Open-access content 13th July 2009
The 2008 update to the regulations on safety in wiring made matters clear to duty holders that remedial work after testing was imperative - but is this vital message getting through?
by Tim Beardsmore
16 July 2009
Last year's update to safety legislation (BS7671: 2008 IET Wiring Regulations 17th Edition) brought the topic of electrical testing into the spotlight, making it clear that this is not optional, but essential. However, testing is only part of the picture; it identifies and codes faults and risks but it's up to the duty holder to take action to resolve these issues by commissioning appropriate remedial repair work. Worryingly, it is this critical remedial work that many appear to be ignoring.
A recent survey conducted by Epsilon Testing Services across 400 organisations that have had testing done found that more than half admitted that no remedial work has been done subsequent to that testing. This is a terrifying statistic, especially when you consider that the Health and Safety Executive reports about 1,000 accidents at work each year involving electric shock or burns and around 30 fatalities.
Be aware and be active
Ignorance is no defence in the law concerning safety and the available sanctions are serious, such as corporate manslaughter legislation. Following testing, reports are issued swiftly and they should inform the decision making process for remedial work that must or should be undertaken. There should be no lack of clarity about faults in the testing reports. Any fault found that would render the installation unsatisfactory will be clearly marked in the report and there will be a corresponding observation made, such as 'excessive damage to the consumer unit'.
Electrical safety testing reports detail any "damage, deterioration, defects and dangerous conditions within the installation". These fall into four codes, with the first two requiring essential remedial action: Code One, 'requires urgent attention', used to indicate that persons using the installation are at risk and Code Two, 'requires improvement', indicating that the observed deficiency requires action to remove potential danger. Any fault reported as Code One or Code Two must be remedied. As part of an NICEIC report, the test engineer must notify the commissioning contact in writing that day of any Code One faults and give advice that action should be taken without delay.
This testing and reporting procedure assumes that the commissioning individual will then establish what remedial work is required (note that the scope of the testing engineer is to provide 'a factual report on the condition of an installation, not a proposal for remedial work') and make swift arrangements for it to be carried out.
Given this clarity in reporting it's amazing that some, whether intentionally or unwittingly, ignore critical safety information and fall fatally short of compliance with safety standards.
Scale of the danger
One common example of a 'Code One' fault is found on distribution boards that have lots of 'knock out' holes. When redundant cabling is removed these holes, in many cases, are left open - the enclosure then fails to meet the IP2X requirement (standard finger test) as it is possible for live parts to be touched. This type of equipment can be sited in areas of easy access and it's not only control equipment that can cause serious risk. A recent example we found was where a light cover was missing, leaving live parts exposed. In this instance a routine task as simple as changing a light bulb could have resulted in electrocution.
We regularly see lethal situations where sites have been tested but faults not corrected. It's vital to understand that fixed installation testing is only part of the electrical safety compliance requirement. If the essential remedial work is not complete following testing then the organisation could be culpable of fault and negligence. It's likely that insurance for the site would be compromised and if the worst should happen then it could be proven that the duty holder was liable.
It's imperative to appreciate that periodic fixed installation testing is only part of electrical safety compliance. Essential remedial work must be completed in a time frame appropriate to the coding of the fault or faults found - and in the case of Code One faults this means urgently. When considering electrical safety it's worth looking at a test and remedial repair deal with a reputable service supplier. This means that faults can be corrected swiftly and time (therefore money) can be saved. Buying both together gives you leverage to drive the price down and peace of mind that you won't fall into the risky gap between testing and repairs.
Tim Beardsmore is managing director of electrical safety specialist Epsilon Test Services
Electrical safety and the law
Employers and duty holders have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 but specific regulations covering electrical safety are The IET Wiring Regulations BS7671: 2008 17th Edition. As an indication of the importance of compliance with the new regulations and how they fit with safety legislation, the HSE has issued a very clear statement: "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".
In the 17th Edition Reg 135.1 makes a positive recommendation that 'every electrical installation is subjected to periodic inspection and testing'. For guidance on frequency of test for periodic fixed installation testing consult The IET Guidance Note 3: Inspection and Testing.