New ‘home automation’ standard

New equipment and energy classifications require more effective health and safety regulations in the cabling sector. Anna Hayes and Joshua Jennings report.

Given the pace of technological development, cabling safety requirements are constantly subject to change.

The question of installation Standards in home automation though is a curious one, and many people think there are none.

However, with the proliferation of connected devices, various Standards bodies and legislators are revising their documentation to reflect the growing market and its complexities.

Despite this perceived grey area, home automation cabling has always been subject to Standards. Every cable that connects to the network, or is intended to do so, must be installed by a certified cabler in accordance with the Standards.

 

International scene

In October 2018, Standards Australia published the AS/NZS version of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s IEC 62368.1.

This is titled Audio/video, information and communication technology equipment, Part 1: Safety Requirements (based on the original document’s second edition). The IEC published the third edition of the document at the same time.

The IEC regulation evolved out of IEC 60065 (which is primarily focused on AV equipment safety) and IEC 60950-1 (an ICT safety Standard).

It focuses on general safety, electric shock, electrically caused fire, hazardous substances, mechanically caused hazards, thermal burn hazards and radiation hazards.

Compliance with the Standard through hazard-based safety engineering (HBSE) involves testing:

  • whether a product’s energy source is hazardous;
  • uncovering how energy can be transferred to a body part; and if so
  • designing a suitable safeguard.

The Australian version of this Standard does vary from the IEC version, mainly in the case of modifications for:

  • Australia/New Zealand flexible power cords;
  • mechanical stability of displays used for TV purposes;
  • application of AS/NZS 3112 for direct plug-in devices such as power supply plug packs with integral mains pins; and
  • application of child accessibility protection to all coin or button battery chemistries (not just lithium cells).

Standards Australia Committee TE-001 chairman Paul Robinson says technicians installing products must learn and follow the equipment’s safety markings and instructions.

Paul says failure to comply could put people at risk of harm. The severity of the harm would depend on the degree of non-compliance.

He says installers should not attempt anything beyond their knowledge, training and certification, and emphasises the importance of due diligence.

“Another thing that should be checked is the safety certification for the equipment itself. And you should also ascertain that the equipment has been certified to meet the Standard for use in the intended application.”

Even if the equipment is properly certified, improper use could make it potentially hazardous. For example, if products meant for indoor use are used outdoors, special precautions may be necessary.

“The [62368.1] Standard covers hazards arising from foreseeable misuse,” Paul says.

“But not every misuse condition may be foreseen by the developer and the certification body.”

 

Reviewing ‘best sellers’

Even more recently, two of the Communications Alliance’s ‘best seller’ safety Standards have been examined and overhauled as part of a five-year review.

The public consultation process closed at the end of May 2019.

It is expected that AS/NZS 62368.1 will have a substantial effect on the review process.

The alliance has redrawn the AS/CS S008 Requirements for Customer Cabling Products and the AS/CA S009 Installation Requirements for Customer Cabling (Wiring Rules).

It cites the increasing trend towards power over communications cables, and also the growing presence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The regulations have always existed for those working with cabling products and infrastructure. However, there has been a grey area for system integrators, despite the fact that cabling is part of almost every home or business installation.

Safe Work Australia statistics show that from 2003 to 2015, 142 workers were electrocuted – an average of 11 deaths a year.

Of those, 123 happened while workers were installing electrical infrastructure, and almost half occurred in construction.

In 2017, Communications Alliance began reviewing the two Standards, asking whether they were still relevant.

Chief executive John Stanton says the review was extensive and received expert input from the industry and beyond.

“The cabling sector touches the lives of all Australians.

“It is important that Standards remain fit for purpose – particularly as new technologies and connected solutions change the face of cabling and networks.”

The main aim of the revised Standards is to prevent exposure to hazardous voltages, for service provider employees, cabling providers, customers and others.

Several areas have been revised by the working committee chaired by Murray Teale of VTI Services.

One of the big changes is a new three-stage classification system or ‘hazards-based standard engineering’ approach.

It guards against increased risks from rising energy levels in cables and provides protection between hazardous energy sources and body parts.

Murray says ES1, ES2 and ES3 require a professional to ask, respectively:

  • Is it safe to touch?
  • Is it safe to touch with safeguards?
  • Is it hazardous?

