Omatseye: Some Fires in Building are Caused by Poor Earthing

It is mandatory for every building to have a device that would send shock waves from lightning and thunder directly to the earth without damaging electrical appliances in the building or cause harm to its inhabitants. Earthing, as it is known in construction, is a common code being worked upon by the Nigerian Institution of Electrical Electronic Engineers (NIEEE), an arm of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. The National Chairman of NIEEE, Gracious Ayirioritse Omatseye in this interview with Bennett Oghifo discusses the need for there to be a common earthing code that can be enforced in buildings, even at the plan approval stage…

Most fires in buildings are attributed to sparks from electrical connections and sockets. How does it happen?
We have a check list and codes and standards we are working on with the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) in collaboration with the Standardes Organisation of Nigeria (SON). It is yet to come as a book. The common one we are working on now is Earthing, where we check the correct position of switches. If a house is properly earthed the issue of fire and shock will be drastically minimised if not eliminated. Mistakes are bound to arise and because of our unbalanced electrical load that is coming. Sometimes, it comes in like a wave like you find in a river and, that is why in electrical engineering we have what is called electrical waves because it really comes with that surge and that is why a lot of devices get affected. So, if it comes that way and if your systems are just switched off instead of unplugged and there is a thunder storm, it can go through. So what really happens is that there is a vibration that causes agitation. The materials also called electrons behave like human beings. So, when there is thunder what happens is that if there is no earthing or thunder arrestors on top of the building to bring the lightning down to the ground it would not escape. What we are trying to do is create a route of least resistance for escape. There is usually power surge even though you turn off appliances because there is always an opening. Some people may attach superstitions believes to fire outbreaks from thunder strikes. That is why we advise everybody that if you are leaving the house then remove the plug; it is not enough for you to switch it off.

Also, a house that is properly earthed can prevent shocks to its inhabitants. Accidents can happen from bad installation but if the house is well earthed then the effect will be minimal. If you touch the fridge and it shocks then there is something wrong but if you earth the building, then the shock is not going to go up to the level of strangling your heart. That is what we call electrical volts tribulations that happens.

Have you set up a committee with SON, what category of cables do you recommend for use in Nigeria. How soon can we expect these regulations because of the incidences of fire out breaks in shops and houses?

Electrical fire is a large aspect we cannot talk about in a short breath. But when we talk about cables, the rule of the thumb is first of all move to Nigerian Cables. We have the Nigerchin, Cable Metal, Cortix but China cables? Never!

Fake cable is one of the causes of fire out breaks or electrical fires but the causes of fires must be investigated because sometimes it could be negligence and we must investigate what led to what kind of fire. Good enough, we have the Incidence Prevention and Failure Analysis Committee that investigates all these things. I am also a route-cause analyst so when there is a failure we must trace to know where it is coming from. So, when we talk of electrical fire, a lot of things cause electrical fires. If there is a fire in the house and I come to look at it the first thing I consider is the design. A lot of houses have faulty designs.

Apart from Lagos in this Nigeria that is trying a bit most houses in Nigeria now, more than 90 per cent do not have electrical drawings. So if I want to start my investigation of any electrical fire, the first thing I would ask you is I want to get the electrical drawings.

When a building is wired and there is no design it means that quacks have handled such wirings. How do you address the issue of wiring as an association?

We handle the issue of quackery through COREN and NSE. We are going gradually, we have already sorted our data base, we are talking with the universities, we want to commenced talking with Deans of Faculties of Engineering in Nigeria, we want to see how we would be able to arrest this quackery of a thing by ensuring that all of us pass through the same process. We are collecting our database because we want to ensure all our members are registered. Registered because when we go for our conferences those are the things that encourage you to be a professional and we give you the rules and regulations. So how do we arrest them? If we all our people in place, have engineering regulation monitors, these are people who would say look we have people here who are quacks; that is just their business. First of all, if they inform us, we may want to pay courtesy visit to such organisations and tell them and give them a deadline to register such members and we will now transfer such information to COREN who by all standards are expected to send inspectors to visit that place where they enter into real serious agreement. Till last year, we only had disciplinary committee within COREN but now, COREN has gone to the level of having ICPC involved. So if we get those practicing without being chattered, then COREN would hand you over to ICPC. When we have quacks, we give them time limits to comply, if compliance is not adhered to, then we hand them over. I must be honest with you; COREN has been practicing with kids gloves.

