What do we do with cables installed above/behind plasterboard? Is there a requirement to use metal clips if it is a fire escape route or anywhere for that matter?

Our response is yes anywhere above a fire escape route should be protected. In the ‘Domestic Bliss’ article in Professional Electrician in September, Geoff Cronshaw Chief Electrical Engineer at IET says “cables may be installed behind plasterboard walls and above suspended ceilings, which may give a degree of protection to cables”. This has been interpreted by 2 electricians we know as a reason not to use metal fire clips, their reasoning being “if I get pulled up I can refer to this article”.

Here is our view on this:

Firstly, Plasterboard when fitted correctly and sealed (plastered over) will give up to 30 minutes fire protection same as a standard fire door so this means the cable is protected from the heat and breakthrough for this period of time. But is 30 minutes enough for a recovery by our fire services? And what of suspended ceilings? Mostly these are held in place by plastic rawlplugs! Which means they will fall easily in a fire, particularly if they have the weight of fallen cabling already resting on them.

Secondly, BS7671:2015 Amendment 3  states that “Wiring systems in escape routes shall be supported in such a way that they will not be liable to premature collapse in the event of fire.” In other words by using fire-resistant metal supports for trunking and conduit.  The amount of SUPPORT that plasterboard and suspended ceilings give to wiring systems is absolutely ZERO, they merely delay an already started falling. That cannot be clearer.

WHAT THEN?

High intensity fire in a lounge with a plasterboard ceiling may last thirty minutes or the nails may fail and the whole lot collapses in a few minutes, for this reason it makes sense to use the clips behind panelling of any type, wood, plaster, modern metal walls, ceilings etc.
Modern Timber Frame or SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) DO NOT give this same protection.
It pays to use the clips. The installer is making a decision as to whether they want to protect life and be compliant or whether to “RISK IT”

Where the ceiling has the cables running through the joists above then the clips are not necessary as they are fully supported throughout their length.  We cannot force electricians to install the clips but a death could lead to a corporate manslaughter charge if the electrician was negligent in not complying with BS7671:2015 Amendment 3.

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