We’re more than halfway through the one-year transitional (Coexistence) period for copper and fibre cables to be compliant with the Construction Products Regulations as related to fire performance. This covers the reaction & resistance to fire and release of noxious substances. CPR defines a common technical language and uniform assessment methods for fire performance of all fixed cables. The cut-off date is 1 July 2017. From this date, all copper & fibre cables supplied to EU / EEA member states must comply with the Construction Product Regulations and carry the CE marking. The regulation does allow for existing stocks already ‘on the market’ to be sold after the coexistence period within the country so it won’t mean that distributors will be left with unsaleable non-CE marked stock unless they rely on export to other EU countries.
Most people in the industry by now are aware of this happening, but there remains some fog about what it will actually mean in practice despite efforts by responsible manufacturers to educate the industry. This is partially due to the complex nature of fire regulation in the UK and unlike many EU countries, no national regulations existed prior or are planned post CPR regulations. The result is a current general lack of guidance at UK national level in terms of what EuroClass cable will be applicable to which type of building or situation, discussed further below. EuroClassification Summary
Euro classification will replace IEC 60332 which everyone is familiar with, as the means of benchmarking the flammability of cables. However, the methods of testing are different so direct equivalency cannot be made. There are seven EuroClasses as follows:
It can be seen that Class A (ignoring the subscript ‘CA’ which just means Class) is the best i.e. the most flame retardant and Class F the worst. Class A is the equivalent of Mineral Insulated electrical cable so would never be practical for data cables. Conversely Class ‘F’ would not be permitted as it fails all fire regulations e.g. PVC. However, the regulations themselves do not make the use of PVC cables unlawful. The current ‘norm’ i.e. meeting IEC 60332-1-2 or ‘HF1’ as some refer to, equates to EuroClass E.
In conjunction with flame propagation (flammability), there are three other sub-categories of cable fire performance between class B1 and D. These will cover:
- smoke production, (classified s1 to s3 where s1 is the most demanding )
- flaming droplets (d0 to d2 where d0 is the most demanding)
- acidity (a1 to a3 where a1 is most demanding)
So a full EuroClass designation would be (class + smoke + acidity + droplets) and look something like this example:
B2ca-s1,d1,a1. There can, in theory, be any permutation of the 4 performance measures but only a few will be practical to manufacture.
This mandatory regulation applies only to fixed cables installed in a building. It does not apply to non-fixed e.g. patch cords including pre-terminated cables with plugs on either or both ends that can be disconnected e.g. MTP trunks and also blown fibre systems. However, in practice, most such cords will be manufactured using EuroClass cable and should have the information included on the spec sheet including reference to the DoP (declaration of performance). This enables the cable to be included when assessing the overall building for insurance and fire safety. Additionally, all external data cables are not included, however where a cable runs from outside to inside a building, a dual sheath could facilitate compliance without jointing the cable.
Dual Sheath Fibre Cable
It is up to each EU member state to decide which classifications they will adopt for their local construction specifications so this regulation does not mean the same class of cable will be applicable across Europe. In general, EuroClasses B through to D is considered to be a low fire hazard. Here are some examples of how the regulations are being applied across Europe:
In France the minimum requirement will be Class D. In Germany it will depend on the building type. So for example, high-rise buildings will be Class C with Class B2 for fire escapes. Class E will only be permitted in isolated buildings with low usage & population. In Sweden, it will depend on whether fire suppression systems are in operation. In Holland Class D will be the minimum default where cables are installed in bundles and B2 & C will apply where buildings have a high population or evacuation is difficult.
In the UK it is anticipated that EuroClass D & E will only be permissible for residential and standard commercial property. Class C will be required for fire escape routes. This is referenced in BS EN 8482. In general, we anticipate that hospitals, schools and most public buildings will have a higher requirement than is currently the case. Design guides from organisations like CIBSE (Chartered Institute for Building Services Engineers) will determine the application of standards going forward. This demonstrates the complexity and requirement for local knowledge. It is worth mentioning that if as looks likely, the UK remains outside the EEA or EFTA, then BSI would submit a separate application to remain within CEN & CENELEC so Brexit is unlikely to have an effect.
Product Marking & Certification
Every manufacturer is required to have their cables tested by an approved notified body who will provide a declaration of performance (DoP) and the manufacturer will ‘CE’ mark the cable drum accordingly. The cable itself must not be CE marked but may have the relevant classification as in the picture below. The CE mark is an assurance that a product will meet a particular fire standard - it is not an assurance of quality. To distinguish between CPR and other non-CPR product, many manufacturers are changing part numbers, cable print legends, cable colours and box labelling. Most have already made announcements within the past 6 months.
The regulations require that the DoP certificate must be readily available for users to access. Some manufacturers will be adding a QR Code (matrix barcode) image, which when scanned on a mobile device will link to a web page showing full fire performance classification details. Others will be accessed by searching the manufacturer’s website on the part number. It is important to know where to locate this information as installers may be challenged to demonstrate compliance.
CE marking on cable drums will apply equally to cut lengths of fibre optic cable. The drum on which the cut length is wound should be labelled in the same way as the originating drum. There is a duty of care for the distributor to ensure product bears the CE mark and accompanying documents are available. Networks Centre have already implemented this into our QA.
Examples of CE cable drum labelling with DoP number: