Life-saving legislation that will help prevent fatalities from cable entanglement will be included in UK Wiring Regulations, thanks to successful lobbying from Electrical Safety First, in collaboration with Fire and Rescue Services.

In recent years, there have been some tragic outcomes when falling cables have trapped both those trying to escape and the fire fighters trying to save lives. As a result, from January 1st next year, a new requirement in BS 7671 – which covers electrical installations in the UK – will come into effect. The requirement will compel all new wiring systems to use metal, rather than plastic, to support cables in escape routes, to prevent their premature collapse in the event of a fire.

One of the incidents which led to the new requirement was the death of two fire fighters tackling a blaze in a single flat on the ninth floor of Southampton high-rise, Shirley Towers, where fallen cables were found to be one of the contributory factors in the tragedy. The fire fighters were confronted by an intense blaze and became trapped when the electrical wiring in the ceiling-mounted trunking fell, as the supports holding them up had melted in the heat.

The new requirement will apply only to cables within escape routes that are fixed to the surface of walls or the underside of ceilings. But it is important to note that – as is the case with supports for cables for fire detection, fire alarms and emergency lighting systems – all supports for cables in escape routes should be of non-combustible material such as metal.

“Past experience has shown that, where installed at high level in corridors, stairways and other escape routes (and in high rises blocks particularly), cables supported only by plastic cable clips or by plastic trunking, or conduit without additional metal supports, can pose a significant risk during a fire – to both residents and those attempting to rescue them,” explained Martyn Allen head of the electro-technical division at Electrical Safety First. “We are delighted that our partnership approach to this issue, working with the chief fire officers association (CFOA) and other key stakeholders, has led to this important addition to BS7671 and a step-change improvement in safety”.

John Bonney, chief officer at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Following the death of our two colleagues, Alan Bannon and James Shears, at Shirley Towers, the coroner found that fallen cables – which hampered their attempts to escape – were a key factor in the tragedy. The coroner recommended a change to the legislation around cable support and we have lobbied hard over the last two years, through CFOA, to bring this about. While we cannot undo what happened at Shirley Towers, or other fatal fires where cables have been a factor, this small but vital regulatory change will help protect both the public and fire fighters and prevent them facing similar dangers in the future.”

Andy Reynolds, CFOA lead officer for electrical safety, added: “A new regulation in the wiring regulations has been brought about thanks to the hard work of Electrical Safety First and a successful partnership with CFOA. This regulatory change is a significant life-saving improvement.”