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Commentary on Part P for Wiring Regulations

Having read and heard all the goings on about changes to building regulations in particular Part P[1]. I decided to send the following to the IEE, being a member of this institute who are partly responsible for electrical wiring standards in the UK. However realising that they will get inundated with comments on this subject (as they already are) and they have a vested interest in protection of the status of their standard, it would probably not see the light of day. So I have placed my comments here for others to read.

Part P - The Four P's and Risk Analysis

The "Four P's" but it is only one P? That may be the case but Part P is a sledgehammer to crack an atom, and the wrong atom at that!

Yes there may be declining fatalities and increasing non-fatal electrical incidents, what is new or worrying about that - not very much. That may seem a scandalous viewpoint to some who take the view - one life lost is one too many. However as usual the general public, politicians and bureaucrats (IEE included) lose the plot when it comes to risk analysis. Under current Health & Safety regimes in the workplace more time is spent by lots of people worrying about the correct procedures, training and certified personnel on how to open a tin of paint and dispose of it, than their driving habits!

Whatever we do to regulate somebody will do something stupid - like overload sockets, not get frayed cabling repaired, do their own cheap fix and not notify or get inspected wiring. No amount of regulations and standards will stop ALL lives being lost, it can only be minimised, how often we forget Darwinism![3]

What is the analysis of the fatal and non-fatal incidents involving electrical wiring in any year compared to road traffic incidents (fatal and non-fatal). The public (as a whole) does not change its driving habits and even get the slightest bit worried at the thousands of road deaths a year, those affected do. Those affected may well change their habits and driving safety for a while and at a specific incident area they know, but nearly all revert back to their old ways.

So how does this relate to Part P? Well in this way that the blame culture and litigious nature of the world means that everybody is trying to prevent themselves being sued, but excluding quite a bit of the major areas of electrical safety - the DIY[2] market. What proportion of the incidents was due to qualified and semi-qualified technicians or installation engineers compared to the DIY[2] jobs? The vast majority will be the end user or landlord of commercial and residential property being the cause of the problem, which Part P will NOT resolve.

How many people buy a new house and know how old the wiring is or care, and have a wiring diagram of the circuits or even know where the circuits run! Most have no idea about it and pay scant regard to safety in their own home or the new home they want whatever way possible as the other issues of buying take over their thoughts. Too many times I have seen and made good atrocious wiring that has classics of:-

  • Wiring more than 30 years old
  • Spur hell (too many spurs on one ring or spurs off of spurs..)
  • Power sockets in first floor rooms taken as spurs or ring circuit from the ground floor lighting circuit!
  • Nails in wiring
  • Improperly protected wiring
  • Wrong type of wiring used for circuits or extensions or appliances.
  • Wiring embedded in walls in makeshift manners even DIAGONALLY across walls, embedded in various filler compounds.

None of this will be stopped by Part P, as it is all DIY within the house, not bathroom or kitchen. None of this I dare touch now due the regulations and no doubt further incantations of it and litigation due to it.

How many buildings commercial or even public, have you heard of being rewired? Some of these buildings may well have 30+ year old wiring. When have you heard of your 1960's school being rewired?

So if we really want to cut down on electrical incidents, we already have regular PAT[4] testing for appliances in non-residential premises to ensure appliances are still safe. So we really need to start thinking the other way round with measures such as:-

  1. Electrical installation parts not for retail sale, as appliances already come with moulded or correct plug on the lead. So any work must be carried out by a qualified electrician or even electrical technician (for those who insist on this outdated classification).
  2. Property sales should include an electrical testing and inspection certificate that shows
    • Age of wiring and time to needing replacement
    • Type of ciruits, number and loading capability
    • Wiring diagram - to include number and location of ALL fittings at time of test
    • Diagrams on routing of wiring (reduce chances of drilling through wiring)
    • Items recently rectified to meet latest standards
    This should be a precondition of all property sales in law to enable an exchange of contracts of the sale. Which is BEYOND any current testing and survey reports.

    In short THOROUGH PAT testing for buildings.

    The only trouble is that this method would be used as a justification for the paperwork etc. schemes being brought in. No doubt another bunch of testers like the current PAT testers who don't have the faintest idea about Ohms Law, let alone what the test reults mean.

  3. Those carrying out the work should be qualified as is already required (before Part P).
  4. All appliances to change to wiring and appliance inlets capable of carrying current for the standard 13A fuse and 13A fuse only. How often I have seen low power appliances (<1A) using 6A cable and the lead is sold with a 13A fuse in the plug!

    The classic example is C7 to 13A plug sold with 13A fuse in plug and 2.5A wire rating, as sold by the manufacturer!

    Worse still the user changes it to a 13A, because the 3A or 5A fuse blew.

  5. Make a well publicised statutory time limit for life of wiring in ANY building. The insulation characteristics of wiring and the fact that buildings are normally around a lot longer than appliance means the ageing of wiring and its insulation is important.
  6. Create a recognised levels of qualifications and training suitable for DIY, up to National Grid power distribution. The vast majority of work is not in areas of water, but internal to single phase buildings and outbuildings, once it is EASIER for people to get the training to do it, it will become safer, as well as the training will reduce other hazards like circuit overloading.

Now we get to the "Four P's" which Part P is really about the following four things:-

Paperwork
for the bureaucrats, lawyers insurance companies to sue using their blame trail. Sort out who is to blame not try to make sure the job is done right first.
Payments
Creating an extra level of payments for new training courses, certificates, quangos and insurance companies.
To the extent all the grandiose statements supporting the scheme are MAINLY from the bodies that are going to make money from the scheme, as can be seen by their websites.
Price
Making it more expensive for the end customer who is MORE likely to cut corners and safety.
Pretentious
It is yet another feather in the cap for putting on CVs, for politicians, pen pushers, Health & Safety pedants and fanatics, and even the IEE.
All have got so wound up in their own prestige they forgot what they are trying to achieve, ensuring electrical safety at installation and for the LIFE of ALL the wiring.
Just look at the statements on the websites of the bodies associated with carrying out the schemes, thinking this will be the Holy Grail of regulation!

As usual we have ended up with regualtions that are the tail wagging the dog.

There are easier and better ways to achieve the goals of better safety and training, Part P is not it as it is not an Engineering or Safety orientated solution, but a Political solution to a problem that needs less change than Road Safety.


© Paul Carpenter
P C Services

Originally written: 15th December 2004
Updated: 1st January 2005


Footnootes:

  1. For more information you are encouraged to do a search for Building regulations, Part P and BS7671
    such sites as IEE, Building Regulations and other related bodies.
  2. DIY - Do It Yourself
  3. Darwinism - Self selection of survival of the fittest, where fittest is those most capable to survive in their environment.
  4. PAT - Portable Appliance Testing, regular usually annual tests on basic electrical safety of any appliance that can be plugged into a power socket.
© 2004 onwards by PC Services, Reading UK Last Updated: 9th January 2010
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