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Check your cable markings

Cable wholesalers and distributors in the UK have a responsibility to ensure that the cable they stock meets appropriate British and European standards to make sure it is safe to use and fit for purpose.

Check your cable markings

Suitable cable can be identified by cable markings and reel labels. In some cases however, markings and labels can be misleading, or even make false claims of compliance with a particular standard.

The British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) is a recognised sign of assurance of independent cable testing and approval. The organisation rigorously tests electrical cables, data and signal cables and ancillary products to meet appropriate British, European and international standards through detailed examination of manufacturers' production processes and controls, and regular product testing.

Jeremy Hodge, chief executive at BASEC explained: “It is important that electrical wholesalers know what markings to look for on cable sheaths, not just on the packaging. All cables should be traceable to the manufacturer, so always look for a mark of origin that you recognise.

Many cables are required to have a standard number marked on the cable, or a type marking, so if these are missing it is worth questioning the supplier. BASEC recommends using approved cables, so check for an approval mark such as BASEC or HAR. If there is no approval mark on the cable then it is not approved. Only cable marked with the BASEC name has been approved by BASEC, and a HAR mark is only valid if the mark of the relevant approval body is also present.

“Some non-approved cables claim to comply with a British, European or international standard, but when tested it is found that they do not. If BASEC finds such cable with serious safety faults we will issue a public warning. Problems could include excessive or poor conductor resistance, which could lead to overheating in use or electric shock, or the sheath or insulation could disintegrate when subjected to hot or cold temperatures.

“If you find a cable without a manufacturer’s origin mark, or completely unmarked, these should be rejected. It is highly likely that such cables have technical faults that could result in hazards to installers or users, or that might need expensive replacement.

“Some cable markings are optional and can assist the user, such as a CMA code, but these do not replace the need to apply the proper origin and standard number marking, as appropriate.”

It is a common misunderstanding that a cable is compliant with standards or even BASEC approved just because the supplier claims that it has been produced to a particular standard, by printing the standard number on the cable. Cable marked with only a standard number should still be treated with caution, as it is probable that nobody independent of the manufacturer has examined that cable.

Unfortunately, it is often not until cables are installed, tested or used that a quality issue comes to light and by then it can be too late to avoid the enormous costs of rectifying the situation.

If you are a wholesaler, we advise the following precautionary steps and action to safeguard against the risk of installing cable which is sub-standard:

1) Prevention is better than cure – ensure you stock independently approved cable – look for a third party certification mark.
2) Seek early advice if a suspect cable is discovered.
3) Contact BASEC on cable quality issues or your trade body e.g. the Electrical Distributors Association.
4) Keep records, including reel ends with batch numbering on, receipts from the manufacturer or distributor and any other sales records on your computer system, and a sample of the cable markings.

Short lengths of cable can be sent to BASEC for checking and testing. Based on the test results, BASEC will then advise on the best course of action.

BASEC is currently investigating a number of potentially problematic cables including some arctic grade and installation cables.

A significant fraction of the cable on the UK market is unsafe, non-approved or counterfeit, and traders of cable must use their knowledge and experience to avoid contributing to the problem. This is a major concern for the entire industry from manufacturer through installer to end user, who may not even be aware of the health and safety threat posed or the potential legal ramifications for the organisation or individual. BASEC encourages a cross market collaborative approach to investigate, address and solve this problem.

BASEC also supports the work of the Approved Cables Initiative (ACI) in seeking a cross market solution to the problem of sub-standard and counterfeit cable in the UK market.

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