A Look Back on 40 Years of the Plumbing Industry

Robert BurgonAfter nearly four decades in the plumbing industry, Robert Burgon, chief executive of SNIPEF and founding member of WaterSafe is retiring.

Following a career that started in 1978 with SNIPEF (Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation) and Plumbing Pensions (UK) Ltd, he has also served as Chairman on the Board of the World Plumbing Council.

While he is still planning to keep his hand in the world of plumbing – Robert is due to become Master of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers in 2017 – he will now have more time to follow his love of music, ranging from prog rock to opera.

Here he shares his look back on 40 years in the industry:

Aiming for a better plumbing and heating industry

"Organisations like SNIPEF (for which I have had the privilege to work for the last 38 years) exist both to assist their members and to seek improvements in the conditions in which professional businesses and individuals operate. As I approach retirement, if I were to highlight three significant developments of the last four decades, I would mention:

  • The introduction of the requirement for businesses working with gas to be registered with an appropriate body (currently GasSafe Register) and for their employees to hold appropriate recognised qualifications;
  • The establishment of the World Plumbing Council and the creation of World Plumbing Day (11 March everywhere, every year) as a way of promoting the message that good plumbing is vital to global health;
  • The bringing together of seven Approved Plumber Schemes under the WaterSafe banner in the United Kingdom – along the lines of the model used to improve gas safety, although without the benefit of statutory backing.   

Balanced against what I see as positive changes,it is more than a little frustrating that we have not seen more progress in the level of understanding and respect that many people in the UK have for the role of the plumbing industry:

  • Too many people still see plumbing as a nuisance purchase and aim to pay the lowest possible price – even where that means that work will be done by someone who isn’t properly qualified;  
  • Compared with the situation in many other developed countries (and even in some developing nations), it is still relatively too easy for unqualified people to work in plumbing in the UK;
  • The levels of professionalism and customer care shown towards customers by some businesses still leaves considerable scope for improvement.

I can honestly say that I have enjoyed (almost) every moment of my time working in this great industry (about which I knew nothing in 1978). I hope that I have contributed in some small way to improvements and I wish my industry colleagues every success in facing the challenges that still exist."

Robert Burgon, chief executive of SNIPEF and founding member of WaterSafe

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