Electrical Equipment and Systems

Date: 20.12.2016     Last updated: 14.05.2019 at 16.46
A Safety Guideline to operational electrical equipment and systems, including the requirements for the distribution of electricity in a temporary environment, particularly on location or in studios.

It also covers the application of BS 7909 and guidance on equipment brought in by third parties such as musicians or make-up artists.

If you are looking for electrical safety information concerning infrastructure, offices or equipment in broadcast facilities and the like, see our Guidelines in 'Related Topics'.

What Can Go Wrong?

Electricity creates many potential hazards, some common ones are as follows:

  • Fires can occur if electrical equipment (including wiring) develops a fault.
  • Contact with electricity can cause electrical shock and/or burns.
  • Faults with mains electrical systems can develop a tremendous amount of energy in a short time - so much so that it actually causes explosions.
  • Electrical protection devices can be rendered useless by long cables or the wrong equipment
  • Using electrical equipment in higher risk environments: wet, damp, humid, dusty conditions, increases the hazards significantly.
  • Fires and burns from contact with hot surfaces.
  • Batteries can start and sustain fires if the terminals are shorted together

Legal/BBC Requirements

  • All electrical systems have to comply with the Law in the form of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
  • Compliance is usually achieved by following the IET Wiring Regulations (BS 7671) – often known as ‘The 18th Edition’.
  • Temporary electrical systems, no matter how small, also need to comply with BS 7909, a code of practice for temporary electrical systems published by BSI.

General Requirements

  • Use a BBC pre-vetted contractor for dry or wet hire if in UK or, if not possible, discuss with BBC Procurement and BBC SSR before progressing.
  • Ensure those working with electrical systems are competent to do so. See BBC Guidance on assessing competence for electrical work. Competence is relative to the work undertaken – for example a lighting cameraman with two lights may, after suitable instruction, be competent to specify and check the system. A higher degree of electrical knowledge and skill is required for complex systems such as those using generators for example.
  • All temporary electrical systems must be erected in safe manner and tested. Productions should appoint someone to ensure that this is carried out. This person is called the ‘Senior Person Responsible’ (SPR) in BS 7909.
  • Small and simple temporary systems may not an electrician to manage them. To see if your system can be classified as 'small and simple', follow this flowchart. If it isn't small or simple, it is classed as large or complex and will need an electrician or similarly skilled person.
  • Large or complex systems must always have an electrical completion certificate and list of tests results completed. A copy of this is the evidence a production may need to demonstrate that electrical safety has been managed. Always request it from those deploying temporary electrical systems.
  • It is critical that electrical systems are looked at holistically, not just as kits of tested parts. It is possible to plug safe equipment together in an unsafe fashion.
  • Lighting is not the only department using power. The obligation extends to all those using or supplying electrical equipment in whatever quantity or scale.
  • Do not leave systems unattended when powered up unless suitable measures have been put in place to isolate the system in the event of a problem.

Large or complex systems over 6kW

If it doesn’t fall into the small or simple category, it is large or complex. Examples of situations that may be small but not simple could be where power is obtained from generators; power is taken from a building and used outdoors; situations where there are other risks such as working on or near water, the event is in a venue where the electrical system is old or potentially unsafe and so on.

Design and Instruction

  • Someone should plan the electrical system and co-ordinate suppliers as necessary. This may be the nominated Senior Person Responsible (SPR), the Producer or Production Manager for example. Considerations include where power is being taken from, cable routes and sizes, protective measures (earthing, RCDs or circuit breakers for example), facilities and crewing, testing and certification etc.
  • Occasionally, a specialist company may be required to produce a suitable design.
  • All final circuits must be protected by a 30mA Residual Current Device (RCD)
  • The installation of fixing wiring and electrical equipment to scenery must be carried out by a competent electrician and certified in accordance with BS 7671, not BS 7909.
  • RCDs should never be taken out of circuit (bypassed or disabled) as they are safety devices. In a properly designed system they should not operate unless there is a fault, so there should be no need to remove the protection they afford.

Facilities

  • Facilities and unit bases are situations where electrical safety is often poorly managed. All such facilities with installed electrical systems, must have a valid or current Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) or certificate issued by a competent electrician on a frequency determined by the duty holder for the unit. This should be requested by the production prior to arriving on location.
  • A visual inspection should be carried out on the connecting cable and all plugs and sockets-outlets before each and every transported use of the unit.
  • All portable electrical kit on board must be routinely checked (i.e. ‘PAT’ tested) at a frequency determined by the owner or duty holder based on risk.
  • The person responsible for the facilities e.g., supervisor, chef/driver, make-up artist etc., must have a basic knowledge and understanding of the electrical system.
  • Generators must be effectively earthed and have RCD protection on the output. Earth spikes under wheels or dumped on the grass are not effective (see webpage on Generators)

General Control Measures

  • The dangers that electricity can create will, under most foreseeable situations, be removed or reduced to an acceptable level by following BS 7671 and BS 7909.
  • Select competent people to carry out electrical work. See separate BBC guidance on assessing competence in respect of electrical work.
  • It is important electrical systems are managed holistically, such as by appointing a competent person to manage electrical infrastructure (i.e. the ‘Senior Person Responsible’ or SPR).
  • Consider additional or unusual risks associated with the deployment of the electrical system, such as rigging equipment at height, working in hot locations, near water or using supplies in other countries.
  • Visual checks should be made of the equipment, cables, sockets and location before connecting to any power source. Obtain copies of the BS7671 Electrical Installation Certification for any fixed host power installation being used, if applicable.
  • All supplies should be readily isolatable in the event of an emergency and the location of such isolating devices known, along with any other safety arrangements. This may require host venues to make electrical plant rooms accessible. 
  • Correct equipment should be selected for the job e.g. weatherproof connectors for outside use.
  • All cables to be appropriately routed and / or protected to reduce trip hazard and secure lamps & stands to avoid movement. Rubber mats do not provide mechanical protection for cables, they only reduce the trip hazard. Cables routed across access/egress routes should be in proper cable ramps.
  • Excess electric cable should not be left coiled as this can lead to overheating in the cable.
  • Consider members of the public when cabling and siting equipment, particularly ones who may have mobility or sight impairment

Non-BBC Equipment including musical instruments

Performers, make-up artists, musicians or similar have the same duties to ensure their electrical appliances are safe to use. It should have evidence of portable appliance testing such as a PAT label. Further guidance in this area is available from HSE guidance document INDG247

  • Check that equipment from foreign suppliers is safe to use on UK supplies and voltages.
  • All equipment should be supplied via an RCD or, where not possible, a safety isolating transformer under the control of an electrically skilled person.
  • If equipment is, or is suspected to be unsafe, it should not be used.

FAQs/Did You Know?

  • Excessively long extension leads (particularly those daisy-chained together) can stop safety devices such as circuit breakers, fuses from working.
  • Around 95% of electrical faults or damage can be found just by looking (visual inspection)
  • Battery powered appliances reduce the risks associated with electricity significantly, but don’t remove them completely.
  • Although the risk of electric shock from battery powered devices is generally low, batteries (particularly modern lithium ones) can store a lot of energy. When the terminals are shorted, the battery disposed of inappropriately or charged badly, that energy can start and sustain fires, even without oxygen. Typical fire extinguishers may not provide any help, other than to stop the fire spreading.
  • The BBC has revised it guidance for checking portable electrical appliances – see separate guidance.

Division Specific Issues

  • No division specific issues

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