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Cable Safety

Health and safety are vital issues across construction projects

Ducab takes safety seriously.
Ducab takes safety seriously.

Health and safety are vital issues across construction projects in the region, with all aspects of the build process now under scrutiny to ensure risks are minimised.

Construction Week investigates how cabling installations affect safety on site and how manufacturers are playing their
part in tackling the issues.

Often overlooked as a standard fit-and-forget part of a construction project, the cabling installation actually requires some careful input if this is to be true.

Ensuring that the correct design, specification and installation of cables are applied are all vital elements of a safe, long-life system.

And, this means that every aspect of the cabling installation – from the manufacturing process to the commissioning – must be considered in detail. But there are also risks involved in the installation process of which contractors should be aware.

“[In terms of health and safety] there are two sides to this with cables: during installation and during use,” states British Approvals Service for Cables (Basec) chief executive Jeremy Hodge. For contractors and clients these can have very
different implications.

Ensuring safety on site
There are three main areas of risk for installers on large projects in particular: the physical movement of heavy materials; handling of cable in high-rise buildings; and the existence of live services.

“In terms of health and safety, when putting cables in, there are rarely any serious accidents; it tends to be done towards the end of the job and is a relatively safe exercise,” reports Hodge. “The biggest risk comes with the use of heavy equipment for moving the big drums of cable around the site,” Hodge adds.

In recognition of this factor, a new British Standard (BS 8512) was published in early 2009 giving advice on the safe movement of cable drums. As with other international standards, BS 8512 can be applied in the Middle East as per the contractor or client’s specifications.

As cabling is often installed once, much of the civil construction is complete and often in phases, ensuring that records of the work are kept up to date and properly recorded, is vital from a safety aspect.

“There can be damages or even dangers from other services, such as live cables, water lines, fibre optic cables etc while laying new cables,” explains Ducab managing director Andrew Shaw.

“You have the problem of other safety issues associated with cables, such as cutting through them and getting an electric shock,” adds Hodge. “Because of this the proper control of power circuitry on construction sites is important ie. people need to know what cables are live, at all times.”

Such information should be continually updated as part of the project management job and provided to all firms operating on the site.

The third risk, that of installation in high-rise buildings, can also be counteracted by a thorough health and safety policy and management on site. “There is a fall risk in [service] shafts when cleating cable to the walls,” explains Hodge.

By ensuring that operatives follow strict safety guidelines, work from the correct surfaces and wear harnesses as needed when working at height, the risk of such tasks can be minimised.

Post-build safety
After installation, there are several potential issues that could occur if safety has not been considered during the design and build period. More important, however, is that the cables be correctly specified, procured and installed.

“Cables are generally fit-and-forget items, the only time when you would have cause to worry is when the quality of the cable is not good or there has been a design problem and the cable is under-sized, which may cause failure,” states Hodge.

“Electrical fires, over-heating, short-circuits or electrical disruptions [could occur] due to incorrect selection of cables for the application or poor quality of cable materials such as insulation,” explains Shaw.

The principal danger with cabling installations is fire. “Approximately 20% of all fires are caused by electrical installations and a significant percentage of these are the result of faulty electrical cables,” reports Graeme Aittis, general manager of AEI Cables’ Dubai office.

The effects of any fire increases dramatically if the cables selected and installed are not suitable for the task.

“Should a fire occur, the use of materials not appropriate to the application may result in dense smoke being emitted,” explains Shaw. “This can cause suffocation and/or poor visibility that may lead to life losses,” he stresses.

The increasing selection of products manufactured from low smoke and fume materials is reducing this risk and most of the major cable manufacturers offer such ranges.

There is a second area to consider in terms of reducing fire risk. Hodge explains: “At every floor you should make sure that the ducts are filled with appropriate fire-stopping materials to prevent the spread of smoke and fire between floors.”

Again, appropriate materials and products are now available on the market to ensure that full fire breaks can be successfully achieved.

Getting the system design right
Designing a suitable cabling system for a project and ensuring that the correct cables and associated products are specified can be done successfully by following internationally approved standards.

There are numerous related standards in existence and these should be selected according to the application. Also important is that the standards selected by the design team should be applied across the entire project.

