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Give us a P, Bob

A new Approved Document comes into force in January 2005. Here we assess whether it is worth worrying about

Whaddya mean there's a new Building Regulations Approved Document Part P? For a profession inundated with revisions, new regulations and legislative case law, the last thing architects need is to have yet another letter to add to the growing bank of things to deal with.

Part P: Electrical Safety applies primarily to the design, installation, inspection and testing of power supplies to domestic dwellings, and to commercial premises if sharing a supply. If you intend to carry out any alterations to your electrics at home - not that architects are renowned for doing work to their own homes - then, unless it is the simplest addition of switches or sockets, you will have to apply for Building Regulations Approval. If you get a qualified electrician involved, certified by a variety of the usual approved bodies, you can waive the Building Control application. Some might see this as a tradesmen's charter, although the government is promoting it as a health and safety in the home issue as outlined in BS7671:2001.

If an electrician is employed, on completion he or she has to submit a Building Regulations selfcertification certificate. If the work is non-notifiable, the document suggests compliance can be shown by issuing a Minor Electrical Installation Works Certificate, which must be signed by a 'competent person' but one who needs 'not necessarily be a person registered with an electrical self-certification scheme, and may be a third party.' So the home DIYer's response might be to slip your mate a tenner, ask him to sign on the dotted line and don't tell him about the liability. On a DIY note, the emboldened text in the opening pages says the electrical diagrams contained in the appendix should not be used for installation purposes. 'Horse, ' 'stabledoor, ' and 'bolted' spring to mind.

Sparks might fly When specifying works, it is important that clients be made aware of the possibility of additional works. For example, Section 2 says extensions, material alterations or changes to existing circuits should be traced back to ensure that the earthing, bonding and supply are adequate. Common sense, but it might give rise to additional feasibility-stage involvement and flag up the need for higher-risk provisional sums. For example, refurbishments on post-war properties should allow for equipotential bonding connections to be a minimum of 10mm 2; or that fuses in the neutral conductor were banned in 1955.

Lighting circuits installed before 1966 often do not include a circuit-protective conductor and any alterations to those circuits today will need to provide for it.

Essentially, then, this is a useful guide to one area of construction for which architects are notoriously ill-trained. However, to call this an Approved Document seems a little overblown. Including contents page, blank pages and the usual regulatory reference guff, this Approved Document is over in 12 pages! Admittedly, the follow-on appendix diagrams are very useful in providing the basics, but could have come straight out of a Practical Householder magazine. It would have been more usefully compiled as a 'handy hints' or 'must do' instruction manual than an Approved Document as it simply draws the reader's attention to the need for care, caution and expertise.

In the past, information like this was conveyed in public-information films and booklets. For instance, the fact that electric cable colours have been harmonised - so that Phase 2 and 3 of 3-phase circuits are black and grey respectively - will be shocking news to some people, if they ever get to hear about it. The colour-coding section loses something in translation when downloading the 42-page document on a black and white printer.

Given that the government seems to have given up on disseminating information - often not even sending documents out to local authority Building Control departments - the irony might be that changing Approved Documents with minimal public awareness might not lead to the improvement in safety of electrical installations it professes to desire.

Whether the maxim about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing turns out to be true, only time - and an analysis of the Royal Society of the Prevention of Accidents statistics - will tell.

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