Committing to cabling compliance
In Australia, cabling regulations are mandated under the Telecommunications Act, calling for installers to be registered (licensed), products to be tested and approved, and installation practices to meet stringent criteria.
The penalties for non-compliance are severe, yet very few companies or individuals have been penalised. Is this industry so compliant that we no longer need to be regulated?
This was a question the regulator — Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) — asked recently under federal government guidelines of reviewing existing regulations.
In November 2018, the ACMA issued a consultation paper seeking views from industry on retaining or removing regulations. Outlining the intent, the paper stated: “Given the extent of developments within the telecommunications industry, it is timely to ask whether the risks that regulation was originally intended to mitigate are still present. If the risks remain, do they still require regulation and, if so, of what type and to what extent?”
The ‘risks’ the ACMA is referring to are safety and network integrity. These are the pillars of telecommunications regulations, designed to protect consumers and telecommunications workers from hazards and to ensure the infrastructure is fit for its intended purpose in providing dependable communications services.
The paper further clarified: “While the policy and legislative basis for customer cabling regulation has not changed since its inception, the technical and commercial environment around it has seen significant changes in recent years.”
We believe the answer to the question posed earlier — is this industry so compliant that we no longer need to be regulated? — is a resounding ‘no’.
Sub-standard workmanship and practices affect more than network performance
BICSI and the other cabling registrars frequently hear about the shortcomings in our industry. While most members are professionals and do the right thing, sadly there are unscrupulous people who don’t adhere to the regulations and standards and cut corners just to make a quick buck.
Substandard workmanship and products often result in poor network performance for unsuspecting customers. Unfortunately, there are also instances where these practices can lead to catastrophic failure including electrocution, fire and failed medical or security services. People suffer severely because of the carelessness of a few dishonest operators.
In the face of such failures, the industry responded overwhelmingly to the ACMA Consultation Paper in favour of retaining regulations, citing these and other reasons for regulation, including increased proximity to hazards, and greater dependency on ICT infrastructure for critical services like health care, security and life-safety. All 32 submissions can be found on the ACMA website.
After deliberation, the ACMA announced in mid-February 2021 that the telecommunications regulations would remain in place, noting “the information provided to us supports the conclusion that risks associated with telecommunications customer cabling work justify continuing cabling regulation” and the full statement is available on the ACMA website.
The law protects you and your customers
As well as protecting the safety of consumers and telecommunications workers and the integrity of the network, the regulations are also in place to legally protect cablers.
It is a legal requirement to comply with the existing cabling regulations: AS/CA S008:2020 Requirements for customer cabling products and AS/CA S009:2020 Installation requirements for customer cabling (wiring rules).
While massive fines can be applied for non-compliance, the bigger concern for cablers is consequential failure. In the event of an issue like a fire, electrocution or equipment failure, the cabler can be held partially accountable — even if the work you conducted was years earlier and didn’t directly cause the failure. The law of subrogation allows insurance companies to attribute partial blame to you as a ‘contributor’ but, if you ensure you’ve complied with regulations, you’re in what is called a ‘defensible position’. Put simply, adherence to regulations is your best friend.
Action No 1
Unfortunately, the cabling registrars report that some cablers have no idea that AS/CA S009 exists, or that it is a mandatory requirement. If you are unsure about either standard and your obligations, download a copy from the Communications Alliance website (www.commsalliance.com.au). There's no excuse for not having it — it’s free, it’s the very basis of all cabling training courses and it is widely publicised by the ACMA and the registrars.
The registrar’s role
As registrars, we undertake key tasks with respect to industry awareness, endeavouring to make all industry members aware of the mandatory compliance with the Wiring Rules and encouraging cablers to keep up to date with standards including amendments. We sit on the committee that writes the Wiring Rules, we direct cablers to the Wiring Rules for technical guidance, we reference the rules in our member communications and notify cablers of updates and amendments. We also liaise with the registered training organisations (RTOs) that provide cabler training, advising them of the regulatory materials that need to be included in the training syllabus.
It has been reported to the ACMA that some of the current cabling training courses don’t place enough emphasis on the Wiring Rules in either the telecommunications or electrotechnology training packages. As the AS/CA S009 standard explains the mandatory installation and maintenance practices, it must form an essential element of any cabler training. The standard covers the requirements for fixed or concealed cabling or equipment that is intended to be connected to a telecommunications network.
Rules means rules
When something is designated as ‘wiring rules’, that’s exactly what it means — these are rules, not guidelines, and must be adhered to. AS/CA S009 is viewed in the same manner as the AS/NZS 3000 Electrical Wiring Rules is regarded by the electrical sector and that means it is mandatory.
Unfortunately, some RTOs don’t spend enough time covering the Wiring Rules. In short courses of four to five days, it’s impossible to deliver a meaningful understanding of the topic, let alone the often complex technologies involved. For years, cabling registrars have called for training programs to comprehensively cover technical and regulatory matters, which means longer, not shorter courses. Unfortunately, training shortfalls continue to the detriment of the industry as a whole in a ‘race to the bottom’, where a common outcome is less skilled personnel working in the industry.
Action No 2
Before enrolling new employees, trainees or apprentices into a cabling course, ask the RTO the following questions:
- How much time will they allocate to teaching the S009 Wiring Rules?
- Ask if they are teaching the latest (2020) edition.
- Ask how course instructors are maintaining their own currency with regard to these regulations.
If you don’t get the answers you want, find another organisation who is willing to commit the required time and effort to help develop an adequately skilled industry.
Cabling registrars constantly remind cablers of the catastrophic consequences of a failure in an essential service being traced to a cabler not adhering to the Wiring Rules. You could be subject to costly litigation and the prospect of your insurance coverage denied because of non-compliance.
A useful tool to protect yourself is the ACMA’s Compliance Telecommunications Customer Cabling Advice Forms (TCA 1). These forms are mandatory, yet registrars are surprised how many cablers don’t regularly use them. While used primarily to indicate compliance, they are also very useful for a legitimate cabler who finds themselves in a legal situation.
A TCA1 form is proof that you carried out the works listed on the form, in accordance with the required regulations. If there is ever an insurance claim by the property owner or tenant — even if they were not your original customer — the insurance company will look to all parties for contribution to the incident. With proof that you carried out compliant work and did not contribute to the incident, you may have dodged a bullet.
Action No 3
Always complete and keep TCA1 forms. They are a mandatory requirement for all your cabling projects, but also offer an important form of protection, even many years into the future. The law requires you to retain copies for a year, but we recommend you keep them forever, just in case.
While regulations are often regarded as unnecessary red tape or a convenient mechanism for revenue raising, we believe the cabling industry benefits from the continued involvement of a regulator. In an environment where shoddy workmanship or work practices can lead to catastrophic injury or worse, we applaud the ongoing development and maintenance of standards designed to protect customers, cablers and the sector as a whole.
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