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When it Comes to the Crunch...

Few industry sectors will be left unscathed by the worldwide economic recession. Although the obvious move for any business is to become leaner, some cost cutting measures could have a negative impact. Here Dr Jeremy Hodge, chief executive of BASEC (British Approvals Service for Cables) talks about the efforts to stamp out faulty cable and calls for a considered approach to cable specification to ensure short term savings don’t end up as costly long term mistakes.

Many of us will have tightened our belts in recent months and although there are some obvious places where savings can be made, there are also some very clear areas where cuttings costs and buying cheaper could have more devastating consequences. It is vital now more than ever to ensure that quality doesn’t become a sacrifice of the credit crunch.

Finding Faults

For the past three years BASEC has campaigned for greater awareness of faulty cables. Such cables have always been an issue but never to the extent that they are today. The rise in faulty cables has been linked to the fluctuating price of copper and other materials and some manufacturers using less copper or cheaper insulation material in the manufacturing process.

The minimum conductivity required for a cable is detailed in cable standards yet the practice of drawing down the diameter of the copper wire resulting in reduced conductivity remains a concern.

So too do the examples of materials other than pure copper used in cabling such as steel wire, copper-coated aluminium or badly recycled copper. All these, as well as poor quality insulation and sheathing material, have been reported to BASEC.

Non-compliant cables may cause problems for installers during installation, or suffer reduced life expectancy. However, more worryingly, BASEC also sees examples of cables which could be a danger to end users either through electrocution or fire.

Spec Check

Today many more projects use advanced computational engineering approaches which require a strict adherence to specification but this isn’t always the case. Where such criteria isn’t in place the recommended approach to avoid issues of faulty cables is to choose a cable that not only meets the relevant British Standard but has been assessed independently to ensure a product’s claims have been verified.

The key to trouble free cable installations is ensuring from specification through to installation cable choice

remains consistent.

BASEC’s six-point Spec Check, for specifiers and installers who may be in any doubt, helps manage this issue and avoid costly downtime and time penalties due to issues with cabling, and provides a framework to reduce the risk.

1 - Get the installation design right. Good installation design reveals the technical specification for each circuit on the mode of use, accessories, current loading, physical protection needs, fire and smoke performance, operating temperature, future expansion, and other factors, which then should be used to specify the cables themselves. If uncertain, contact your professional or trade body or inspectorate.

2 - Get the cable specification right. From the circuit specification, the cables should be specified by reference to the standard number and table / type (e.g., BS 6724 Table 8) or the European harmonised type (e.g., H05VV-F), and then by nominal size and the number of cores. Specify BASEC approved to ensure that the cables comply with the standard. Avoid only specifying brands or trademarks at this stage, to permit the greatest flexibility in procurement.

3 - Communicate specification. Use one of the standard specification packages or forms usable by quantity surveyors and procurement specialists. Instruct your procurement department to buy approved cable - not

just the cheapest available. Delegating procurement down to sub-contractors is an area to watch closely. Make sure the cable specification is cascaded down the sub-contractor chain by including reference to the specifications in contracts. BASEC-approved certified brands and trade mark preferences might be included here.

4 - Check application of the spec. When changes are proposed make sure these are signed off by the

designer to ensure continuing compliance with the design rules. Review bills of materials and subcontractors' proposals. Reject any specifications which are not set out technically in the form originally


5 - Check product on delivery. This is important for both installer and client. When cable arrives on site check

more specifically what has been purchased for you and inspect the product. Is it what was specified? Make

sure records of purchases and deliveries are kept so that what has been installed can be checked against what has been purchased, and against the specification.

6 - Final check.

Commissioning tests and inspections are the last opportunity to enforce the specification. Make sure these are rigorously carried out and if problems are found check what is installed against the original specification again, including brands and trademarks if used. If there are problems found with or questions are raised about a cable, don't automatically strip out the cable, but seek advice. If necessary get the cable tested - BASEC can provide advice in such circumstances.

Mystery Shopping

BASEC has stepped up its scrutiny and testing of cables available on the UK market with the support of the British Cables Association.

End users often approach BASEC when they experience problems with cable they have purchased. On testing many of these have been found to contravene British Standards and some could be considered

dangerous. Because of this BASEC will often purchase a range of products from the open market to check conformity.

In such instances, BASEC conducts a full range of tests on manufacturers’ products and regularly re-tests them to ensure that manufacturing processes remain robust and consistent.

One recent example discovered by BASEC while ‘mystery shopping’ was a cable which claimed to be a heat resistance flex, commonly used in lighting applications. On heat ageing both the insulation on the live core and the sheathing material became brittle. In use, this could result in a short circuit, fire or electrocution.

Another example brought to BASEC’s attention is a “fire performance cable” claiming to comply with BS 5839-1 requirements. Testing revealed very poor fire performance, and conductors made of aluminium. BASEC is still dealing with the case.

This is a classic example of where an unscrupulous manufacturer has deliberately made a cable looking like the real thing but without the required performance characteristics. This cable is dangerous and if installed it needs to be removed and replaced urgently.

BASEC is still tracking down the origin of this cable which is available on the worldwide market. Finding where such cables come from can be difficult, particularly as they often come from overseas.

Specifiers and end users are encouraged to always ask for BASEC approved cable to check for the “BASEC”

marking, and to report any suspicious cable.

Catching the counterfeiters

BASEC is also supporting a campaign to tackle the growing influx of counterfeit electrical goods coming onto the UK market and has joined a number of other industry-wide organisations in signing the Electrical Installation Industry Charter of action to help prevent the illegal and dangerous trade.

Annually, an estimated £30 million worth of counterfeit electrical products reach the UK. The consequences of counterfeit electrical accessories entering the supply chain are damaging to business and the public and could ultimately result in death or injury.

The campaign aims to help stem the use of counterfeit products at source and ensure the UK market does not suffer from a flood of potentially lethal items. This is a growing issue and, in supporting this campaign with other organisations, BASEC aims to stamp out the trade in faked goods in the electrical sector, many

of which are dangerous.

BASEC’s campaign to stamp out faulty cables and its fight against the growing influx of counterfeit electrical

goods highlights the lengths to which some manufacturers will go to make savings. However, whether in times of boom or bust, when it comes to issues of quality and safety there can be no justification for cutting corners.

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