Are there desks in your offices? Supplied with power and data? Ever heard of BS 6396? If you provide power to desks in your workplace you ought to know all about it, says Bruce Cantrill
05 May 2006
Electricity: great stuff isn't it? Zipping around in cables it enables us to get on with our work and domestic lives. But more and more we take it for granted and expect it to be where we need it, when we need it.
Where am I going with this? Well, all of those business gadgets that we lug around in our pockets and handbags need recharging or plugging in to other appliances and this tends to happen at our desks. PCs, laptops, mobile phones, Blackberrys, iPods et al are now determining the landscape of our desks, each one often requiring its own charger and connectivity kit. All of these devices bring their own problems to our workspace and for facilities managers the issue is particularly compounded.
In most instances desks are useless unless they are powered-up in some way. We have all seen bundles of wires, whether for electricity or data, lurking under desks, often loosely positioned and providing a genuine trip hazard.
We have seen the coffee maker, kettle or even toaster balanced precariously close to the back edge of a desk or return unit. And we have seen cable risers poorly installed if not left on the floor surrounded by the wires which they should be channelling.
With so many aspects of health and safety legislation impacting the workplace it's not surprising when some of the less obvious considerations are overlooked by employers - not through wilful neglect, more a lack of knowledge of their existence. There is a British Standard, BS 6396, which provides guidance on the safe installation of electrical systems in the office, specifically in the channelling of electricity to desks. (The key elements of BS 6396 are set out in the panel below along with guidance on typical power usage).
Yet the standard has had little exposure, and many employers are unaware that should an incident occur in the workplace which requires investigation they risk prosecution if their cable management does not comply with BS 6396. As a facilities manager you might be responsible, if not accountable, for ensuring your company's workstations are safe for the employees using them.
The segregation of cables is also covered by BS6396 so it's important to consider when cables run together in parallel, mains electricity supply cables need to be either separated from all other cables (ie telecoms and data) or insulated for the highest voltage present. This is typically achieved by providing a 50mm separation between them or using a cable management system.
With the linear and cluster desk planning prevalent in today's offices it is common for separate items of furniture to be electrically interconnected. If this is the case the furniture pieces need to be fastened together. In essence what this means is that if you install or reconfigure any desks around your office space you are obliged to test the installation for compliance.
Of course we should consider the health and safety aspect of our workspaces but let's not forget the aesthetic consideration as well. Architects sometimes make it hard to use a building's services effectively but visible, messy wires are unsightly. A highly relevant by-product of ensuring that the appropriate cable management is used is that the workplace looks tidier, as one FM I recently spoke to put it: "By embracing BS6396 we ensured that not only was the working environment safer but it looked so much smarter. We noticed that individuals using the space actually gave it more respect and wanted to ensure that it stayed looking tidy. This not only improved the overall ambience of the space it also helped tremendously from a cleaning and maintenance perspective."
This may all sound like a small headache but it's worth remembering that BS 6396 is there to ensure that your company's space is safe for your employees and visitors, particularly from the risk of electric shock and fire. There is little case law in existence at the moment but it's only a matter of time before litigation occurs as a result of a serious incident.
Bruce Cantrill is marketing director of DPG Form Fittings
BS 6396 - Key elements
Without reciting the whole standard, what are the most pertinent elements?
Consider the following:
a maximum of six sockets are allowed per power supply with total ratings of appliances not exceeding 13 amps - this is fine for office equipment (see usage ratings ) but no good for those wanting to plug in toasters, kettles, fan heaters, vacuum cleaners etc
each socket should to be individually fused
a dedicated power feed must be provided for equipment with ratings above 5 amps
all extraneous metal work needs to be earthed
any exposed length of power supply cable should be no more than 2 metres from the desk clamp
socket outlets should be located so as to be easily accessible and minimise the risk of physical injury as well as the risk of electrical hazard from liquid spillage
Indication of power usage typical ratings include:
kettle - 13 amps
CPU for a desk top computer - 2 amps
laptop - 0.6 amps
CRT monitor - 1.5 amps
mobile phone charger- 0.05 amps
desk lamp (60w) - 0.25 amps