Wired for Part M
Chris Garrett shares his perceptions on how electrical accessories can be made easier for people with disabilities to use.
The objective of Part M of the Building Regulations (access to and use of buildings) is to make it as easy as possible for all persons, regardless of ability/disability, to enter and use buildings and the facilities within them. These new regulations cover not only newly built premises that people visit and work in, but also existing buildings when modified.
The requirement applies to the wiring accessories contained in the buildings as much as the buildings themselves. Electrical manufacturers have, therefore, been introducing products throughout their range of wiring accessories to enable simpler compliance with Part M.
Little actual detail is given on how the regulations should be applied, so the manner in which Part M is met can depend a great deal upon the interpretation of the building owner or specifier.
First, they must choose wiring accessories that they consider meet the regulations and then ensure the right location for ease of use and good visual contrast in order for them to be easily found and used. With respect to the last requirement, some specifiers may consider this refers to the complete product contrasting with the mounting surface. Others may consider it is the switch that should contrast with its front plate. Generally, manufacturers ensure that their products can accommodate both these requirements.
It is important to realise, however, that just using the products themselves does not ensure conformity, but they do help to make the job of the contractor easier. The criterion generally is based on visibility and accessibility.
For example, consider an accessory that has a high contrast between its front plate and its corresponding background. This makes it easier for everyone to find the switches, while in particular providing valuable help for those with limited eyesight. Further distinction between operating rocker and the body of the accessory facilitates ease of use. To help save money and resources, especially for refurbishments, discarding old and refitting new products is not necessarily an essential. There are many upgrade solutions, like replacing only the power outlet or switch surrounds. Changing a white surround for a dark one leaves the original workings and rocker switches, achieving the desired effect without the need for rewiring and replacement.
To help the visually impaired, products meeting Part M standards should also clearly indicate whether they are ‘on’ or ‘off’. Manufacturers use red flashes in the switch rocker coupled with neon indicators, the latter proving particularly useful at night or in low-light conditions.
It is preferable that light switches to be used by the public should have large push-pads, a feature available on quality electrical accessories, and the accessories themselves should be at door-handle height. This obviously makes it as easy as possible for those people with a physical disability or visual impairment to locate and activate them, and is backed up by the suggestion that these larger push-pads mean that a fist or elbow would be able to operate them as easily as a finger. Couple this with Seeklight perimeter illumination for light switches, and identifying their location, even in the dark becomes much less difficult.
The ease-of-operation aim that these regulations propose extends to ranges of components using multiple switches.
Part M stresses that multiple switched components should always be ‘well separated’, and this means that all visitors should find it easier to avoid inadvertently selecting an adjacent control.
An example is a switched socket outlet, which can be specified with outboard rockers, making it virtually impossible to accidentally activate the wrong socket outlet.
Rockergrid systems, which are a modular set of boxes grids, plates and switches, can quickly and easily be assembled to customers’ specifications, enabling several circuits to be controlled from a single location. The switches have large concave rockers with barriers between each one to avoid inadvertent selection of adjacent controls. This benefits the user by providing a more tactile and positive contact, while preventing fingers slipping to the next component.
The features and requirements laid out by Part M in the vast majority of cases only provide guidelines. This means that the contractor and developer have to ensure that their installations meet with these guidelines, and both are expected to use their own judgment to ensure that any components chosen do not fall outside the scope of Part M. It is because of this that quality manufacturers have ensured that their products can meet with this vast array of variables, with a view to making this difficult task as easy as possible.
When it comes to specifying electrical wiring accessories that comply with Part M, there is a wealth of products that meet with the requirements contained in the guidelines. My company, in particular, has a vast and extensive portfolio ranging from specially designed switches and sockets to contrasting replacement components. All these features of the product range are there to help specifiers and contractors making the best choice when it comes to meeting the requirements of Part M.
Chris Garrett is marketing manager with Crabtree.
(For further assistance, Crabtree offers a handy printed guide and literature detailing popular Part M compliant products. For a free copy please phone 01543 455030.)