Recently, the NSE president at a press conference complained about foreigners taking up your jobs that engineers from overseas come here, practice freely and move out, nobody checks them. What is your take on this? Are you really experienced in most jobs because most of these high-rise buildings are being done by foreigners. Are you really experienced to handle technical aspects?

The position of the NSE President was a compilation of all our submissions in all the divisions and as a former chief inspector we really made contributions. The people that are really defaulting are those in government. I tell you, I came out from the oil and gas industry after spending about 29 years and it pains me that I was an electrical engineer but I ended up practicing almost as an all-rounder and I left the company as a technical authority.

I was the assistant NSE/COREN coordinator for SPDC and if you get to that place you see that all the expatriates in Nigeria are registered. We discovered that when they are coming in, they tell you they are not engineers but managers. We went to COREN and they said the important thing is to see the certificate of the expatriates; we do not care what you want to come in to do. So if your certificate is carrying a degree in engineering, even if you are coming in as human resources manager, you must register. And so in places like Shell, it is more than 80 per cent compliant in terms of engineering. Foreigners are really taking these jobs because our own people are encouraging it. Again we have part of the blame in that we did not listen. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to do a little thing by ensuring we come together to form a conglomerate by ensuring that any engineering job less than N500 million must be reserved for engineers in Nigeria but they are not doing that, they know their reasons.

And then coming to that very question if we are really competent; when you do electrical engineering designs it is expected that you take it up even at OND or HND level, you start by electrical drafting but when you now go into HND or degree programme, you now go into real design but degree holders go deeper in designs but it is the same principle. All you just require which we know, is just what is the amount of cable to be taken up, what is the amount of load? The competence is not the issue, if you ask any young electrical engineer from the university, who worked and passed from school, not the type that they copy from people now. If he really went to school, worked hard and passed, even if it is one million story building, he can design because the only principle there is like saying there are 20 people who can eat here, now there are one million people, can this caterer cope with the demand? But the caterer requires some information from you. If he said it was supposed to be 20 but now you have 200 people, you would be talking of the consumption, that is, the installed capacity.
Those days when I was growing up as a child I knew you could not paint your house any how because if you do that, it is going to affect the electrical consumption, cost of maintenance, and cost of installation.

The architect’s drawing must state what each room must contain, that would enable the electrical engineer design the amount of power that gets to each room. The engineer knows the installed capacity regulations. We know the maximum sockets required and we design as such but when we come to an office and see external sockets we would know that the sockets were not designed to use such.

When we interview our clients, and we get the right information, there is a quantity of illumination required and the working level and we design working level as such. If, for example, I am building the office of a director and he has a secretary, the law states that in our design, the electrical design says that the secretary needs more illumination because the office would require more gadgets like photocopiers etc and that would help me calculate the amount of current to bring in floor by floor to carry the load and that would dictate my quantity and amount of cables because each cable has an amount of load it carries. If I know this house can carry 30 kilo amps and I go and use 4mm squared cables which would not carry anything less than about 20 amps, I am already calling for fire. That is why we look at the design. When we come to the side of the house and we see faulty design then we call for the person who did the design. The person whose seal is there must be sanctioned. That is why COREN requires that your seal must be there. If an engineer draws any design, please request his seal to be put.

The design is basically engineering, because there is no job in Nigeria especially from my experience we see all the interfaces working together where we see that the design of an AC can affect the production of oil.

So how are you pressurising government to ensure that each house and each new building must have electrical design?
That drawing must carry the seal of the electrical engineer who is to be held responsible; it is not the man who came to do the installation that should be held responsible but the electrical engineer. So during investigations the first thing to do is to see if the house has a drawing. If it has, you would want to see if the cables were rightly specified and used according to the directive of the engineer.

If you used another cable, I would want to know the change control procedure you used to change the cables. There are a lot of fake electrical materials in the market particularly from China.

The mandatory drawings you talked about; have you made any submissions to state governments to approve as part of approval process for building?
There is a law, the challenge we have in this country which affects everything is enforcement because there is no enforcement, everybody is now an engineer. But there is a law and except you are COREN certified you cannot do anything.

