Connecting with the law

30 August 2018

The EU’s Construction Products Regulation (CPR) came into full effect on 1 July 2017. Regulation 305/2011 lays down harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products. It states that construction works as a whole and in their separate parts must be fit for their intended use, taking into account in particular the health and safety of persons involved throughout the life cycle of the works. 

Those “separate parts” include power, control and communication cables which, amongst other things, must follow stringent guidelines in terms of fire and smoke safety.

So what exactly is the CPR and how does it apply to IT cables?

Paul Cave, technical product manager with Excel Networking Solutions, says one year on from the regulation becoming a legal requirement, one thing that is clear is that there are two legal responsibilities involved. 

“Firstly, the manufacturers must ensure that their products are compliant with the legislation by being clearly labelled. This denotes the cable’s Euro classification and should be accompanied with a Declaration of Performance (DOP) following the requisite level of testing.

Secondly, the End User must instruct the contractor to install the relevant Euroclass to meet the country and project requirements. Regardless of Brexit, the UK has committed to maintain CPR within the UK.

Cave adds that the new regulation replaced the earlier Construction Products Directive which, together with subsequent regulation, has been around for more than 20 years and is related to ‘life safety’. “It came about due to events such as the Summerland disaster in the Isle of Man in 1973 when 50 people died and over 80 were injured; and when 31 people died and over 100 were injured during the Kings Cross fire in 1987, to mention just two examples in the UK. Cables of all forms – both power and communications – are just the latest to be added to a long list of other products such as doors and wall coverings.”

According to Tony Benn, senior pre-sales technical manager with Leviton, high volumes of cabling have been recognised as fire and smoke safety risks, as they are one of the main methods that fire can rapidly spread through a building. He says: “Correctly controlling and regulating installed cabling can potentially save lives and minimise building damage in the event of a fire.”

Paul Hunter, technical director at iDaC Solutions (formerly Datwyler), agrees and says smoke represents the greatest risk in the event of a fire. “Most people killed in a fire die from smoke poisoning. The less smoke generated, the higher are the chances of rescue and survival. This is why modern cables feature minimal to low smoke generation.

“By reducing corrosiveness (acidity) of the flue gases to a minimum – such as in halogen-free cables, for example – fire damage and down times after a fire are significantly reduced. Another important aspect is to produce as few flaming droplets as possible, which can reduce fire propagation in horizontally laid cable systems.”

Kevan Sproston has spent more than 30 years in the data networking and telecoms market, and has held a variety of senior positions with big name firms such as METZ, Brand-Rex, Reichle & De-Massari, amongst others. He says the latest CPR was created to remove the ambiguity of the former fire performance declaration by manufacturers, such as low smoke, LSZH/LS0H (low smoke zero halogen), etc., which did not indicate the actual fire performance of the cable jacket and subsequent differences in quality and performance.

“CPR EN305/2011 applies to “All” cables that are fixed within the building structure, such as power, speaker and control, and therefore includes the IT cabling. The regulation is only focused on the fire performance of the jacketing material, and not the construction of the cable which could, for example, have fibre or copper cores (or indeed both) and other constituent elements.”

Thus, and as Sproston and others point out, the regulation defines a cable jacket’s reaction to fire and its associated performance in the production of smoke, acidic gases and the production of molten flaming droplet material over time, when installed in a “fixed” condition/form into a building or civil engineering works. 

“This means that patch cords and power connection leads are outside the regulation as they are not considered to be permanently fixed.

“Also, all cables manufactured before the 1 July 2017 are effectively already in the market and can still be installed in new projects. This is until all such products have been replaced in the supply chain by new ones. However, and knowing this information, installers do have the choice to use new products and ignore/refuse the use of such materials.”

Benn adds to this by saying that while manufacturers cannot ‘place on the market’ cable unless it has been tested, certified, and marked in accordance with the CPR, non CE marked cable may still be sold if it is already on the market. “That means that there is still some non CPR cable in stock being sold and installed today. This would not be compliant to the UK BS6701 standard.”

Existing cables within buildings as well as those used as part of system circuit integrity are not affected by the new regulation. But don’t such cables pose as much of a potential fire and smoke hazard as IT cables?

Hunter says safety objectives in the event of fire are clearly defined in many European countries. These state that the spread of fire and smoke must be prevented and it must be possible to rescue humans and animals.

“As a matter of principle, therefore, the use of ‘easily inflammable’ building products is prohibited in all classes of building,” says Hunter. “Existing standard cables installed within buildings should have at least passed a flammability test and be to LSOH/LSZH level. In the language of the new European construction product classification, they display ‘acceptable fire behaviour’, which would be consistent with ‘class Eca’.”

