There surely cannot be a single electrician in the country to have missed the third electrical amendment to the 17th edition IET Wiring Regulations.
The proposed changes to consumer fuse board units were extensively discussed way before they were implemented this January. In fact, there’s been 12 months to contemplate the BS 7671:2011 amendment, which was first published in January 2015.
The revised wording states that newly-installed consumer units and similar switchgear assemblies (within domestic properties) should have a non-combustible enclosure or cabinet made from ferrous metal such as steel. The enclosure must completely envelope the fuse board itself and any blanks, circuit-breakers and other devices, and all wire entries and other openings should also be proficiently sealed.
The development comes in response to a reported increase in fires from consumer units with a moulded thermoplastic enclosure. It is thought that metal enclosures on the other hand will help contain any fires that start.
Of course any measure to heighten the safety of homeowners should be praised. And hopefully, in a few months’ time, we’ll be able to reflect on improved statistics which demonstrate that the change has worked!
So why has there been so much discussion surrounding the amendment? I obviously can’t speak for everyone but I have some thoughts as to the reasons underpinning the debate.
All responsible electricians want to improve standards of electrical safety throughout the UK, but changing the material that consumer units are enclosed within, will not solve all of our problems. It doesn’t help, for example, that DIY shops sell fuse boards. We’ve even seen in-store stands offering step-by-step installation advice. We need to move away from this ‘do it yourself’ mentality for works of this kind.
There is also concern that if an earth wire was not properly connected, the whole unit could come live. Of course there would need to be a number of faults for such an incident to occur, but we have to remember that metal is a conductor and not all DIY enthusiasts know exactly what to look for when carrying out their own electrical jobs.
One of my most pressing worries however, stems from an article on the IET website. The cause of consumer unit fires was almost always found to be resistance heating that arose due to poor workmanship or lack of maintenance. This reinforces how important it is to discourage people from DIY electrical works, and perhaps highlights a need to raise standards among less scrupulous trained professionals. I’m not suggesting the fuse board amendment is masking the problem, but it perhaps only gives us part of the answer, rather than the full solution.
By Kris Johnson, joint managing director of www.ti-installationsltd.co.uk.