Proposed update to the BS 6396 standard: What it means for future electrical installations | CMD

Proposed update to the BS 6396 standard: What it means for future electrical installations | CMD

Neil Smith, Technical Manager at CMD and member of the BSI committee, discusses the proposed update to the BS 6396 standard and what it will mean for future electrical installations.

Over the past two years, employers and employees have achieved something that neither believed would ever happen: they’ve made working from home a reality for anyone with an office-based role. Initially, there was a make-doand- mend approach to home-office set-up, in terms of both resilience and safety. That was fine in response to the Covid-19 crisis, but, as we move to more permanent work routines, the new appetite for working from home needs to be reflected in the standards and compliance requirements designed to make work environments safe.

An update to BS 6396 will consider those who have become permanently home-based, those mix-and-matching home and office, and those hot desking in office environments to ensure consistent safety and resilience across all work environments.

Extended working environments

As homeworking is now mandated by many employers, the home workstation has become an extension of the work environment and the due diligence required for the office should be extended to the home.

BS 6396 has been under review during the pandemic and the public consultation on the proposed revised standard closed on 21st December 2021. The revised BS 6396 is expected to be published soon and the electrical supply chain will be able to scrutinise the detail of the new requirements when they are confirmed. It is already clear, however, that the revised standard will apply to all furniture with integral electric sockets, as opposed to only items of furniture specifically located in office or education environments.

We can expect enhanced clarity and a focus on both safety and resilience as compliance keeps step with the very altered face of work environments in the post-Covid era.

Why do we have BS 6396?

BS 6396 is a British Standard that ensures electrical power, data and telecommunications systems in office furniture, office screens and educational furniture are designed, tested and installed in a way that is safe and complies with all relevant laws and regulations, in particular, the Electricity at Work Regulations and the Health & Safety at Work Act.

The current standard stipulates that workstations in offices and educational settings should only incorporate electrical equipment with a fuse rating of no more than 5 A, which can be configured as six individually fused sockets rated at 3.15 A each, or four individually fused sockets rated at 5 A each, fed from one 13 A BS 1363 UK plug. It describes procedures for testing the electrical installations on reconfigured desks and screens, as well as new installations, along with the need to repeat the tests periodically.

What can we expect from the revised BS 6396?

The final detail of the revised BS 6396 standard will not be known until it is published, but it seems clear that the standard will apply to all furniture with integral power distribution, including that used in domestic settings. The difficulty for the employer is that they have less control over the electrical services in the home environment than they do in the office.

Consequently, it makes sense for them to build as much safety, resilience and convenience into the workstation as possible. Circuit protection is an obvious way of achieving both safety and ease of re-setting should there be a spike in current. Circuit breakers have always been permitted and, while the safety levels of an installation protected by a fuse and a circuit breaker are comparable, a circuit breaker is much more convenient for the end user because it can be reset easily.

The other major safety consideration for employers is the safety of electrical supply, because they cannot know whether there is RCD protection at the wall socket. Without RCD protection, damaged wires could become a safety hazard, especially if wires become trapped in the mechanism of sit/stand desks and are chewed by a pet, for example. The best way to avoid this risk is by including a 30mA RCD protection on the primary side (under desk) of the furniture distribution.

Finally, we can also expect to see the changing way people use tech while working, and the devices they use, reflected in the revised BS 6396. The pandemic has prompted a revolution in the way we communicate over video calling and shared workstream platforms, and many employees now need to power and charge multiple devices. Meanwhile, more devices are suitable for USB charging so the mix of sockets, USB chargers and A/V outlets needed at the workstation has changed too.

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