Here, Andrew Black, senior product manager at Fujikura Europe, explains that all power, control and communication cables which includes IT data cables, are classified according to their reaction to fire. This ranges from A (least reaction to fire) to F (highest reaction to fire). ‘Ca’ is added after the classification letter to refer to cable. 

“The class of performance from B1 to D have three additional classifications (s, d, a),” says Black. “These are for smoke (s1a, s1b, s1, s2 or s3), flaming droplets (d0, d1 or d2), and acid gas (a1, a2 or a3).”

The lower the letter and/or number, the greater the cable’s tolerance (also see table below).

Sproston notes that all reputable cabling manufacturers before 1 July 2017 were, in most cases, producing products that would achieve at least an ‘Eca’ level of fire performance with their low smoke, LS0H, etc., designated cables.

Leviton's Benn is among many of the experts we spoke to who point out that what the CPR does not do is mandate where to use what type of cable to be permanently installed. This is left to each member state.“For telecommunications, the requirement is defined within BS6701 which was published in November 2017 and mandates that all ‘Installation Cables’ shall be Cca S1b D2 A2. BS6701 is also referenced from BS7671, the IET wiring regulations 18th edition.”

Checking for compliancy

As a result of CPR EN305/201, manufacturers supplying cables into the European market must now: 

  •   Define level of performance in terms of fire
  •   Obtain third-party testing by a notified body 
  •   Draw up a Declaration of Performance (DoP)
  •   Place the new CE label on cable packing

Sproston says if a cable is compliant, it must have the CPR Regulated Identification label attached to the box, reel or drum. The label’s content has been agreed as part of the legislation and must include the manufacturer’s DoP unique number which enables clear CE marking. “This cannot be displayed unless the cable has been independently verified through testing by an approved notified testing house (such as BASEC, which in turn must have its registration number on the label) that has tested the cable to the regulation parameters and certifies its findings of actual fire performance of the cable versus the manufacturer’s DoP (such as Eca, for example).”

Sproston says good practise dictates that manufacturers should make all CPR information available on request, or directly available as standard via their website with links to individual product data sheets and actual DoP certificates.

Meanwhile, Fujikura’s Black says the EU has defined the test methods and third-party test laboratories for reaction to fire, but not the Euroclass required – this is optional for EU members to incorporate into their local regulation. For CPR, the building owner must provide the class of cable required for the particular application. As stated above, guidance for telecoms cables in the UK is provided by BS 6701 and BS 8492:2016 Code of Practice.

In terms of the CE label, this includes the manufacturer’s name, unique product code, reference number of third-party test lab, DoP number and Euroclass of the cable. “The DoP is essential documentation to put into the project file,” says Black. “It is the manufacturer’s declaration of performance for reaction to fire for the cable.”

While cable manufacturers are legally required to publish a DoP and clearly label their product packaging as mentioned above, there is no requirement for them to actually print anything on the cable. However, Cave says that Excel Networking Solutions along with number of other manufacturers have made the decision to print information, such as the Euroclass and the DoP number, on the outer sheath of the cable for complete transparency for the customer. 

“It is important to note that it is not possible to put the CE mark on the cable jacket, as there is a minimum size requirement. The Euroclass and DoP number [therefore] provide enough information to be able to affirm that a cable is compliant to CPR.”

Robert Sporn, product manager FO cables at HUBER+SUHNER, says that when his company manufactures cables for installation in buildings, the products always fall under CPR in Europe, so its existing and new cables are all affected. 

“Specifically, all indoor cables which are fix installed in a building for IT are CPR compliant – for example, cables designed for data centres. The cables undergo a series of tests, depending on the classifications to be achieved. For example cables that have been tested under EN 50399 (Integrated Fire Test), EN 60332-1-2 (Flame Propagation), EN 61034-2 (Smoke Density) and EN 60754-2(Acidity) may be compliant depending on type of location of the installation.”

In addition to providing the required labelling for CPR, Benn says Leviton is colour coding its copper cabling. ‘The copper cable jackets are coloured to clearly identify the level of Euroclass cable. This colour code is already being embraced by major European countries. We also provide thorough documentation, including cable datasheets dedicated for each EuroClassification, and label QR codes that link to the cable’s DoP.”

Other requirements

So what other regulations govern IT cables as used in enterprise organisations? For example, do the issues of EMC, RoHS, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals – European Regulation 1907/2006), etc., still need to be checked for?

Of course, none of the applicable EU regulations are less significant since the start of CPR, and RoHS and REACH are compulsorily to all products in contrast to CPR which is compulsorily to all products used in construction.

While the DoP certificate will display details about any dangerous substances contained within the cable, RoHS and REACH will still need to be taken into account, so asking for separate documentation and evidence of conformity on top of the DoP is recommended.

