Sean Miller, electrician channel programme manager at Schneider Electric, takes a look at the considerations for electricians working on educational sites.
With schools and universities largely empty due to the UK lockdown, many facility managers are drawing up plans for major upgrades to their sites. While educational facilities are constantly receiving minor improvements, rarely has there been such an extended period to schedule major works to classrooms across the country.
Like all public sector work, educational sites have a very specific set of requirements, with safety and longevity being paramount. This long summer is an opportunity for refurbs and refits, but it’s crucial that the right electrical decisions are made, from design through to implementation.
During this period, more pressure will be placed on Electrical Contractors (EC) to deliver jobs on time and make good long-term decisions. To do so, there are some key considerations that they must take into account when working at schools and universities.
With dense, diverse and intermingling populations of students, it’s no secret that educational sites are a breeding ground for germs. For school refurbs, antimicrobial materials are a clear first choice. ECs should consider their use on surfaces that are regularly touched or in dirt-collecting areas, such as light switches and socket outlets.
Products with antimicrobial properties prevent the spread of germs, protecting against harmful bacteria such as MRSA and Salmonella. Although there are many antimicrobial coatings and covers on the market, it is important to select products which are inherently protective – where the protection is within the material itself, not just on the surface. That way it cannot be damaged or scuffed, which is essential for a long-lasting refit.
Placement of switches, sockets and wiring cannot be an afterthought. Their positioning has to tick a number of boxes and be considered in terms of accessibility and usability. To comply with Part M of the Building Regulations, ECs must also be considerate of the placement of switches and sockets in a public space.
Here are a couple of key points to consider:
- Height and freedom from obstruction: accessories and contact points should be installed at a height that makes them accessible but prevents damage from moisture or contact.
- Mounting height and position: Sockets should be no nearer than 350mm to a corner and light switches should align with door handles.
When planning a new job, the end users’ needs have to remain the focus. In the case of an educational site with so many different users, steps should be taken to ensure safety and clarity is built into design.
Critical and essential supply must also be made easily identifiable. This can include pull cord alarms in toilets, or switches and sockets for special electrical applications such as critical power and security. Use red wiring and accessories to indicate special or emergency use and distinguish from normal use accessories. Additionally, the use of engraved switches and control points should be considered to provide assistance with identifying their purpose.
For an educational site job, ECs should prioritise a complete solution that provides visibility to the facility manager. Selecting connected technology ensures uniformity across a site and provides the insight to optimise operations.
All sites are looking to reduce costs while meeting stringent regulations. Additionally, any refit demands value for money and durability. With that in mind, when installing new fixtures and accessories, products must be considered as a part of a wider electrical ecosystem to enable connectivity and visibility.
Interior design may not be associated with schools and universities, with practicality and durability typically the modus operandi in that field, but design is a crucial factor for accessibility and compliance and cannot be overlooked. Smart choice in design and colour can go a long way towards making facilities more accessible to users, particularly those with disabilities. As examples, ECs could consider:
- Wide rocker switches for easier operation
- Contrasting coloured outboard rockers to improve visibility
- Distinct separation of rockers on a twin socket to simplify operation
- Use of coloured pull cords
During this period, when many educational facility managers are making plans for refits and building upgrades, ECs must be prepared to make decisions which have the end user and product longevity in mind. Now is the time for them to ensure their regulatory knowledge for public site refurbishments is up to scratch, as that will be essential to ensure they secure work in the coming months.