Do you have any electrical cabling on your site that resembles an art installation? Have you had an electrical safety report featuring the phrase: ‘cables not secured with respect to fire’? The 18th Edition Wiring Regulations (BS 7671) have changed, in relation to fire safety, and it is important that you know why.
Health and Safety is everyone’s business; however, if your designated role is health and safety or management, others will look to you to carry out risk assessments and expect that you keep abreast of electrical matters. The updates to the new 18th Edition Wiring Regulations relate to fire safety, specifically with a view to reducing the risk of death by installing new RCD protection requirements, installing Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDDs) where necessary, and the correct securing of hanging cables. The subject under discussion in this article is electrical cabling and how the risk of fatalities can be minimised by fastening electrical cables securely to prevent them becoming a life-threatening risk in the event of a fire.
The harsh reality is that it always appears to take a tragedy to compel lawmakers to bring about change to improve safety. Sometimes, even in the wake of death, change is extremely slow. Sadly, long before the tragedy in June 2017 at Grenfell Tower brought fire safety sharply into focus, there had been other fatal fires.
In 2005, two firefighters at Harrow Court Tower Block in Stevenage died, one of whom perished as a result of being trapped in loose cables. Five years later, two firefighters lost their lives after becoming entangled in a web of fallen electrical cables in Shirley Towers, Southampton. Although this recent change in legislation has been welcome, history has clearly shown that such change has taken too long to be implemented.
It is hoped that the revised 18th Edition Wiring Regulations will avoid similar incidents, particularly in high-rise developments and multi-occupancy buildings. There are many ways in which risk of death can be greatly reduced and detailed risk management on such sites should be of paramount importance to developers, construction site managers and electricians. One effective way in which risk of death can be decreased is by understanding how cables can be made secure through effective health and safety management.
Plastic or Metal?
The 18th Edition states that plastic fixings cannot be used as the sole means of holding up cables, which is pretty obvious as plastic melts. However, the IET states: “Suitably spaced steel or copper clips, saddles or ties are examples that meet the requirements of these regulations.” This means, in a nutshell, plastic fixings can still be used but only in conjunction with metal fixings. For peace of mind, to be secure in the knowledge that electrical cables remain fastened for longer in the event of fire and don’t collapse prematurely, it is imperative that metal fixings are affixed along the length of cable in order for it to be firmly secure.
Frustratingly, as always, regulations are open to interpretation as the 18th Edition Regulation 521.10.202 now requires cables to be adequately supported against their premature collapse in the event of a fire. The phrase: ‘adequately supported’ is where vagueness sets in. This regulation could be read to mean that cables which are not in the vicinity of means of escape, and unlikely be an obstacle or impede escape in the event of fire, could be held in place by plastic fixings. If you were to choose between the materials plastic or metal maintaining their core purpose in the event of a fire, which material would you rather choose? I bet you would prefer metal every day of the week!
In summary, plastic fixings can still be used because plastic cable ties, clips, trunking and conduit are considered staple products in the world of electrics. Furthermore, this change in legislation is not retrospective and any installations fitted before 1st January 2019 may still be compliant. Just remember, plastic fixings should not be used as the sole means of securing cables in place and, if you wish to take the ‘belt and braces’ approach to safety, it is strongly advised that metal fixings are used wherever possible.