Tell us about your Institute
NIEEE is an association of all electrical engineering personnel in Nigeria. The equivalent body in the United States is IEEE that is the Institution of Electrical Electronic Engineers, equivalent of it in the UK that is what all of you know very well, That is Idée used to be IEE but we know it as high regulations, because we have come out of British colony stuck to them but it now no longer IEE, it is now IET however, it came on to our own engineers here, haven thought about Nigerian Society of Engineers long ago right from 1958 right from London. They were only five in London that formed the Nigerian Society of Engineers and they came to Lagos to form it right from the time of the colonial masters where they thought that if we were becoming too powerful then we would become a stronger opposition to them so gradually, the NSE came to stay and it was growing and growing so the need now came and specialization has now come. When you talk of NSE, you are talking of all the engineers.

The continuous growth and specialization gave birth to the electrical division which started about 32 years ago came into existence. The pioneer president of electrical division who we now call national chairman is still alive today, Engineer, Doctor Ajayi. As we were grew and became more coercive and articulate in all our activities, we now changed the name from just an association to an institution that is how we came about the NIEEE. As of course the NIEEE came out from the NSE being a body for graduate engineers but as time goes on now with the country developing, there was a time we were talking of HND, B.Sc but after the harmony, COREN has about four registered for engineering personnel.

We have for the NSE that is, only graduates engineers, we have register for HND holders, that is, engineering technologists, we have engineering technicians if you have OND and equivalence. Then we have engineering craftsmen that is if you have City and Guilds or trades certificate. The good thing is that the graduates started the NIEEE.  We had various associations and the question arose on who should take care of all the engineering personnel which by the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in accordance with the law, Decree of 2000 now Federal Republic of Nigerian law Act of 2004 Cap O, O, zero.
You can only practice in Nigeria if you are registered as an engineer legally. The NIEEE is the one taking care of all the categories of engineering personnel in the federation, graduate engineers, HND holders, engineering technologists and then the craftsmen.

HND holders would be registered under associate members under NIEEE. For them to be full members, they have to read a post graduate diploma of one year to make up or attend places like University of Port Harcourt where you have three years post HND intensive course to make up.

What qualifies one as a full-fledged member apart from these associates that you have mentioned?

We are called electrical division of the NSE. What qualifies us is that you are already an NSE registered member that means you have already written you exams and for you to be corporate member of NSE, you need a minimum of four years post qualification. Then you write the exams and if you pass, it is recommended to council of engineers where they give a go ahead for approval.

You may ask how do they do the exam. It is the various divisions that set questions for their people to write the exams of the NSE. So we said it would be duplication disturbing the members so we now said you do not need to write another exam but when you want to be a member you pay your dues and your registration dues. For now we are leaving it as N5,000 while the annual dues is N8,500 so if you are just coming in fresh as graduate member you pay N13,00 on the proviso that you also accompany your application with your NYSC certificate and your certificate for NSE. Not until you get the NSE certificate you cannot write your name MNSE and you cannot be addressed as an engineer. For you to be addressed as an engineer, you will now formally apply to COREN with you NSE certificate to say you have passed plus the project you have written and then when they look at it that NSE has endorsed it that you have passed the exams then COREN would no longer give you exam that is the harmony we have arrived now. So you would be registered, COREN would now be the one to register you officially that according to the law of the federal republic of Nigeria, you are now registered with Council for Registration of Engineers in Nigeria and henceforth, you can perfuse you name with the title engineer.

It is so tasking looking at the procedures to becoming a member of the NIEEE what kind of protection do you have for your members since the problem in the construction industry is that jobs meant for engineers are taken up by foreigners?

COREN is the one regulating engineering but unfortunately does not have power to enforce, ICPC can enforce but they do not have powers to regulate so right now they have come together. Incidentally we only latch on them because we are not a chattered separate organization on our own. If we are chattered that is if the National Assembly is able to pass a bill we can now latch on that but for now our protection comes from latching on COREN and ICPC.

The people that are doing it is because we are in a country where we need force, for example if you are a professor you cannot be addressed as Engineer Professor except you have COREN.

COREN is asking us to display our certificates to make the job easy so that if they get to a place they would be able to know those who are not engineers.

Enforcement lies on them but we examine ourselves critically we are still lacking some things if we want to prosecute them now. We are still depending on IE regulations of London and a few other regulation here, Electricity Factories Act but those ones are becoming obsolete. So we are now coming up already with checklist of what to regulate when we go out for inspections.
Source: Guardian


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