But Cave points out that these are not regulations that end users need to be too worried about. “These are requirements for the manufacturers to follow and have been part of the requirements on us for some time. Providing that the end user can gain the generic RoHS and Reach declarations from the manufacturer, they will be covered. Excel Networking Solutions publishes all its Declaration of Performance certificates on its website.

As well as looking for declarations, certificates and labels on packaging, are there any tests and tools that network managers could use themselves to check for cable compliances?

Sporn says: “It varies depending on the respective country. The UK could embrace tools used by other countries, such as in Switzerland where cantonal fire insurance defines which minimum classes must be used for which object. In Germany, the ZVEI [the country’s Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association] created proposals of classes which should be used for the respective building.”

Sproston says the key points to note when specifying a cable to be installed is its primary function followed by the considered implication of associated risks to other potential applicable regulations. “For example, the need for chemical, UV or water-resistant cable for a specific environment would suggest a cable jacket of polyurethane (PUR) which is designed toresist UV, chemical splash and water contact.

“However, regarding CPR regulation, this cable may be classified as ‘Fca’, the worst category of compliance as its primary function is chemical/UV resistance and not fire performance.

“This would imply that the specifier (which may be the end user, consultant or installer), as the qualified or experienced professional, would have the appropriate knowledge to ensure the correct product will be specified and used.”

In the event of any question with regard to specification by any link in the supply/installation chain, Sproston says it would perhaps be best practise for all concernedparties to request a written statement from the appropriate specifier which says they have specifically requested the use of a particular cable, as it is fit for purpose in this installation, even though it may strictly be contradictory to current BSI recommendations. “At this point, any legal obligation would pass to the specifier and not the other parties involved.”

Penalties for non-compliance

Excel Networking’s Cave says penalties for non-compliance in the UK are the responsibility of Trading Standards. 

“If they find that the product has not actually reached the claimed classification, they could impose fines or seize products. At present, it is tending to be almost self-policing as the notified bodies (accredited test laboratories) are paying very particular attention as to what is being claimed about products they are testing and providing reports on.”

However, and as already stated, there are currently no legal requirements for any specific class of cable to be used in an installation, as this decision is left entirely to individual EU member states. According to Sproston, application of the regulation is therefore subject to interpretation. 

“Consultants, designers and specifiers are free to select any class of product to be installed, ensuring their decision and professional opinion reflect that they are ‘fit for purpose to the applicable regulations’.”

Of course, and as Sproston goes on to point out, in the event of loss of life after a fire, and if the cabling infrastructure has been identified or deemed to have been a contributory factor, all concerned with the installation could face legal implications resulting in a jail sentence.

The government department responsible for the CPR in the UK is the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). So far, it has not made any changes to the Building Regulations of 2010 regarding the reaction to fire for cables from a legal perspective, but Sproston reckons this may change with the ongoing enquiries following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

In the meantime, the British Standards Institution, Fibreoptic Industry Association, the British Cables Association (BCA), are among some of the industry bodies that have stated recommendations regarding CPR for UK cable installations. 

For instance, in a statement issued on its website in March, the BCA highlighted the “well-respected” and long standing BS 7671 IET Wiring Regulations and said this may be used to demonstrate compliance with Part P (electrical safety – dwellings) of the Building Regulations.

“The current (17th edition) of BS 7671 pre-dates the introduction of CPR for cables but includes requirements for reaction to fire based on the long-established international test methods covering flame propagation and smoke release,” said the association. “In practice, because some of the CPR test methods correspond to pre-existing ones, the use of cables with a minimum class of Eca is de-facto recognised.” 

The BCA also said that whilst BS 7671 covers the entire generality of installations up to an including 1kV AC, some specialised areas may need extra guidance. Here, it referred to another British standard that has recently been amended, BS 6701. 

“This standard relates to telecommunication cable systems and can thus embrace situations, e.g. vertical pathways (risers), where very large bundles of cables may be tightly installed in places and where fire safety or evacuation is key. The new amendment gives class Cca for what are defined as ‘installation cables’”, and class Eca for all other telecommunication cables.”

But the BCA emphasised that both BS 7671 and BS 6701 are not legal requirements according to MHCLG. Sproston reinforces this point when he says: “These are simply recommendations and not legally binding, referencing key standards, documents and content that should be used as a means of understanding the implication of attaining compliance to the CPR.”

He says organisations such at the BCA as well as the others he mentioned, are industry respected bodies whose recommendations should not be ignored in any decision, and can be used as design criteria for new cabling installations and as foundation information from which compliant specification can be made.

Cave says it is important to be standards compliant, and says Excel advocates following BS6701 which stipulates cables should meet Euroclass Cca, s1b, d2, a2 at a minimum. As a final point, he adds: “This may be hearsay, but I have heard from one consultant that the insurance underwriters on a project he was working on insisted that if the proposal wasn’t standards compliant, they would look to ‘adjust’ the insurance premiums accordingly.” You have been warned.