“It’s important that specifiers state the whole construction standard [being worked to] and that designers specify the right cables for the job,” stresses Hodge.

Cables should be both manufactured and installed according to British and international standards, stresses Shaw. The major manufacturers offer various help to ensure that contractors can accurately follow these standards and ensure a quality final system.

“Ducab provides a special catalogue for installation practices such as the minimum bending radius and maximum pulling tensions that should be adhered to,” explains Shaw.

The firm also offers technical support including cable selection and has a dedicated technical service department and jointer academy that offers training for engineers, supervisors and site operatives.

AEI also offers a bespoke design service in order to ensure the specific requirements of each individual project and each cable used is fit for purpose to provide a quality and safe electrical installation.

The firm has supplied products to several high-profile developments in the region including the Masdar Project. For Masdar it is providing Firetec armoured and Firetec standard cables to ensure continuity of power for the fire alarm and detection systems.

Ensuring quality
Specifying cables to meet the demand of the project is only the first step in creating a safe and quality installation. The next step is to ensure that the cables specified are properly procured.

“The use of sub-standard cable products to cut costs is a major issue, and the potential impact this has on health and safety is a concern,” warns Aittis.

“We are aware that there are plain substandard cables with less copper etc coming in from China, but there are also counterfeit cables being made,” warns Hodge.

“The most worrying thing we have found in the UAE is counterfeit fire performance cable being used for alarm systems. On first inspection this looks the same as it should, but all the components and materials are wrong. When tested, this cable failed within three minutes,” Hodge reports.

The ongoing economic downturn has played its part in this issue as firms seek to cut costs. “In the current economic climate, there is a greater chance for unsafe non-compliant products to be available in the marketplace,” warns Aittis.

“The low demand in the market due to fact that a number of projects have been cancelled or are on hold has resulted in customers seeking cost-cutting approaches to complete projects,” adds Shaw.

“This cost saving approach leads to a compromise on product quality and if customers use substandard products it can lead to fire risks and downtime caused by cable failures,” he warns.

In order to avoid such problems, contractors should always procure cables from reputable sources and ask for certification of their manufacture to internationally approved standards.

“Contractors should be vigilant and ensure that they select manufacturers they know and trust,” stresses Aittis.

“It is important to look at certification from a third-party approval scheme to further ensure that the cable manufacturer is consistently manufacturing to the highest standard,” adds Aittis. “If it’s a reputable brand and traceable to the sources then it’s okay,” agrees Hodge.

There are a number of steps that clients can take to ensure that the procured cable is what it is claimed to be. Firstly, cable should be specified with respect to a specific British Standard, which should be adopted into the project and communicated to those involved, including the contractor responsible for the installation.

The requisition should clearly state the standard and require third party approval; it should also specify a brand name from a manufacturer that is recognised as a reputable company.

“Where fire performance is paramount, a proper risk assessment should be conducted and the appropriate cable standard and code of practice applied accordingly,” adds Aittis.

“On receipt of cable, it should be inspected for the appropriate markings and the size of the cores should be checked to ensure that the cable is fully compliant.

This is an area where non-compliant cable manufacturers frequently cut costs given the high cost of raw materials,” reports Aittis. “It is also an area that has the greatest impact on cable safety.”

If there is any doubt over the compliance or suitability of the cable for the application, an internet checks can be made via a third-party approval service.

Major cables firms apply strict procedures throughout the manufacturing process in order to ensure final quality of system build.

“­There is a stringent approval procedure for the selection of raw material suppliers that includes site visits, trials and audits,” explains Shaw. “There is also 100% testing of the final products,” he assures. AEI Cables products also meet the highest accreditation standards from Basec and the LPCB.

In some cases the recession has begun to act as a positive factor. “We are generally finding that people are spending more time checking on quality recently,” reports Hodge.

“As the workload has gone down, checking has gone up as people have more time to do so. On the projects that are going ahead, firms want to make sure they progress without any hiccups,” he adds.

In order to ensure the final system has a high quality, specifiers should insist that thorough checks should be seen through to commissioning and inspection level, concludes Aittis.

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