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Inadequate cable support: step forward the plastic ban man

25 June 2013

Richard Shaw, managing director of cable cleat manufacturer, Ellis recently made a bold stand by calling for an immediate ban on the use of plastic products as the sole means of cable support in areas where fallen cables may put fire fighters’ lives at risk.

Testing support: Ellis puts its Phoenix 316L stainless steel cleat through fire testing ahead of its launch back in 2009

In this article, he talks about the reasons for this stance and why he feels the electrical industry needs to act immediately. 

In February, the coroner for Southampton and New Forest, published his recommendations into the deaths of two fire fighters in Southampton in 2010. Alan Bannon and James Shears died while dealing with a fire in a flat on the ninth floor of a high-rise tower block in Southampton.

What made this tragedy even greater is that, from my perspective, it seemed like a tragedy that had been waiting to happen. Back in 2005, fire fighter, Jeff Wornham died in similar circumstances when he became entangled in cables in a high rise fire in Stevenage. 

The HM Coroner’s report following Mr Wornham’s death called on Stevenage Borough Council to remove “all the surface mounted plastic trunking/conduit used to protect and support the fire alarm and automatic fire detection system in the common areas of all their premises and replace them with a method of cable support which as a minimum conforms to BS5839- Part 1: 2002; clause 26.2 (f:)”.

For reference, this clause of the Building Regulations, which govern all building work in the UK, states that, “methods of cable support should be such that circuit integrity will not be reduced below that afforded by the cable used, and should withstand a similar temperature and duration to that of the cable, while maintaining adequate support”.

In effect, this one recommendation, which pre-dates the deaths of Mr Bannon and Mr Shears by two years, precludes the use of plastic cable clips, cable ties or trunking, where these products are the sole means of cable support. 

The issue, though, is that the Building Regulations simply don’t go far enough. Clause 26.2 (f:) only looks at cables for fire alarms and other emergency systems. It doesn’t take into account any other cable types, which can pose exactly the same risk to life if not correctly restrained. 

The Southampton coroner’s report on the 2010 deaths highlighted this deficiency and very firmly recommended that the Building Regulations (BS 7671 (2008)) are amended to ensure all cables, not just fire alarm cables, are supported by fire-resistant cable supports.

Working, as I do, within an industry that is responsible for creating the means of distributing electricity around homes and offices I feel it is imperative to ensure every possible safety precaution is taken. And, put simply, plastic cable supports are not suitable for situations where there’s a risk of the cable falling in the event of a fire.

I know this, and I am certain that the electrical industry as a whole knows this. Therefore l call on our industry to stand together, make our voices heard and demand that the Building Regulations be amended immediately so that they stipulate that all cable systems are safely supported so that in the event of fire they remain intact, in place and don’t make the job of the fire service harder than it already is.

Three young men have already died as a direct result of the inappropriate use of plastic cable supports. Let’s make sure this never happens again. Let’s implement a ban on the use of plastic cable supports in areas where there is a risk of cables falling and posing a potentially life threatening hazard.


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