is likely to significantly improve the efficiency of gas safety engineers whilst reducing red tape. Judging by several other areas in social housing, these technologies should not only improve the day-to-day lives of engineers but also improve the budgetary concerns of their departments and businesses. These changes might be closer than some realise, however, with functioning systems like Switchee already impacting and improving daily workflows for thousands.

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