Working in harmony

As the harmonisation of cable core colours in Hong Kong reaches the halfway stage of the legal transition period, what effect will this have on the Middle East market? Jeremy Hodge explains the worldwide changes that MEP professionals must be alert to over the coming months.

British Approvals Service for Cables, ANALYSIS, MEP

As the harmonisation of cable core colours in Hong Kong reaches the halfway stage of the legal transition period, what effect will this have on the Middle East market?

Jeremy Hodge explains the worldwide changes that MEP professionals must be alert to over the coming months.

While Hong Kong works to bring cable core colour requirements in alignment with European standards, the effects of this change is starting to become evident in the Middle East, with many local cable manufacturers changing their output to suit the export market.

With electrical safety a top priority, the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) is advising Middle East manufacturers and end-users to have a clear understanding of these changes as the worldwide switch to harmonised cable core colours continues.

The harmonisation of cables relates to the colour identification of fixed wiring installations, with the sheath colours and marking systems both affected.

Many territories, including countries in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and the wider Middle East, currently have no plans for change or have already decided not to change their cable identification systems at all.

Yet several of these territories and the municipalities within them specify the use of British and European Standards in their electrical codes or their electrical trades commonly use them.

BASEC believes such territories, including the Middle East market, will over time come to adopt harmonised colours. But in the meantime, the switch in Hong Kong and Europe will have an impact on selling cable in regions that have already adopted the new colours.

Middle East changes

Some Middle East cable firms already manufacture to the harmonised core colours and will be aware of the changes, but others won't. It is vital that all manufacturers with orders to supply cables to Europe and Hong Kong have a strong grasp of the changes and the issues associated with them.

Over the past year the production of cable to the new harmonisation colours has increased dramatically in the region, with reports of limited stocks and minimum order limits for cables that use the previous colours.

BASEC is currently working with the relevant authorities and end-users worldwide to help ease through these changes and is continuing to provide manufacturers with approvals and the most up-to-date technical standards for use in territories that have not changed to harmonised colours.

The BASEC mark on a cable is intended to provide reassurance that this specific cable has demonstrated its compliance to the relevant standards, having been tested under the guidance of the Approvals Service.

Wide-scale harmonisation

In 2004, the colours used in fixed electrical installations were harmonised across European countries, with the UK's IEE Wiring Regulations amended accordingly.

This move effectively created the beginnings of a single European market for cables. Safety was a key consideration for the change as firms and individuals operating across Europe previously used different colour coding systems.

The changes adopted throughout Europe included the replacement of the traditional colours of red and black (for the phase and neutral of single-phase circuits) with brown for the phase and blue for the neutral.

This colour combination was familiar to all in the industry as it had been used around the world in flexible cables and cords for 28 years.

Black and grey were formalised as the colours for additional live phases, replacing blue and yellow, while the green-and-yellow of protective conductors remained unchanged.

The UK successfully completed the changeover with the amended Wiring Regulations (BS 7671) allowing the use of new conductor colours for fixed wiring from 1 April 2004.

Continued use of the old colours was permitted until 1 April 2006, after which time only the new colours could be used. During the two-year transition period it was possible to use either the new or old colours, but not a combination of both in the same installation work.

Market reaction

Designers and installers were seen to change their practices very early in the UK transition period, so the demand for old colour cable diminished quite quickly.

The same trend is being witnessed in Hong Kong and manufacturers and suppliers of cable need to be aware of this and be able to adapt to the changes in demand. In Hong Kong the transition to the new cable colour code began on 1 July 2007 and concludes on 30 June 2009.

Having experienced the changes in the UK and how it is progressing in Hong Kong, it's clear that broad industry awareness and training is key to the success of the change.

Our advice to Hong Kong users is to make the switch sooner rather than later and be aware of the key dates. This is also good advice for cable manufacturers that are supplying the Hong Kong market.

Any project that started after 1 July 2007 and continues beyond the two-year mandatory changeover date must use the new core colours. It is only projects that started prior to this date and were using old core colours that should continue along this line to prevent a mix of colours on a single project.

BASEC believes that the Middle East market will also see a change in cable core colours in the future, although the management of the change rather than the change itself may be hard to deliver in the region. Ensuring that everyone is informed and aware of changes will be made more complex in an area of such linguistic diversity and the lack of a single trade organisation to deliver the message.

Developers of large Middle East projects, working with local regulators, are in a good position to set local policies on the issue of core colours. We encourage them to plan and communicate carefully, particularly with suppliers.

In such instances high-profile public awareness campaigns and a co-ordinated effort between regional authorities is needed to reduce safety risks and manage the changeover.

Jeremy Hodge is chief executive of the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC).

        CABLE COLOURS: The move to harmonisation

  • On 1 April 2004 the colours used for the identification of fixed electrical cables was harmonised across European countries within their wiring standards.
  •  A two-year transition period was allowed prior to full implementation in the UK on 1 April 2006.
  •  On 1 July 2009 the use of the same harmonised cable colours becomes law in Hong Kong following a two-year transition period where either old or new colours could be used under the proviso that the two systems are not mixed on a single project.
One year into the transition period, the use of the new colours is virtually standard on new-build projects.
  •  The harmonised colours of brown, grey, black and blue replace the previous colours of red, black, yellow and blue used under previous British standards.
  • Traditionally the previous British Standards colour coding system has been used in the Middle East, however many local cable manufacturers are changing to large-scale production of the harmonised colour system in order to enable global sales and to serve the Hong Kong market in particular.

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