December 11, 2023

Auckland plumber fuming over investigation that led to fine

Rowan Campbell of Campbell Plumbing based in Auckland has been fined after an investigation he felt was not fully robust.

A plumber is fuming over the “big cats and bureaucrats” he says are in charge of dishing out penalties after he was fined over a situation he believed should have been chalked up as a learning experience.

Rowan Campbell, the director of Auckland-based Campbell Plumbing and Gasfitting Ltd, has been fined and ordered to pay costs totalling $12,550 for issuing false or misleading gas certificates for work carried out by a subcontractor in Timaru whom he should have been supervising.

The subcontractor carried out gasfitting work at four separate properties in Timaru from November 2020 until May the following year.

A disciplinary decision by the Plumbers, Gasfitters & Drainlayers Board found Campbell’s conduct involved several failings.

They revolved around his lack of supervision of the subcontractor, his issuing of gas certificates for the work done by the subcontractor without reasonable assurance that it was safe and compliant, and his failure to record high-risk gasfitting work on the electricity and gas high-risk database.

In May this year, Campbell pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching a term or condition of his licence and two charges of breaching an enactment relating to gasfitting.

He told NZME he had initially denied the charge with the aim of defending it but did not plan to appeal the decision due to the cost and time involved.

Campbell said the penalty occurred partly as a result of being caught out by Covid-related travel restrictions.

He had applied for an exemption to travel from Auckland to Timaru to continue the work he had started there, but his application was denied.

The board said it was disappointed a gasfitter with more than 21 years of experience would fail to carry out such fundamental compliance responsibilities.

Campbell, who sits on the Auckland Master Plumbers Executive Board, runs a team of 15 and is active in the pastoral care of workers in the industry.

The agreed summary of facts shows Campbell was the designated supervisor of a worker, George Law, who held a limited certificate in gasfitting.

But Law’s employer, Callum Bartlett of Nexus, in Timaru, was not a certifying gasfitter. It was for this reason that Campbell was to have been supervising Law’s work.

Campbell said he was a friend of Bartlett and had subcontracted his firm to carry on with work he had started.

“I was working down there in Timaru with a friend – Callum, and I flew down a couple of times to do the work, but then couldn’t go back during the lockdowns.”

Campbell claimed he was unable to prove he had sought a travel exemption during the ban because the data was wiped by MBIE when the mandates and restrictions were lifted.

MBIE said the business travel document service was “toggled off” when Auckland moved to the new traffic light framework in December 2021.

While the service is no longer visible to business users, it could be switched back on if required.

“No user records were wiped during this process,” an MBIE spokesperson said.

Bartlett told Campbell he had arranged for a certifying gasfitter to check and verify work carried out on a couple of homes when Campbell was unable to leave Auckland because of Covid-related travel restrictions.

In July 2022, the board received an inquiry about previous unsupervised gasfitting work carried out by Law, followed by a complaint about Campbell, as Law’s supervisor.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board told NZME that it took any complaints about practitioners or unauthorised work seriously.

It said supervision was one of the key ways the health and safety of the public was protected.

The board noted in its decision there was no evidence of any compliance issues at any of the properties.

“The work was fine. This is just nit-picking over the chain of oversight. It was more punitive than it needed to be when it could have been educational,” Campbell said.

He said the two-year process, including an investigation that he did not think was particularly robust, had cost him about $30,000 in legal fees.

Campbell said he’d learned his lesson about fighting the board.

“We just want to be plumbers but we have all these big cats and bureaucrats scrambling to be on the top of something – it’s just plumbing.

“It all seems so over-regulated.”

The board said its hearings complied with the law and natural justice requirements, and anyone had a statutory right to appeal the board’s decision to the district court.

It said the five-member panel that heard Campbell’s case included three working tradespeople from the plumbing, gasfitting and drainlayer sectors.

“The primary purpose of the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board is to protect public health and safety by ensuring the competency of plumbers, gasfitters, and drainlayers to safely practise their trade.”

Tracy Neal is a Nelson-based Open Justice reporter at NZME. She was previously RNZ’s regional reporter in Nelson-Marlborough and has covered general news, including court and local government for the Nelson Mail.

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