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Impact of Standard change

Author : Paul Craddick

30 November 2011

Compliance with electrical safety standards is about to take a developmental step with an amendment to the British Standard heralding important changes that will interest every FM professional. Paul Craddick explains

Paul Craddick

The last change to the electrical British Standard saw a brand new (17th) Edition coming into force in 2008. It doesn’t seem long since that update, which had a far reaching impact on how we approach electrical safety. However, it’s now time to prepare for the latest change to BS7671, which was launched in July 2011 and will be in force from January 2012. Whilst this amendment hasn’t required a new Edition of the Standard, its impact for electrical safety is likely to be even greater than the introduction of the 17th

A new Edition of a British Standard usually attracts significant interest and attention. The 17th Edition was the subject of many articles and there was a rush to interpret what its impact would be. Less excitement may be caused by an amendment perhaps, but don’t mistake BS7671:2008 (2011) as a minor update. Whilst this amendment hasn’t required a new Edition of the Standard, its impact for electrical safety is likely to be even greater than the introduction of the 17th Edition thanks to the transformation of reporting.

Background to the amendment

BS7671 comes originally from The Wiring Regulations of 1882, first issued by the Society of Telegraph Engineers and of Electricians. A lot has changed since then and we have seen many new editions and amendments to the Wiring Regulations in the years since.

Due process was naturally followed to create the amendment to BS7671 and in July 2010 a draft for public comment was issued in accordance with BSI rules, a consultation period that allowed a 12 week period for interested parties to review and comment. Subsequent to this process, BS7671: 2008 (2011) has been published with a phased six month introduction to allow all parties to become familiar with the changes and to take any necessary steps to prepare for compliance. Installations designed after 31 December 2011 are to comply with BS7671:2008 (2011), thus the new amended Standard comes into force on 1st January 2012.

The changes to the Standard have been introduced largely due to the UK’s obligation under the treaty of Rome, to incorporate technical intent of Standards developed at the European CENELEC level. Thus BS7671 is based on the CENELEC Harmonised Documents 60364 series. The standardisation process for BS7671 is the responsibility of a joint technical committee between BSI and the IET (The Institution of Engineering and Technology, www.theiet.org), JPEL/64, the national committee for low-voltage electrical installations.

For clarity it should be said that BS7671:2008 (2011) has a non-statutory status. However it is referenced in The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and The Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations 2002 as the standard to be met. Requirements of BS7671:2008 (2011) should not be applied retrospectively to installations that predate its enforcement (installations designed before 1 January 2012). However it is possible that periodic inspection could find issues necessitating improvement or remedial repair.

Changes to the Standard: Part 6 – Inspection & Testing

Probably the most dramatic change in this amendment is the introduction of the new Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR), (detailed in Chapter 63 of Part 6) which replaces the Periodic Inspection Report (PIR). The aim of this new document is to make it explicit to the recipient exactly what it is and what it does; to be more descriptive and to make it much easier for the Duty Holder to understand test reports and act upon them. It is the document that will now be issued following periodic inspection and testing.

Within the EICR will be observations or non-compliances. These detail the coded faults and the classification has been changed and simplified in the amendment. The new codes are:

C1: Danger present. Risk of injury. Immediate remedial action required.
C2: Potentially dangerous – urgent remedial action required.
C3: Improvement recommended.
The recording of either a C1 or C2 observation in the EICR would result in an unsatisfactory outcome. In other words, the installation would not be deemed compliant to BS7671:2008 (2011). In this case the recipient of the report must take action, either immediately or urgently, in accordance with the observation made.

By highlighting exceptions to a satisfactory installation, the EICR rapidly draws attention to the issues and the appropriate response to them. If an issue is recorded it should be dealt with. (Note: the EICR is covered by regulations 631.2, 631.4, 631.5 and 634.1.)

From a safety point of view the new EICR is a significant improvement. In the past many that commissioned testing and received a PIR found it difficult to assimilate and interpret. Indeed many people have mistaken the PIR for a ‘pass certificate’ and upon receipt wrongly thought that it automatically signalled compliance. In electrical safety there is currently no such thing as a testing certificate; the test report should be a thorough document that sets out details of the testing conducted and the results found. However, the technical style and language of the PIR (originally designed to be read by qualified electricians) made this challenging for most people to understand and act upon. To establish whether or not the installation as a whole was ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ you would have to scrutinise page 2, section G to find this single world summary finding.

