If you have ever been asked what would you save in a fire, my answers are all pieces of paper: my passport, a map, and a letter from Jeremy Hawksley, director general of OFTEC.
The map was given me by my great uncle, a Far East Prisoner of War who survived four years out in the Burmese jungle. It was printed on the ship that came to liberate him and his fellow prisoners. Apparently, lots of these maps were destroyed as they were used to help start the cooking fires and for toilet paper…no one had had that for four years or more. However, my uncle kept his map and marked on it all the 20 camps he stayed at. It is a great piece of personal history.
My letter from Jeremy Hawksley was sent to my family and I when my grandfather passed away a few years back. It recognises his contribution to the oil cooking and heating industry. I am so proud of this letter that I read it at his funeral, as not everyone would have known what he did in his working life. My grandfather was OFTEC’s first inspector. When OFTEC was formed, my grandad was invited to help out as he was highly regarded for his vast knowledge of the oil heating industry. He was often flying to Europe meeting up with the great Swedish engineers and experts from Danfoss. He also co-founded Electro-oil and EOGB, and was the technical director. I remember him telling me that when he went to OFTEC he was given some certificates. He hadn’t had any paper achievement awards such as these since he left the Navy with his engineering degree, so he quite likes the idea of receiving them. For various reasons, he did not stay with OFTEC long, probably to concentrate on his business at EOGB.
His story of his certificates ended with him telling me that at the time he got them he didn’t realise they would run out in five years. This meant he was now no longer considered competent to install oil boilers. So here was a man respected as one of the most experienced and competent oil boiler specialists in the UK who suddenly becomes less competent, on paper, than the first wave of OFTEC engineers that he had inspected. It highlights the problem with competency qualifications within the oil and gas heating: as long as you can pay the costs for training and registration you are basically going to become qualified.
OFTEC training and assessment takes around four to five days. In theory and in practice people who have no idea how heating systems or boilers work do some simple training, take an easy assessment, and then much to the financial benefit of an awarding body issuing the certificate, become qualified. They can then register with OFTEC. It is inculcated to the consumer that they should use an OFTEC engineer for servicing and installs. Therefore, in the eyes of the consumer, an OFTEC engineer is more competent and safer than an engineer such as my father who is not registered.
He is a fit and content 73-year-old and now only services boilers. Unlike oil boiler installs, servicing is not notifiable, therefore, he came out of OFTEC after he stopped installing. He has been in this industry a very long time and like other long-standing engineers has vast experience. The current training and registration scheme highlights how someone with just five days’ worth of experience and no other prior knowledge can be deemed more competent than my father and myself, who if you put my grandfather into the equation have well over a 100 years of combined experience in the oil heating industry.
An example of some registered engineers having little or no experience is when I sometimes hear how consumers have had the complete burner replaced on their boiler. This is due to the fact the engineer has no understanding of how the burner works and how to fault find. For those in the know, a domestic oil boiler, unlike its gas counterpart, is a bit like triggers broom: for as long as the welds stay good on the water jacket you can keep an oil boiler going for years by replacing the various components, when needed, on the burner. It’s not that often you would need to replace a whole burner. That is not an energy efficient way of doing things or cost effective for the consumer.
In fairness, I am very supportive of OFTEC. Mr Hawksley didn’t have to send me that letter. It was a kind and very thoughtful thing to do. It’s maybe because of this I feel very loyal to OFTEC. I do not have all the answers myself, but there are very clever installers out there and between us we might all be able to come up with a sensible solution to help OFTEC do things a bit better.
Oh, and I would also save Red Ted in a fire in the example above. There are two Red Ted’s. One was given to my daughter and a lovely nurse at Addenbrookes hospital put the other in the arms of my grandad. It was part of an excellent service they provided for my daughter and her cousins to help explain to them all why I was about to turn his life support off, and that they would no longer be seeing their great grandfather. And boy was he great…
Twitter handle: @betateach