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Electrical Wiring Fires Increase Across United Kingdom

The number of electrical wiring fires has increased since the government introduced regulations aimed at preventing them, according to data analysis.

The findings have led to calls for a higher level of competency within the electrotechnical sector and raised questions about the government’s move to expand the current regulations.

Electrical distribution fires occur within the fixed electrical parts of a home such as wiring and fuse boards. There were 3953 of these in 2021 across the UK, in comparison to the 3000 recorded in 2005 when the government introduced Part P of the Building Regulations in England and Wales.

Electrical distribution fires in UK dwellings

Electrical distribution fires have increased over the last thirty years

The regulations state that anyone carrying out electrical installation work in a home must make sure that the work is designed and installed to protect people from fire and electric shocks.

Scotland has similar rules which were also introduced in 2005 under the Building Standards system. Northern Ireland does not have an equivalent statutory requirement.

In 2013, further changes were introduced in England, reducing the range of electrical  installation work that is notifiable.

The Private Rented Sector (PRS) regulations were introduced in 2020 in England, requiring that landlords ensure the electrical installations in their rented properties are inspected and tested by a ‘qualified and competent person’ at an interval of at least every five years. Similar rules have been in place in Scotland since 2015, while in Wales they were introduced in July.

However, an investigation by E&T this year found evidence that electricians are carrying out inadequate tests. In some cases, contractors are incorrectly passing unsafe properties, while others are mis-selling unnecessary upgrades. E&T has also heard evidence of ‘drive-by inspections’, with contractors filling out paperwork without entering the properties at all, undercutting legitimate businesses – and putting lives at risk.

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The government is currently considering whether to extend these rules to social housing but Mark Coles, head of technical regulations at the IET, called on the government to review the existing legislation before extending it.

“Whilst there are many assumptions that can be drawn from this new data, clearly, there are far too many fires of electrical origin occurring in dwellings in the UK.

“Legislation has been enacted to increase the safety of homeowners and tenants, but it is simply nowhere near as rigorous as it should be. Focus must be on those that undertake electrical inspection to ensure standards are upheld, and IET urges the government to review existing legislation before enacting new,” he said.

A spokesperson added: “While the electrical wiring regulations, and associated electrical safety inspections, are outside of the regulatory scope and expertise of the fire service, NFCC strongly believes that in safety-critical sectors, a suitable level of competency – and ethics – should be required.”

The data shows a steep increase in the number of fires between 2008 and 2010. The government does not hold the relevant data for 2009 but the increase could be partly explained by additional scrutiny prompted by the introduction of the national incident recording system (IRS) in April 2009.

Under the system, individual fire services became responsible for collecting data. Northern Ireland, which is not covered by Part P, also does not use the incident recording system, so the numbers of electrical distribution fires in Northern Ireland are not represented after 2008 on the graph. This means the number of fires caused by electrical wiring after 2008 across the UK are likely to be higher in reality.

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There has been a fall in electrical distribution fires since 2013 but the overall trend demonstrates an increase in fires since 2005 when Part P of the Building Regulations was introduced in England in addition to the equivalent standards in Scotland. The number of fires has almost doubled since a low of 2000 fires in 1994.

Responding to the data, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said there were “many factors that need to be considered in relation to electrical wiring fires” without suggesting what these were.

The department has previously said the industry must “take responsibility for raising competence and set standards within their sectors”.

The government suggests landlords and other businesses use electricians that are registered on competent body schemes, but this is not a legal requirement.

Those electrical contractors that are registered are not assessed individually but, instead, each contractor has one ‘qualified supervisor’ who is supposed to supervise all within the company. Hence, in practice, contractors are often not sufficiently supervised, E&T has found.

This is despite the findings of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review, which was commissioned by the government in the wake the Grenfell Tower fire. It found that “a lack of legal accountability within the current system is exacerbated by industry fragmentation and multiple layers of sub-contracting”.

 

Source: E&T

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