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Ann Clarke, Design Director of Claremont Group Interiors, looks at electrical safety in sockets.

Ever since Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a storm in 1752, in a reckless if not suicidal attempt to understand how to harness the power of electricity, mankind has had a relationship with electricity that is one of risky necessity.

We are now so dependent on electricity that, in most instances, the places we work are utterly useless unless they’re powered up and connected. Inevitably this need for connection brings with it its own set of problems, not least in terms of health and safety. The problem is compounded by the fact that when things go wrong with electricity, they do so in a big and sometimes fatal way. According to HSE statistics there are around 1,000 injuries each year from electric shocks in the workplace. Tellingly, people are far more likely to be killed or seriously hurt when they are involved in an electric incident than they are in most other types of workplace accident.

And yet the issue of electrical safety seems to be curiously overlooked as


a source of general concern. It’s telling that one of the FAQs on the HSE website in this regard is ‘Everyone gets a ‘belt’ from electricity every now and then, don’t they?’ Well maybe, but they shouldn’t and they certainly shouldn’t adopt such a laissez-faire attitude to the subject. Getting a belt from electricity is no more an occupational hazard than a fall from height; in most cases it is entirely avoidable.

Inevitably, the potential problems surround us and the source of incidents is extremely varied. However, one area that is particularly overlooked is the wiring and servicing of workstations. This is surprising given the fact that this subject is well legislated for by, amongst other things, a British Standard called BS6396 which exists to provide guidance on the safe installation of electrical systems in the office, specifically in the channelling of electricity through desks and screens.

BS6396 is a standard relating to the installation of electrical systems as a whole and is not a specific

electrical accessory standard. Hence although products may comply with the relevant clauses of the full standard, full compliance with the standard itself requires correct installation of the system and proper construction of the furniture.

So, without reciting the whole standard the key elements of the standard include the following:

• A maximum of six sockets are allowed per power supply with total ratings of appliances not exceeding 13 Amps – fine for most office equipment but no good for those wanting to plug in kettles, fan heaters, vacuum cleaners and so on.

• Each socket needs to be individually fused.

• Equipment with ratings in excess of 5Amps must have a dedicated power feed.

• Extraneous metal work needs to be earthed.

• The exposed length of power supply cable should be no more than two metres from the desk clamp.

• Socket outlets should be located so as to be easily accessible and minimize the risk of physical injury and to minimise the risk of electrical hazard from liquid spillage.

The standard also covers the segregation of cables so it’s important to consider when cables run together in parallel, mains electricity supply cables need to be either separated from all other cables or insulated for the highest voltage present. It’s right and proper that we should consider the health and safety aspect of our workspaces but let’s not forget the aesthetical consideration as well. Whilst architects sometimes make it hard to use a building’s services effectively visible, messy wires are unsightly. An interesting and pertinent by-product of ensuring that the appropriate cable management is in place is that the workplace looks tidier. By embracing BS6396 we can ensure that not only is the working environment safer but it looks better and is easier to manage.

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