• International Workplace
  • 18 July 2017

Electrical safety: upcoming legislative changes

Despite the highly anticipated arrival of Amendment 3 to the 17th edition of the Wiring Regulation in 2015, the safety risk presented by poor electrics remains a huge problem. As such, as we look towards the initial draft of the 18th edition, it may come as no surprise that, among other things, optimising safety standards and negating the risk of electric shock, fires or other dangers presented by faulty and inadequately installed electrics will remain a core focus. Here, Mahendra Mistry, Technical Manager for Electrical Systems at Bureau Veritas, tells you what you need to know.

Following lobbying from the London Fire Brigade, 2015 saw the introduction of the third amendment to the Wiring Regulations, which brought with it new requirements covering consumers units, wiring in escape routes and protective devices, all designed to improve personal safety and quell the risk of domestic fires. The industry consensus was that the vital changes would be life-saving.

Fast forward two years, however, and the risk presented by faulty or badly installed electrics is still very real. It is currently estimated that electricity causes over 20,000 accidental fires in the UK each year, while nine out of ten (89%) electrical fires are caused by electrical products. Our separate sources show there are five accidents caused every single day in the UK by poor electrical installations.

As such, as we look ahead to the 18th edition, which is due to be published in July 2018, there is no doubt that optimising safety standards will remain the core focus, particularly in terms of placing greater emphasis on the protection of people. 

One of the most significant reforms in the edition is likely to be around reducing the risk of fire. While Residual Current Devices (RCDs) are a vital safety tool in terms of reducing earth faults, they are not able to negate the risk of electrical fire caused by arcing between live conductors due to the fact that there is no leakage current to the earth. Further implications come in the case when the impedance of a series arc fault reduces the load current, keeping it below the tripping threshold of the circuit breaker. Therefore, it is expected that the reformed regulations will provide new guidance on the installation of arc fault detection devices (AFD) to mitigate the risk of fire in final circuits of a fixed installation due to the effect of arc fault currents.

The 18th edition is also understood to place a much greater onus on a risk assessment in order to determine if protection against transient overvoltage (e.g. lightning) is required for buildings to protect against the risk of fires and loss of supply. In addition, protection must be provided for high risk and sensitive locations, such as medical locations, heritage buildings, banks, IT centres etc. This is important because the previous regulations didn’t adequately address the impact that this risk could pose to human life.

Also on the safety front, a more extensive special locations section will provide greater clarity on electrical installations, such as embedded electric heating systems for de-icing or frost prevention in indoor and outdoor systems. These include heating systems for walls, ceilings, floors, roofs, drainpipes, gutters, pipes, stairs, roadways in areas such as football pitches, arenas and similar applications which, until now, haven’t been a focus.

For the busy health and safety manager, facilities manager or other building operator, this may come as just more red tape to get to grips with. However, it is important to invest time and resource into familiarising themselves with the 18th edition in order to ensure that they are technically competent and have a strong knowledge of the electrical and instrumentation disciplines. After all, they will be the first point of call within a business to deem what is or is not safe according to electrical regulatory standards. As such, regular training should be considered to ensure they have a sound and up-to-date level of knowledge in this area. 

In addition, as the key stakeholder, they must ensure the reformed regulation is adhered to at all business levels. This should involve communicating with management, customers and technicians; supervising contractors on site; following up on action items and keeping track of budget.

Conversely, when outsourcing this role, it is imperative that the technician or contractor is adequately vetted. All too often I hear that contractors have been assigned as a result of a mutual connection or recommendation from a friend. This role requires someone with a high level of knowledge of electrical systems and the most recent guidelines, as well as the ability to analyse the critical nature of equipment and undertake appropriate tests.

Routine inspections by third party contractors should be scheduled regularly. However, it is the responsibility of the organisation itself, usually overseen by the building operator, to carry out a daily checklist and walk through, looking out for physical signs of damage and burning smells. The first stage of maintenance should be followed up by a detailed inspection, if issues of concern are raised.

Although still in inventory stages, the 18th edition will place a much greater onus on the dangers posed to human life and property from faulty electrical installations and wiring systems. Indeed, it may mean more change to get to grips with but it is an incremental regulatory reform which, ultimately, will help to save lives.

Following the launch of an initial draft for public consultation this summer, the 18th edition will be published in July 2018 and is due to come into effect for all new and rewired installations designed after January 2019.

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