Ontario’s Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) has been advised to redeploy resources to the scrutiny of complex installations and follow-up inspections of unsafe conditions. A new report from the Auditor General of Ontario also urges the self-funded oversight body to crack down harder on marketers and providers of unlicensed electrical services.
The value-for-money audit of the ESA is one of 13 in-depth reviews of Ontario public sector agencies and organizations released in Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s 2020 annual report today. While commending the general safety outcomes evident in a drop in reported electrical fires and injuries since 2010, the report concludes the ESA is unduly focused on collecting fees from routine inspections and has been slow to adopt technologies that could streamline service delivery and more rigorously monitor record-keeping and verification processes.
The audit reveals 3,500 incidences of lengthy lag-times, of sometimes more than two years, in conducting mandated follow-up inspections of recorded safety hazards during the 2010-19 period, as well as the collection of $17 million in fees for inspections that did not occur during the 2015-19 period. These shortcomings are largely attributed to inadequate administration and notification systems.
“The ESA conducts many unnecessary inspections, and for many years it did not adopt technology that could have made its inspection process less costly,” the report pronounces. “The ESA also has no inspection standards, and when inspections are scheduled, it does not consider if inspectors have sufficient time to actually complete them.”
In addition to its mandate to inspect electrical installations for compliance with the provincial electrical safety code, the ESA is tasked with ensuring that all electrical products sold in Ontario have been safety-tested and certified. The Auditor General’s report acknowledges this is a daunting task given the widespread availability of non-certified products on online marketing platforms, often based outside Ontario.
In contrast, it suggests more could be done to constrain the many unlicensed installers who are openly marketing their services. The report also calls for higher calibre public information.
“The ESA receives frequent calls with technical questions about how to interpret the Ontario Electrical Safety Code to ensure installations are done safely. However, the employees who take these calls are not trained to answer technical questions and will direct callers to information available on the ESA’s website,” the report recounts. “They will forward calls to inspectors only if the caller has already paid for an ESA inspection; otherwise, the questions are not answered. And even the forwarded calls are often not answered. About half of the inspectors we surveyed told us that they do not have time to respond to such forwarded calls.”
Although the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services requested the value-for-money audit, the Auditor General concludes it has neither adequately monitored nor supported the ESA’s ability to efficiently carry out its mandate to improve public electrical safety.