Reducing fire risks
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The importance of electrical inspections in reducing fire risks

A guide to loss prevention

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    Each year, there are more than 15,000 commercial building fires across England, Scotland and Wales, injuring more than 1,000 people*.

    With electrical distribution being the main source of ignition in commercial fires*, there is an ever-increasing risk of property damage and personal injury.

    The UK’s electrical infrastructure  is aging. Commercial building  electrical loads have increased, in  some cases beyond the capacity of building transformers and  electrical distribution systems.  

    In addition, business downsizings  and restructurings can also result  in the reduction or elimination of  maintenance personnel, with key  maintenance tasks falling by the  wayside.

    With only three common elements  needed for a fire to initiate - oxygen,  fuel and heat - electricity can play a  pivotal role in the combustion process  by providing the heat source; via  short circuits, leakage current and  overloaded circuits, to name a few.  Third party inspections play an  essential role in reducing fire risks  to electrical systems.

    Does the law require periodic inspection of electrical systems?

    Employers and the self-employed are  duty bound by the requirements of the  Electricity at Work   Regulations 1989  (EAW) made under the Health and  Safety at Work Act 1974. The EAW  Regulations require all systems and  apparatus to be maintained and  require proof that steps have been  taken. Installations which conform  with BS7671: Requirements for  Electrical Installations are regarded by  the Health & Safety Executive as likely  to achieve conformity with the EAW  Regulations, and this includes periodic  inspection. Landlords have further  legal obligations under the Consumer  Protection Act 1987 (CPA). As a  ‘supplier of goods’, the landlord must  ensure that goods are checked before  the tenant takes them over.
    Electrical fire risks

    How often should the installation be inspected?

    The frequency of period inspection is  dependent on the type and use of the  installation, the quality and frequency  of maintenance and any external  influences which the installation  may be subject to. BS7671 provides  guidance that the maximum period  between inspection and testing is  three to five years for most  installations, but this could be more  or less frequent depending on the  installation.

    A 'Competent Person', as specified  under BS7671, should recommend  the frequency on conclusion of their  first inspection.

    The UK Health & Safety Executive defines a 'Competent Person' as "someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety".

    Depending on the particular legislation, the Competent Person can be either an individual or the body which employs the individual to provide inspection services.

    The 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act defines a 'Competent Person' "where, having regard to the task he or she is required to perform and taking account of the size or hazards (or both of them) of the undertaking or establishment in which he or she undertakes work, the person possesses sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work to be undertaken".

    How can I be assured my electrical inspection provider is competent?

    The services of the Competent Person  should be formally accredited by  UKAS to the international   standards  for inspection bodies (ISO/IEC 17020).

    What should a periodic inspection include?

    The installation is defined as the  electrical system between the  incoming supply point(s) and the final  circuits. It may not include fixed  appliances and associated supply  cables or portable appliances,  although these services may also  be available.

    A visual inspection of the complete  installation should be carried out to  verify if there has been any damage  caused to the installation, and that  the system equipment and cables  have been correctly selected and  adequately erected.

    The inspection should also include the  following testing:

    • Functional testing and security of switchgear operations.
    • Protective conductor continuity  tests to measure the earth continuity  between the earth terminal of  switchgear and distribution boards  to accessible exposed conductive  parts of the installation (such as  conduit).
    • Bonding conductor and  supplementary bonding conductor  continuity tests to verify the quality  of earth continuity to metallic parts  which are not part of the electrical  system (such as water pipes).
    • Insulation resistance tests to  measure any deterioration of the  cable insulation between live  conductors and earth.
    • Polarity of live conductors tested at  the origin, distribution boards and at  final circuits, including socket outlets  and 10%  sampling of light switches.   Equipment connected to (or plugged  into) a reversed polarity supply can  become damaged, particularly  electronic equipment.
    • Earth fault loop impedance testing  at the origin, distribution boards  and final circuits, including socket  outlets, to verify the resistance of  the line conductor to the earth  conductor. This ensures that the  current created under fault  conditions will safely operate the  protective device.
    • Prospective short-circuit current  measurement at the origin and  distribution boards to verify that the  highest current which can exist in  the system under  sampling of light switches. conditions is not excessive.
    • RCD testing to confirm that RCDs trip within the recommended times and do not provide nuisance tripping.  A functional test should also be conducted.
    • Phase rotation tests at the origin and distribution boards to verify the consistency of rotation throughout the installation.
    • Earth electrode resistance measured where applicable.
    • Ring circuit continuity may not be included where previous test records  are available.

    What should be included in the report?

    The EAW Regulations and the CPA  make reference to retaining  documentary proof. Within agreed  limitations, the inspection report  should include observations and  recommendations, schedules of test  results on all circuits and give an  assessment of the condition of the installation. It should also include a  list of the instruments used and their  respective calibration date. The  Competent Person conducting  the inspection will appoint one of  three Classification Codes to each  observation recorded during  the inspection.
    * Fire Statistics: April 2013 to March 2014 - Department for Communities and Local Government and Fire and  Rescue Statistics, Scotland, 2013-14 - The Scottish Government

    HSB Inspection Services

    Our electrical wiring inspection services can help customers to achieve regulatory compliance and mitigate electrical wiring risks via our technically expert network of Engineer Surveyors; who are ‘Competent Persons’ under BS7671. As well as assisting property owners, commercial landlords and facilities managers, our inspection services extend to include quarry wiring inspections, public area licences, HV wiring (visual inspection only), and petroleum wiring inspections.