Open-access content 8th January 2009
The 17th edition of the Wiring Regulations includes more stringent electrical testing by better qualified persons, leading to increased fault reporting - and higher costs
by Mark Blanchfield
8 January 2009
The 17th edition of the IEE Wiring Regulations (BS7671: 2008) quietly came into force six months ago, bringing the UK into line with Europe. What impact have these regulations had on electrical safety testing and what do FMs need to know - and do?
The intricacies of electrical safety regulation aren't high on most people's bedtime reading list but it is essential to be aware of changes to the British standards. This is especially true when you consider how it fits with mandatory safety legislation, as reinforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE): "Installations which conform to the standards laid down in BS7671: 2008 are regarded by the HSE as likely to achieve conformity with the relevant parts of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989."
There are many changes to the previous edition of the standard and in some areas the details are complicated to interpret. There are changes to amendments and extensions to terminology and definitions (the new standard includes 260 definitions compared to 170 previously), changes to protection against electric shock and harmonisation of bathrooms. Two locations listed within the 16th edition have lost their 'special' status and are now being dealt with in the body of the standard.
Seven new special locations have been added, many dealing with outdoor environments such as marinas, caravan and mobile units, plus some that add newer technologies that have become more prevalent such as floor and ceiling heating systems and solar power supplies. There are more stringent electromagnetic compatibility requirements, a new section on lighting and luminaries and eight new appendices to the standard.
Perhaps one of the most significant amendments is found in Reg 135.1, which now makes a positive recommendation that "every electrical installation is subjected to periodic inspection and testing". Although many organisations would have had a testing regime in place, under the previous edition of the standard it was presumed that if you conducted risk assessments, kept proper records and had planned preventative maintenance in place then you didn't necessarily have to conduct periodic testing. That choice has now been removed in the 17th edition.
Unfortunately for those responsible for safety, electrical testing will now report more faults. In part, this is explained by the fact that existing buildings weren't wired to the standard demanded by the 17th edition and hence in many areas they won't comply. But this variation is also driven by a change in the way fault codes are classified. The scope of faults demanding remedial action has broadened: Code One is condensed to "serious life threatening", Code Two requires "Improvement" - faults reported in either of these categories now mean that a periodic certificate would be recorded as unsatisfactory.
As a rough guess, a potential increase of up to 20 per cent in the number of reportable faults could be found on the average site and it's likely that remedial action to correct them will prove more expensive than this time last year. One reason for this cost increase is the improved protection against electric shock. A faulty circuit that might previously have been remedied by means of a cheap miniature circuit breaker at around £5 would now require a residual current device on the distribution board, likely to cost £45-50.
Tightening things further, an amendment has been made to clarify who can carry out electrical safety testing. This must now be undertaken by a "competent person", defined as "a person who possesses sufficient technical knowledge, relevant practical skills and experience for the nature of the electrical work undertaken and is able at all times to prevent danger and, where appropriate, injury to him/herself and others".
The certification now needed by engineers is City & Guilds 2382-20 or 2382-10. Unfortunately, getting the whole electrical market qualified during the six-month run-in of the new regulations proved impossible and so there are many companies still struggling to get their workers certified. Care should be taken therefore that individuals conducting work can prove their competence.
Mark Blanchfield is managing director of electrical safety specialist Epsilon Test Services
For clarity on this subject refer to The IEE Guidance Note 3: Inspection and Testing,
available from www.theiet.org
A summary version is available in A Guide to Electrical Safety in the UK, free to download from www.epsilontest.com/downloads.htm
Compliance on a budget - how to save
The new standard means electrical safety is likely to cost more than before. Here are some suggestions on how to mitigate the rise:
- Plan your testing schedule
- It doesn't all have to be done at once.
- Do some each month to spread the cost.
- Be flexible with access for testing
- You will pay less for testing in normal working time than in unsociable hours. If you can cope with short notice for access you can also negotiate on price.
- Sign up for longer
- A supplier should sharpen their price for a three-to-five year contract.
- Specify carefully
- Do your homework on what you need so you don't get a surprise when testing starts.
- Do appropriate risk assessments
- You may find you can extend the frequency of your testing regime.
- Beware cheap deals