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Getting fired up about safety

Kevin McCarthy, managing director of Katko, pours cold water on the popular belief that retail, commercial, or industrial premises with neon signs are ‘low fire risk’ and don’t need to install a Fireman Switch.

Getting fired up about safety

In reality, this is not the case, and the many electrical contractors, facility managers and consultants who believe this should know better! I’m not just talking about their moral obligations to employees, neighbouring premises, and the emergency services, I am talking about it being an illegal practice - the violation of a major safety code.

The term ‘low fire risk’ is, in any case, a highly subjective judgment. Who knows how fire-prone a premises is, until it goes up in smoke? Well, some people do - namely, the people who drew up the 17th edition of the IEE Regulations regarding installation control and protection. These regulations clearly state that a fireman’s emergency switch must be provided where any circuit operates at a potential difference exceeding low voltage. The cut-off point for measuring low voltage is 600V AC or 900V DC between conductors and ground, which probably puts the onus on a lot of people to ‘do the necessary’ and install a Fireman Switch.

It should also be noted that CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) has become integral to the working practices of most businesses. In short, it is the responsibility of an employer to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees as well as other persons who may be affected by their business.

Fireman Switches are special safety switches that are sited on the exterior walls of petrol stations, shops and shopping centres, nightclubs, theatres, hotels, restaurants etc. In the event of fire, firemen use them to turn off neon lighting and signage to prevent detonation and explosion. A Fireman Switch also ensures the safety of fire fighters who may, if a higher voltage system is still energised, receive life threatening electric shocks.

As the IEE Regulations point out, these installations usually take the form of discharge lighting, including neon signs. All such external systems, as well as internal signs that operate unattended, must under the new Regs be controlled by a Fireman Switch. Specifiers and contractors concerned with buildings, having interior or exterior neon signage, must make sure that these premises have a Fireman Switch to meet the IEE Regulation on installation control and protection.

But which Fireman Switch should be installed? I will offer one word of impartial advice… before recommending a Katko product…. Make sure that the Fireman Switch you specify is technically up to date… Some are not. Katko’s latest-generation 25/40/63A range of Fireman Switches meet all relevant British and International standards/accreditations, existing and planned and, of course, all statutory requirements and wiring regulations.

The Katko range has a side-mounted, pole-operated, ring handle, which automatically locks, in the ‘OFF’ position. The specification also includes a red metal-clad, IP66 rated enclosure with door interlocked cover, 3 cable entries, padlockable handle and contains a 3 or 4 pole, fully rated load break switch, all according to the latest IEE Regulations.

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