How Safe Is Your Business Electrical Wiring?

old electric socket

The importance of ensuring your electrics are safe and up to date

With the increased use of electrical equipment including ‘always on’ devices and staff using computers all day long, the safety and efficiency of commercial and business premises is very important. Businesses also have to meet certain standards such as Electricity at Work Regulations, and a key component of electrical safety is the condition of the wiring.

Wiring condition

In theory, a relatively new purpose built office or other business building should have wiring up to a required standard to cope with electrical demands safely and effectively. That said, it would still require checking from time to time.

On the other hand, an older building – especially one adapted for business use from a previous guise as perhaps a house or similar – may not include wiring suitable for modern business tasks.

Regulations and legal responsibilities

Electricity at Work Regulations – these stipulate certain requirements the employer and indeed the employee should observe to limit the risks of using electricity at work.

These cover the use of electrical equipment and the safety and efficiency of electrical installations and infrastructure which would include the wiring. For example, Regulation 4 of the regulations requires that electrical systems be ‘of safe construction and maintained in that state’.

Requirements for Electrical Installations (IET Wiring Regulations) BS 7671 – this is the basic required standard of safety for electrical installations such as wiring, and falls within Part B of Building Regulations.

These cover aspects such as:

Suitability of control and switchgear – such as the fuse box; does it meet modern requirements?

The ‘serviceability’ of sockets, light fittings and switches – older designs might need replacing as will old ‘fabric cabled’ lighting

Type of wiring and its condition – for example, black rubber cable coatings have been superseded by PVC insulation

Changes in property use – checking if the electrical provisions are adequate for the property’s current usage

Special requirements – for example, ensuring sockets supplying outdoor equipment are adequately protected with an RCD (residual current device) or other appropriate equipment

Ensuring your wiring is adequate

You’ll require the services of a qualified commercial electrician who will come and inspect your wiring and check it for safety and efficiency against the IET Wiring Regulations as described above. As a minimum, check that your contractor is NICEIC (National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting) certified.

The assessment should be far reaching in that they will properly test some of the sockets, inspect wiring thoroughly, and provide a full report. Depending on the size of your premises it could take half to a full day for your electrician to complete their inspection.

Of course you may be leasing or renting your premises; if so, then ensure your landlord has recently had an inspection completed by qualified professionals before you commit.

If you’re already operational in a premises, then ensure inspections are undertaken at least every five years. If you suspect your electrics aren’t as safe and efficient as they should be, then an inspection should be undertaken straight away.

Benefits of adequate wiring

Even if your wiring is safe and relatively modern, your needs may indicate that more beefed up wiring may be required so rewiring may be a favoured route.

Do you find you’re using several power splitters and extension cables? If so – and especially if their use is increasing – then it’s a sure sign your present infrastructure is falling behind your needs.

A full rewiring to your exact requirements could have many operational benefits along with being safer.

Symptoms of poor wiring

There are some basics you can undertake to check your wiring along with symptoms of potential issues to look out for.

Number of sockets – a tell-tale sign that your wiring may be old. Modern demands mean more recent wirings would likely contain more sockets so if there are only one or two in a larger space then it could point to an older wiring installation.

Fuse box – is it an old looking one with rewirable fuses? If so it is of an older design and likely needs replacing. Have an electrician take a look.

On the other hand, if it looks like a new fusebox has recently been fitted this doesn’t necessarily prove the wiring is new, too.

Switches and sockets – any signs of wear or scorch marks around sockets? This indicates overheating and should definitely be looked into.

Burning smell – an obvious warning sign, and of particular concern if you can’t identify exactly where it’s coming from. Call a qualified electrician immediately.

Power interruptions (‘tripping’) – if circuit breakers are activating regularly or you find fuses often need replacing either on equipment or the mains supply itself, then it’s a symptom of an underlying issue. It could be an isolated fault or a sign that your wiring system can’t cope with the demands placed on it.

Dimming and flickering lights – a sign of overloading on your electrical circuit or of faulty wiring somewhere.

Shocks from switches and sockets – a minor twinge felt from operating a switch or plugging and unplugging equipment indicates shocks from either a faulty switch, socket or the wiring itself.

Call the experts

Along with the regular inspection of your wiring as discussed earlier, ensure you use experienced and qualified electrical professionals even if you merely suspect a fault. Don’t ignore it and especially don’t try and effect repairs yourself.

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