Updated equipment Standards had prompted the proposed new system, as much of the newer technology was outside the scope of the existing S008 and S009 regulations.

“It’s a cabling Standard, not a systems one, but systems manufacturers would have to deal with some concerns when cabling has specific requirements – that is, if it is not generic cabling.

“We would say to separate their cables from others. Keep telecommunications cables away from power cables, and hazardous cables [based on ES3] away from all other cables.”

The committee has also suggested:

  • new voltage and amperage limits on electrical circuits that can be carried over generic customer cabling;
  • new requirements for communications cables that also carry electrical power; and
  • new requirements to help cablers select products that are fit for purpose for a particular installation.

“There is now more power delivery and remote powering,” Murray says.

“We are changing what we can do with communications cable, including lighting control and, of course, IoT.”

He says the working committee dealt with optical fibre systems, drawing up additional rules to guard against laser hazards.

The committee also proposed:

  • the incorporation of elements of the National Construction Code relating to cable flammability and ‘fire stopping’; and
  • new rules for pit and access hole products, with the aim of improving public safety through a reduction in trip hazards.

Murray emphasises that the draft Standards are a modification of an existing Standard. Most systems in the home – security, fire alarms, etc – are already covered.

“The only way a system would not be covered would be if it’s not intended to connect to the outside world. But with home automation systems, part of their charm is that they can communicate through other devices.

“In my opinion, anything that has fixed cabling carries the same safety risk and hazard, and would be covered by S008 and S009.”

Industry professionals have a duty of care to provide safe environments.

“If a Standard is mandatory and it’s not met, and something happens, in my opinion they’ve failed in their duty of care. Their position is not defendable in court or in front of a coroner.

“Also, the ‘fit for purpose’ clause has been tightened – the need for technology to work is crucial and you have to make sure the infrastructure is able to sustain it.”

The public consultation process for revising AS/CS S008 and AS/CS S009 closed last month.

Pending review of the feedback, it is hoped that the new Standards will be in place before the end of the year.

“The new proposals constitute a substantial change. But this regulation is already in play, so the old version remains in place while this is going on. There will be a transition period of six months when both Standards apply.”

Two further safety and performance standards, the 11801.4 and 11801.6, have also been updated.

Murray points to Queensland, where moves are being made to require technicians to switch off power in roof spaces before carrying out any works.

Standards Australia is also examining its regulations to deal with the growth of IoT. This concerns performance and safety, particularly in relation to power over communications cabling and vice versa.

 

Enforcement and incubation

Once accepted, the new Standards will be enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), whose current regulations are based on the AS/CA S009 and S008.

ACMA’s stance is that:

  • work must be undertaken by a suitably registered cabler;
  • work must be undertaken in accordance with requirements in S009;
  • all telecommunications cables and associated products must be compliant with S008; and
  • the registered cabler carrying out the work must complete a TCA 1 form on completion of the work.
  • ACMA deems home automation cables permitting home owners to access, monitor and control equipment in the home over the internet to be telecommunications customer cables and states that they must be installed, maintained and repaired by registered cablers, or someone supervised by a registered professional.

The penalty for carrying out such work without suitable qualification or supervision is a court-imposed fine of up to $25,200.

Registered cablers must also hold any additional endorsements or competencies for any specialised cabling work they undertake or supervise.

This includes installation, maintenance or repair work to aerial, underground, structured (data), fibre optic, or co-axial telecommunications customer cabling.

With the constant changes in the industry, Standards Australia has recognised the need to diversify and increase the number of voices in the room.

In November 2017, it launched the Incubator initiative – essentially a think-tank for industry experts to discuss various issues and ideas in relation to Standards and regulations.

The Incubator is also a space for testing new ideas by building prototypes and seeking user feedback, and making recommendations on the viability of ideas and concepts.

The way of working is simple – it starts with an idea that is work-shopped then discussed in person and through social media engagement.

From there, working groups ‘interrogate’ the idea before a formal proposal is made to create an active project.

If the proposal is successful, testing of the idea occurs through prototypes, user feedback and recommendations.

Standards Australia is open to collaboration with industry professionals and is keen to hear from anyone who has ideas for effective solutions.

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Reference: Connected Home