CHIMNEY SWEEPING – A BASIC ACTIVITY ‘NOT OPEN HEART SURGERY’
Contrary to common belief, home owners are not legally obliged to have their chimneys swept although this is sensible good practice.
In recent years the chimney sweeping industry has of its own accord decided to invest in the myth that the consumer/home owner is obliged to have their chimneys and flues swept by a member of one of a dozen or so unregulated private businesses or as an ‘insurance’ related requirement, this is utter nonsense as there is no legal requirement to use a chimney sweep or acquiesce to the demands of an insurer to have this service carried out.
An insurance broker has no say whatsoever when it comes to the activity of chimney sweeping and merely interprets any relative information from the underwriter, often this is grossly incorrect, as insurance brokers have no expertise in what is a highly complex and expert environment they are unable to question whether a demand upon you is in fact lawful or technically coherent, therefore, an insurance broker cannot inflict unfair and/or incompetent terms and conditions upon you unless you are in general agreement with them.
Chimney sweeping has been a one-dimensional activity since the dawn of mankind, simply put, it is merely a physical activity that does not require a theory or hypotheses mentality merely the ability to use a vacuum, some rods and a brush, however, having a clean chimney and/or flue is good practice and an activity that most home owners could simply carryout themselves.
If you are intent in employing someone else to sweep your chimney or lined flue they will probably do so in under an hour and thereafter thrust a worthless document substituting a legal contract into your hand having relieved you of £50 or more for the experience, but in reality, what have you actually got for your money?
Here are some salient facts that you the consumer may wish to consider before you decide to employ a chimney sweep!
INSURANCE - PROTECTION FOR THE CONSUMER
Very few if any chimney sweeps carry Professional Indemnity insurance cover.
Professional indemnity insurance protects the service provider/chimney sweep against claims for loss or damage made by their clients or third parties as a result and impact of defective workmanship, irresponsible and/or reckless behaviour and/or negligent advice.
To our knowledge, few if any home owners dream of asking tradesmen/women for copies of either Professional Liability or Professional Indemnity insurance as this is for some reason automatically assumed irrespective of an individual accessing the roof or not. Given most chimney sweeps and other roof related tradesmen/woman will, more often than not, because it is simply a cheaper alternative will access a roof using ladders, this activity in clear contravention of the Working at Height Regulations therefore a danger to themselves, passing traffic and pedestrians as well as the homeowners property. Typically, main stream insurance underwriters require confirmation when heights in excess of 10m (typical two story height) are likely to be achieved, if this is not in place before an access activity takes place the home owner may be at risk.
Further to this information, it would be wise to ask the chimney sweep to provide you with suitable damage indemnity against roof, gutter and chimney related defect caused during this activity, essential if you share a chimney structure on a party wall with a neighbour!.
CLARIFY YOUR RIGHTS BEFORE APPOINTING A CHIMNEY SWEEP
Of the dozen or so chimney sweeping businesses practicing in the UK today as trade associations none have any regulatory, statutory or authoritative status, therefore no legal right to enforce chimney sweeping nor the issuing of sweeping certificates.
Membership of and to an association is not an immediate assurance the work a chimney sweep carries out will meet minimum standards of competence or safety, it would therefore be prudent to remember that both associations and their members do not provide any guarantee or warranty against shoddy and/or negligent workmanship. Association membership is based upon 90% self-employment thus the associations bear no liability for their member’s actions no matter what these may be, in cases of negligence and/or shoddy/defective workmanship and/or negligent advice the home owner is left with litigation as the only means of recourse.
If you intend to appoint a chimney sweep it would be prudent as with all tradesmen/women to enquire about their background and not to merely assume they know what they are doing, ultimately, it is the home owners responsibility to make sure he/she has appointed the right person therefore it makes sense to clarify who it is you are about to employ and how the job is to be carried out.
CERTIFICATES, NOT WORTH THE PAPER THEY ARE MADE OF
To issue a legally binding, nationally recognised certificate that has some value and set against UK and European standards the issuing body or organisation must be UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) accredited and in this instance to European ISO/IEC 17024:2012;
‘ISO/IEC 17024:2012 contains principles and requirements for a body certifying persons against specific requirements, and includes the development and maintenance of a certification scheme for person’.
Unless a chimney sweeping association has attained ISO/IEC 17024:2012 status (highly unlikely) their members are not legally entitled to issue a contractual certificate as a means of meeting this standard, without UKAS accreditation these certificates are therefore literally worthless. If you receive a chimney sweeping certificate be aware that such documentation has no legal status with the issuer completely liable for any misleading and/or incompetent advice. In such instances all the consumer will have is an unsigned personal reference to a one dimensional activity, it may well be necessary therefore to read the rear of these certificates to acknowledge the plethora of waivers in favour of the issuer and thus lack of consumer protection.
Instances surrounding negligence and/or defective workmanship and/or advice would therefore be almost impossible to prove having waivered any right to recourse.
To our knowledge not one of the dozen or so chimney sweeping associations including one that calls itself an institute appear to have achieved ISO/IEC 17024 UKAS accreditation.
Chimney sweeping certificates are by and large made simple for the respective issuer to complete, these do not require a theory based mechanical approach or in fact any specific expertise to complete, merely the ability to tick a box with the issuer simply flicking through six or seven pre-set questions for a yes or no answer, hardly quantum physics, however, without proper competent engineering risk related interpretation as well as test evaluation important safety, compliance, health and wellbeing information will simply be lost placing the home owner at risk.
It would therefore be prudent when considering the appointment of a chimney sweep to verify their methods and process of work, how roof access is to be made, third party insurance cover, site safety for neighbouring properties, methods and processes for the recording of evidence, rectification advice supported with competent methods of workmanship and how this type of work is to be backed up visually and in writing.
It would also be useful to establish certification waiver liability, in other words who is liable for wrong and/or incompetent advice that may lead to damage, loss, injury or a fatality.
Quite simply, no matter how many waivers are issued by the person providing the certificate a consumers basic rights cannot be lawfully waivered or made redundant nor can a consumer be held liable for negligent and/or incompetent advice offered by a chimney sweep simply because a consumer signs or agrees to what is a one sided contract. It is essential therefore that terms and conditions of service are read thoroughly and fully understood before agreeing to them and if waivers of liability are included in the service that these are fully explained before accepting such terms and conditions, if the service is wavering its liability to a consumer or the consumer is asked to sign their rights away it is a service not worth investing in!
In a world devoid of apprenticeships and lengthy peer recognised expertise almost anyone can re-invent themselves in an unregulated industry that appears to ignore accountability whilst endorsing this type of behaviour and in turn potentially detrimental to the home owner.
THE WAY FORWARD – COMPETENCE IN THE WORKPLACE
Chimney sweeping is a one-dimensional activity, it will not provide the level of competent interpretation needed to verify structural integrity, fire risk, thermal protection or building/consumer safety, appliance operation or safety related risk level, controlled services are an expert area and should only be dealt with by experts, mechanically, technically and administratively.
NACE, as a peer recognised industry expert can, if required, provide the home owner and service provider with unbiased, independent expert objective advice as well as guidance beyond the simple activity of sweeping of a chimney.