Not your average accessories: it is time for a switch up

Sep 4, 2017 | Cables and Accessories

By Jim Hutchison, National Sales Manager, Crabtree

Wiring accessories aren’t always at the forefront of a specifier’s mind, and the term itself can often mean different things to different people.

In reality, a ‘wiring accessory’ can be anything from a plug socket, to USB socket, data outlet, fuse connection unit or light switch. So, although the term might not ring any bells at first, in every commercial project wiring accessories represent a significant part of the investment in the electrical installation infrastructure.

It’s for this reason that they deserve plenty of attention during the specification phase; after all, they’re everywhere, used by everyone and there’s more to consider than meets the eye.

Easy, efficient and effective

When sourcing wiring accessories, specifiers should aim to go above and beyond the basic standards and requirements. Two key considerations are installation efficiency and usability.

Installation should be made as quick and straightforward a process as possible, meaning features such as upward-facing inline terminals should be high on a specifier’s radar. Inline terminals have an easy connection layout that improves installation time because there’s no need to rotate or twist the accessory.

Specifiers shouldn’t just consider making the lives of installers easier, but the public using a building too. To exceed Part M and aid usability, it’s important that specifiers makes things as clear as possible for the public. It’s beneficial to have light switches with large push pads aligning to door handles (within 900mm-1100mm) as well as switches that share a plate are well separated on sockets with multiple power outlets.

Specifiers’ number one priority

Safety will always be the most important consideration when it comes to specifying wiring accessories, and a specifier should feel reassured that their choices both meet and exceed current regulations.

In particular, there are a number of safety risks associated with active plug sockets; the biggest being risk of electrical shock. In commercial builds, all sockets are required to have an integral shutter mechanism in order to meet the minimum standard permitted for compliance with the British Standard, BS 1363. The mechanism prevents access to the live pins (the cause of electric shock), unless the earth pin is engaged.

However, in rare cases this safety feature can be misused, whether intentionally or by mistake, via the insertion of something into the earth pin first. The ease at which misuse of the mechanism can take place presents a huge risk to the user and has long been an issue.

New developments mean it’s now possible to maximise safety by specifying sockets with mechanisms that exceed the basic requirements of the British Standard. Twin Action Multi Pin Safety Shutter mechanisms are new to market and use additional measures to prevent inadvertent access. They ensure openings in the plug socket remains closed, even when the earth pin is engaged.

A growing concern

Although there are risks associated with sockets themselves, there’s also a new threat that requires a specifiers consideration; dangerous counterfeit charger leads and plugs that are being bought and used in commercial builds across the UK.

As the public increasingly expects to be able to ‘charge-up’ mobile devices whatever their location, the use of counterfeit chargers is an increasing concern, particularly in office builds. A test by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute in 2016 found that only three out of 400 counterfeit Apple chargers were insulated well enough to protect the user from electric shock.

It’s difficult for an employer to regulate and prevent their employees’ use of counterfeit chargers and success depends entirely on attitude. As a result, the responsibility to protect staff is increasingly falling to the specifier.

To limit their risk and improve safety, specifiers can now source USB charging facilities in fixed installations; which guarantee charger performance regardless of mobile device brand.

On top of this, intelligent mobile device charging should be considered. This feature can recognise the type of device that’s drawing charge and by doing so automatically applies the correct charging regime. This protects devices against damages like screen burn, that can occur through the use of third-party chargers.

There’s clearly a number of things that specifiers should be considering when specifying in this area. Innovative wiring accessories are entering the market that have the ability to significantly improve the overall safety of a building, its aesthetic appeal and make the installation process more efficient; but only if specifiers open their eyes to the importance of wiring accessories. We believe it’s high time they got the attention they deserve.