In the past we have written about what we call ‘the remedial gap’; a lethal hole in the safety process that can occur between the compliance stages of safety testing and getting the essential remedial repairs completed that are found by that testing. In simple terms, all too many organisations fail to act on the findings of the testing they commission, meaning that reported dangers remain unresolved: The danger is found and reported but not fixed. The reason for this could easily be thanks to the lack of clarity delivered by the PIR for duty holders. We sincerely hope that the new EICR will minimise or remove the ‘remedial gap’ – duty holders should be well informed and able to act swiftly and appropriately.

In summary, the new EICR will replace the PIR. It should make things explicit and informative, removing the historic confusion and danger of unmanaged faults. Model forms for the EICR have been issued by the IET (in Appendix 6) and so there is a clear and consistent reporting approach for those offering test and inspection.

New sections added
The structure of the Standard has not changed; parts one to seven remain in place, with updates to the content.

One appendix has been added: 16. Devices for protection against overvoltage
Two appendices have been removed: 11. Harmonic currents in three phase systems and
12. Voltage drop in consumers’ installations
Content from these has been moved to Appendix 4 which has been renamed: 4. Current carrying capacity and voltage drop for cables
Four new specific Sections have been added:

Section 444 deals with measures against electromagnetic disturbances

This has been included to provide requirements and recommendations to avoid and reduce electromagnetic disturbances that may interfere or damage IT systems and to meet the EMC Directive 2004/108/EC.

Disturbances may be caused by an electric current causing a change in strength of its associated electromagnetic field, which can induce voltages and currents in other conductors nearby. Sources of such disturbance include electric motors, fluorescent lighting, transformers, switchgear, and switching devices for inductive loads. Switching and starting can create interference or disturbance on the system.

This new section potentially has major impact for new builds and refurbishment projects. The requirement is now for bonding networks such as protective conductors, multiple meshed or common meshed bonding star networks. It is recommended that on each floor an equipotential bonding system be installed. These systems should then be interconnected at least twice by conductors. It will no longer be sufficient for computers, for instance, to be earthed through the power cable. They must now all be individually connected to the bonded network in the floor.

Section 534 deals with devices for protection against overvoltage
Surge protection to limit transient overvoltages and divert surge currents, particularly important with the growing reliance on sensitive electronic components and processors in the equipment that organisations commonly now use. This concerns transient overvoltages only, caused by lightning strikes, switching of inductive loads (such as motors starting) and HV switching on the distribution network. Types of protection include equipotential bonding or lightning protection/current SPD on at the main switchboard, overvoltage or surge arrester SPD at the sub-board and overvoltage of device protection SPD located with items of equipment.

Section 710 concerns medical locations
Applies to hospitals, private clinics, medical and dental practices, healthcare centres and dedicated medical rooms in the work place, designed to manage the risks specific to this environment according to the definition of the location.

In addition to the requirements of Chapter 62, periodic inspection procedures are recommended for various aspects of medical locations. Annual functional tests for insulation monitoring devices, annual measures for resistance of the supplementary equipotential bonding and measurements every three years of leakage current of the output circuit and the enclosure of the medical IT transformers.

Section 729 offers detail for operating or maintenance gangways
To provide a safe working environment for those professionals working in areas of restricted space or restricted access.

Many of the changes made within the amendment concern improvements in wording, designed to make BS7671:2008 (2011) more understandable. Harmonisation has also impacted the language used, for example Definitions (Part 2) have been amended, as far as is practicable, to align with the International Electrotechnical Vocabulary (IEV), section 826.

The addition of the new Sections listed above has also meant their inclusion and reference to them throughout the Standard.

What now?
This amendment has implications for those who design, install, test and maintain electrical systems. Preparation for BS7671:2008 (2011) means that all in the electrical market must undergo training to fully understand the details of the changes. This process is being supported by the IET with the provision of a range of courses and the publication of a series of eight Guidance Notes. The changes to Part 6 also mean that handheld electrical test meters must be updated with software upgrades.

From an FM perspective there may be little required now, other than an appreciation of the changes heralded by the amendment. The most important of these for the FM professional is the introduction of the EICR following periodic fixed installation inspection and test – hopefully making compliance more straightforward. Acting upon the observations within the EICR is the key concern of the commissioning FM and the Duty Holder.

Paul Caddick works for PHS Compliance


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