BBC programme highlights risks of rollout ramp-up

BBC Watchdog featured smart meter safety concerns in the first programme of its new series last night.

The show, which champions consumer interests, identified three case studies in which consumers’ homes had been left unsafe due to “negligent” installation or faulty meters being fitted.

In one instance, a gas leak occurred because a washer had been left off the meter. Another case reported how incorrectly reconnected wires caused a fuse board to burn out, pouring smoke into a child’s bedroom.

During the show, “loads” more consumers contacted Watchdog to share their stories of faulty meter fitting.

Safety experts interviewed for the programme described the errors as “unforgivable”.

However, gas industry authority Mike Griffin added: “I can’t see there not being more mistakes unless we do the shadowing, we take the pressure off the guys who are doing the installing and put the emphasis on, a good meter, fitted properly, left safely.

The BBC’s examination of smart meter related safety concerns builds on reporting from Utility Week.

At Utility Week’s Congress conference last year, Wales and West Utilities’ head of emergency services and metering Clive Book warned that the process of replacing every meter in the country was bound to lead to an increase in fitting errors.

More recently, a representative from Siemens’ meter operator division told Utility Week that competition for skilled labour and the pressure to progress newly trained installers into the field could lead to an increase in gas leaks and “reverse polarity situations”.

On Watchdog’s programme, Energy UK’s director of energy supply Audrey Gallacher reassured: “Health and safety is the energy industry’s number one priority”

However, she acknowledged the problems identified by the BBC were “completely unacceptable”.

When asked by the show’s presenter if the industry simply needed more time to complete the rollout safely, Gallacher knocked the suggestion back.

“There’s no doubt that it’s a really challenging programme, there’s a lot to be done, but health and safety would never be compromised to meet a target,” she said, insisting that the 2020 deadline will be met.

She added: “I really don’t think there are any systemic risks in the programme”

Gallacher’s confidence in the energy industry’s ability to meet the 2020 deadline for installation of smart meters in every home and small business across the UK is not shared by all.

A number of senior figures have called for the deadline to be pushed back in recent years. On BBC Watchdog, Derek Thomas MP reiterated the call.

Thomas, who sits on the science and technology select committee, said government has “nothing to lose” by taking the time to review safety concerns, with Ofgem, and tweaking the deadline to accommodate these.

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