Electrical Safety

(Courtesy of James Eade)

Electricity is powerful and often the cause of fires, injuries and even death. At events, the risks associated with electricity are greater because of the temporary nature of the distribution system. A lack of adequate mechanical protection, varying demands, unpredictable weather and unusual loads all can affect the effectiveness of protection methods used.

This is very brief guidance aimed at production managers, event organisers, local authorities, promoters and the like.

The law

Complex event electrical distribution system.

All employers have a legal duty to ensure that working environments are electrically safe (Electricity at Work Regulations 1989; ‘EaWR’). They also have a duty to ensure that the equipment used in the workplace is electrically safe as well (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, ‘PUWER’).  In essence, PUWER requires us to inspect work equipment regularly to make sure it is safe to use, and this is where the concept of ‘portable appliance testing’ (more colloquially known as ‘PAT Testing’) system from.

The EaWR is concerned with the electrical system as a whole, which includes the distribution cables and boxes as well as the equipment connected to it. It requires the system to be designed and installed by competent people and for it to protect against the hazards that electricity can create.

Complying with the law British Standard BS 7671 is the principle guide to electrical safety in the UK. It is better known as the IET Wiring Regulations, currently in its 18th edition (and often referred to as such).

The Health and Safety Executive holds BS 7671 in high regard, to the extent that it has written an endorsement in the introduction which states that installations that comply with BS 7671 are likely to enable the requirements of the EaWR to be met.

BS 7671 does invoke the use of other standards which may have to be used alongside it. In this context, the most relevant is BS 7909 which is a guide for temporary power systems at events. So to comply with the IET Wiring Regulations at an event, BS 7909 has to be complied with too. By inference, both standards are therefore required to enable compliance with the EaWR. Both are also listed in the Memorandum of Guidance on the EaWR published by the HSE. BS 7909 deals specifically with the setting up, management and some related technical issues for the temporary electrical systems used at events.

Events usually include (but not exclusively) festivals, location filming, agricultural shows, TV OBs, theatre, sporting events, pageants and so on.

BS 7909  asks that the Event Manager, Owner, Promoter, Organiser etc puts someone that is suitably qualified in charge of overseeing the electrical system, that person will be known as the SPR (Senior Person Responsible), they would normally be you, qualified electrical contractor, Stagesafe will advise of suitably competent electrical contractors.

The standard splits the electrical distributions into two categories:

Small and Simple Systems
Anything under 6kVA (typically the same as 6kW worth of power). This covers simple applications, typically something that is already within use in the premises and would usually be derived from the ordinary sockets on the wall. E.g. a laptop plugged into mains power, the filming of an event or small indoor display stands with lighting.
In this case, the SRP doesn’t have to be electrically skilled but will simply be in charge of ensuring PAT records for equipment must be checked and the supply verified. Stagesafe will do this as part of our normal role of Event or Tour Safety Consultant.

Large and Complex Systems

Anything that doesn’t fit into the above category is considered large and complex and this is where you will need a qualified SPR.
A system categorised as large and complex may seem like a relatively small system, but if it's being run from a generator, or extension leads taken from a building to deliver power to an outdoor event, this will require someone electrically skilled to assess the additional risks and put in suitable protection methods.
Larger systems need planning by an expert and should be designed and tested.

Once the system has been designed and checked, completion certificates will be produced by the SPR and copies are given to the client as well as the property/venue owner if requested.

Once the system has been designed and checked, completion certificates will be produced by the SPR and copies are given to the client as well as the property/venue owner if requested.

Testing

The temporary power will be tested and test results noted before being handed over to the event owner.

The certification would normally be completed when everything is operational and the SPR has satisfied him/herself that the system is safe and works effectively. Talk to you electrical contractors about how you need this to fit in with your event timeline.

Please bear in mind that systems will need re-testing and re-certification (or amended certificates) when substantial changes in the distribution occur.

We understand each event is different, but examples may be:

  • New locations – each time a system is put together in a new location or venue;
  • Significant additions of equipment
  • Changes of supply – e.g. going from using a building or venue supply to a generator.
  • Damage or interference to the equipment, including unforeseen environmental effects (flood, fire etc.).

Can any electrical contractor do the work to BS 7909?

There are several ‘Competent Person Scheme Operators’ including the NIC EIC, ECA, NAPIT and BSI for example. All assess their members against the ‘Electrotechnical Assessment

Specification Document’ (EAS) and so all provide the same basic level of assurance as to the competence of electrical contractors.

However, these schemes assess contractors in their normal work activities and so unless your NICEIC registered contractor has been assessed doing temporary systems under BS 7909, they may be completely unaware of the requirements, which is more than likely.

There are many examples of accredited contractors mis-applying the IET Wiring Regulations at temporary events or venues because they don’t understand some of the unusual demands of the equipment and systems, or even the requirements of BS 7909.

Currently the EAS Document does not include assessment criteria for temporary systems coming under the scope of BS 7909. So while using an accredited contractor could well prove useful and they may give helpful advice, it is important to realise that their accreditation is unlikely to be for such work and so they may not give you valid assurance unless they have a good understanding of BS 7909. Stagesafe will advise on suitably competent electrical contractors.