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Why contractors should know the codes and speak up

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By Bill Addiss,
CEE News, Jul 1, 2001

It pays to speak your mind when safety is at stake

Contractors who do any remodeling work or make service calls may have customers who ask “Is it safe? …What will happen?” How they answer could be the deciding factor in convincing the customer to “do it right.”

We all come across some Code violations in the course of our career. It's practically a given because the electrical trade has so many specific Code requirements. We stumble upon violations, which range from a missing staple to some glaring safety hazard requiring immediate attention, while doing installations, performing maintenance or doing walk-throughs.

Many contractors don't report violations to the customer for fear of being thought of as an opportunist or carpetbagger. Isn't it ironic how knowledgeable and observant professionals can be thought of so differently as soon as they open their mouth? If the mention of these violations is not tactfully done and carefully worded, it often evokes a facial expression reserved for used car salesmen (no offense intended). Despite the possible ramifications, only one proper course of action should be followed — making the customer aware of any violations or hazards.

To better understand the consumer's point of view, it may be worth noting that many of today's Code requirements did not exist years ago.

Some violations are not necessarily safety hazards themselves. Instead, they are violations because they may eventually cause a problem or in some cases fail to prevent one. For example, GFCI protection for swimming pool pumps has been an NE Code requirement for many years, but that wasn't always the case. Would its absence actually cause an injury? No. Its installation could prevent injury or death, but only under certain circumstances. Therefore, GFCI installation would fall somewhere into the same category as buying insurance. It's something that really serves no practical purpose until it's needed — and then literally may be something that you can't live without.

The fact is that many of today's cautious consumers want and need more than their contractor to say, “It's the Code,” before spending a lot of their money to rewire something that seemed to work OK before.

Human nature being what it is, it's understandable that the likelihood of some types of violations or hazards being corrected decreases dramatically along with the consumer's perception of the severity of the threat. It's surprising how many homeowners have no knowledge of GFCIs or how they prevent damage or injury. Electricity continues to be a mystery to the average consumer. If sound explanations aren't offered, many will trust the cheap “piece of cake” solutions that can work well temporarily.

How do we convince the consumer that a problem exists or that extra work is needed to make an installation safe? It may take some practice to perfect a pitch that works for you. If you can get it right, you can increase sales and build your reputation as a true professional.

The first step would be making sure that you are up on all the latest Code rules and clear on how they apply to the type of work that you do. Any additional information on causes, possible dangers involved or the inner workings of specific equipment or devices puts you in a better position to answer questions like, ‘Is it safe?’ or ‘What will happen?’ Lastly, being able to take the consumer's perspective will help you decide which approach will help you sell the job.

For most areas of the country, spring and summer are the peak seasons of construction activity and many trade organizations are already deep into their safety campaigns. We have a great opportunity to do our part to increase consumer awareness by supporting their efforts and helping to spread the word.

A wealth of information is available from a variety of sources on major consumer safety issues and remedies. Some organizations will allow you to reprint information for distribution to your customers. You may also be able to obtain pamphlets on a particular topic to pass out. With this simple effort, you would be performing a public service and enhancing your reputation as a dedicated and informed professional.

Bill Addiss
Electrical Contractor Network

Reprinted with permission from CEE News, July 2001. Copyright 2001.

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