|The great power divide
(This article was first published in the Summer 2017 edition of Electrical Connection magazine, and has been reproduced with permission from Connections Magazines Pty Ltd)
A leading regulatory authority says instances of mains powered USB chargers being installed onto keystone wall plates with RJ-45 communication connectors have been brought to its attention, raising concerns that consumer demands are being put above compliance with Australian Standards. Adelle King reports.
Keystone wall plates, which are commonly used in industrial and commercial buildings to enable data, AV and telecommunications ports to be placed in one convenient location, are becoming widespread in the residential sector as USB charging and HDMI become increasingly popular. In fact, keystone wall plates are starting to be included as standard in new buildings and renovations to give building owners the ability to fill a face plate with the connections they need.
However, there are concerns that while this product meets consumer demands, it is being installed and used in ways that are not compliant with AS/CA S009:2013 Installation requirements for customer cabling and AS/NZS 3000:2007 Electrical Installations (Wiring Rules). In particular, USB charging ports are being integrated onto wall plates with RJ-45 communications connectors.
This potentially presents a problem as separation requirements state that mains electrical cables and the associated mains terminations have to be kept 150mm from the Cat5 telecommunications cable or the terminations on the RJ-45 socket.
“By failing to meet separation requirements specified by AS/CA S009:2013 and AS/NZS 3000:2007, there is the possibility of the data cable touching the single insulated 240V cable and livening up the data installation when work is being undertaken on the wall plate,” says Clipsal by Schneider Electric standardisation manager Gary Busbridge.
“To prevent this accidental contact between the customer cable terminations and LV power terminations, they have to be separate and accessible in their own right.”
AS/CA S009:2013 states that the conductors and terminations of a customer cable must be separated from the uninsulated and single-insulated conductors and terminations of an LV power cable by either a minimum distance of 150mm or by means of a permanent, rigidly-fixed barrier of durable, insulating material or metal earthed. Clause 184.108.40.206(c) of AS/NZS 3000:2007 mandates the separation requirements included in AS/CA S009:2013. One of these requirements must be met in the enclosure or behind the wall into which the enclosure will be mounted and the cables, both mains and customer, will be run.
Additionally, under AS/CA S008:2010 Customer cabling products, clause 220.127.116.11 states that “a connecting device’s face plate for telecommunications wiring shall not incorporate a low voltage fixed socket-outlet or switch”. This is also prohibited under AS/NZS 3112:2011 Approval and test specifications – Plugs and socket-outlets.
A leading regulatory authority says it has had a number of non-compliant wall plates brought to its attention where a USB charger and RJ-45 connector have been installed on the same wall plate. A spokesperson says this is an installation rather than a manufacturing issue and there is nothing illegal about the wall plate, the USB charger or the RJ-45 connector.
“The person who installed the wall plate is ultimately responsible for applying the mandatory Standards to their specific situation,” says the regulatory authority spokesperson.
“If an installation is done that is not permitted under either AS/CA S009:2013 or AS/NZS 3112:2011 then the installer would probably void any public liability insurance.”
Under AS/CA S009:2013 the conductors and terminations of a customer cable may be located within the same enclosure as the conductors and terminations of an LV power cable but this is subject to the requirements of clauses 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124.
Clause 126.96.36.199 states that conductors and terminations of a customer cable cannot be located within the same enclosure as uninsulated and single insulated conductors and terminations of an LV power cable unless accidental access to the LV power conductors and terminations by people working on them is prevented by a physical barrier or obstruction that prevents contact with the LV power conductors or terminations by any part of the body or by any tool. The other exception is if the customer cables and LV power cable are terminated on building control or monitoring equipment that is installed in a restricted access location where only qualified people who are authorised to install or maintain both LV power installations and customer cabling can gain access.
Clause 188.8.131.52 states that the separation requirements must be met unless, as in clause 184.108.40.206, the customer cable and LV power cable are terminated on building control or monitoring equipment installed in a restricted access location, separate cables are used for LV power and telecommunications or if telecommunications circuits are terminated on the building control or monitoring equipment that does not share the same cable sheath as any other telecommunications services or only connects as a telecommunications network via a compliant isolating interface.
Given these requirements, a spokesperson for an industry advisory group says USB/data wall plates are not compliant.
“Combined USB/data wall plates are not compliant because the black and red wires are single-insulated 230V alternating current (AC) and they are required to be separated from the data terminations by a suitable barrier or a minimum distance of 150mm,” says a spokesperson for the industry advisory group.
“These new consumer products are coming onto the market that may meet customer demands but they’re not always being installed in ways that are compliant.”
Although it’s the cabler’s responsibility to ensure that cabling installation complies with AS/CA S009:2013, if the RJ-45 outlet has been installed on a wall plate with a mains powered USB charger then it could present a problem in undertaking work.
“Similar to a wall plate incorporating mains socket(s), these plates give direct access to a mains electrical cable and the associated mains terminations. This means that even if the cabler who does the initial install is a licensed electrician, any cabler who is not a licensed electrician may not be able to legally undertake subsequent work on this socket. Only licensed electricians can remove or replace a wall plate incorporating low voltage mains cables,” says the regulatory authority spokesperson.
The issue therefore appears to be with electricians installing new consumer products, such as USB charger modules, with RJ-45 sockets without understanding the requirements.
“It is folly to have an electrician install communications cables without fully understanding the impact of their work on the integrity of the cabling and therefore the communications systems operating on their installed infrastructure,” says a spokesperson for the industry advisory group.
The regulatory authority stresses that this issue is not related to training requirements and confusion was arising because of new products entering the market, however the Standards are quite clear about the separation requirements.
“At the end of the day, if you’re doing the installation and you don’t follow the Standards then you’re breaking the law essentially,” says Gary.