We rely heavily on electricity to power our homes, businesses and – for a growing number of people – our cars. If there is one thing that is making forays into ever newer sectors of our lives, it is electricity. The global consumption of energy in 2018 was a whopping 62 billion kWh per day! In many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, new appliances, gizmos and gadgets are gradually increasing the load on the electrical infrastructure that was installed when the buildings were constructed.
The increasing use of electricity has made our world extremely susceptible to electrical fires. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, between 2014 and 2016, electrical fires accounted for 6.3 percent of all residential fires, with approximately 24,000 fires being reported each year.
The scenario of electrical accidents in India is far grimmer. Around 90 percent of fire-related accidents in the country are caused by electricity. In Russia, around 3,000 lives are lost every year because of electrical fires. The lives lost in the US are in a few 100s whereas the lives lost in India run into thousands. As per the data provided by the Indian Copper Association India (ICA-India), the year 2016-17 witnessed 11,444 electrical accidents. Of this, 4,799 caused deaths while 2,309 resulted in injuries and yet others involved deaths of 4,296 animals.
Workplace accidents report nearly 13 electrocution deaths on an average day in India. This is the highest in the world. It is worth noting that the annual average of electric-related deaths in workplaces in the United Kingdom and the United States is 8 and 82 respectively. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) data attributes nearly 40 percent of deaths at the workplace to electrical issues.
Around 42 percent of fires are caused by defective electrical systems. Loose or improper wiring, substandard electrical fittings, and poor maintenance of wiring trigger most short-circuit fires. The situation is graver with regard to old buildings where electrical infrastructure has not been upgraded to bear new load for various uses. It should be noted that old homes generally had stuff like stoves, iron boxes, fans, fridges, geysers, etc. Today’s households within the same premises have acquired air-conditioners, cell phones, computers, microwave ovens, cameras, hair dryers, hot-water bags, massagers and various other gadgets – and all of them need to be plugged in for frequent charging, which puts additional burden on the system. According to statistics from ICA-India, among all the structures in which fire accidents were reported, about 35 percent occurred in old buildings. In a majority of old buildings, wiring has not been upgraded at all. Increase in load, fatigued installations, degraded insulation and poor maintenance generally end up causing electrical fires.
However, when it comes to short circuits, these are not the only issues. According to ICA-India, a quarter of the electricity-related accidents could be attributed to code violation, poor circuit designing and inadequate wire sizing. Untrained and unskilled workers account for 20 per cent of such incidents. A similar percentage is responsible for poor maintenance and obsolescence of components.
Electrical fires have their genesis in electric wires, cables, circuit breakers and electrical components. More often than not such fires start in electrical panels from overloaded circuits or age of the panel. The panel and circuits become overloaded when the distribution of electricity is inadequate. Lighting equipment becomes a dangerous source of heat when it is too close to easily combustible materials.
With increasing urbanization, issues of safety and efficiency in old buildings and upcoming housing enclaves need to be adequately addressed. As we already know, Indian Commerce Association (ICA-India), which was set up in 1998, has been propagating safe wiring practices in the building construction sector with increased awareness of power quality. It conducts workshops across the country in collaboration with several bodies. It also publishes training manuals for in-depth knowledge on the benefits of copper and its use in technology. So far it has trained 15,000 electricians and electrical contractors through seminars on “Electrical Safety in Buildings” in local languages. ICA has also completed familiarization campaign for the National Electrical Code of India in 16 cities.
Many wire and cable companies across the world have been focusing on electrical safety. Cables have been developed that enhance electrical safety. In various combinations they reduce flame propagation, the smoke emitted and the dangerous gasses emitted; they even maintain an electrical supply while burning.
Cables for Fire Safety
Fire rated cables – also referred to as circuit integrity cables or fire-resistive cables – are cables capable of functioning in the presence of fire for a specified period under defined conditions. These cables are specifically designed to maintain circuit integrity and for interconnections of various compartments within large buildings or complexes during a fire outbreak. They are excellent flame retardants known for their favorable characteristics such as excellent electrical and mechanical properties.
Fire-resistant cables are typically constructed in the following format: Standard Annealed Copper Conductor; Glass Mica Tape Fire Resisting Barrier; Cross-linked Polyethylene/ Ethylene Propylene Rubber insulated/Silicon Rubber/Ethylene Vinyl Acetate/ Polyethylene/Poly Vinyl Chloride Primary insulation; and Low Smoke Halogen free or Flame Retardant PVC Sheathing.
These cables are easy to install cables that play an important role in assuring the orderly shutdown of systems and evacuation of building occupants. They are capable of maintaining continuity as well as circuit integrity of electrical circuits, such as electric heaters, furnaces, ovens, heating and air conditioning equipment, kilns, cooking equipment, appliances, lighting fixtures, fire safety equipment or alarm systems for a longer duration in the event of a fire. The global fire rated cables market is estimated to be driven by safety standards in various commercial and residential buildings as well as standards that ensure the safety of roadway tunnels, refineries and transit systems. A fire rated cable consists of insulation and a fire proof layer that can survive high temperature ranging from 750OC to 950OC.
Flame Resistance Cables and Flame Retardant Cables: The Differences
Due to their usefulness in the event of fire, flame resistance and flame retardant cables are fast gaining popularity. Although they both sound similar, they have markedly different uses and react differently in the event of a fire.
Also identified as a circuit integrity cable, a fire resistant cable will continue to function in the event of a fire. On the other hand, a flame retardant cable will not convey or propagate a fire. A flame resistant cable, unlike a flame retardant cable, would let the circuit stay in operation, allowing power to be transferred through it. This is why fire resistant cables are used in critical electrical circuits, such as safety circuits and life support circuits. Critical circuits are required to function in the case of emergencies. On the other hand, flame retardant cables are used in all other circuits, primarily because if there is a fire, they can curb its spread. A flame retardant cable is designed to only restrict the spread of a fire by restraining combustion.
Low Smoke Zero Halogen Cable
These cables are designed for increased safety in the case of a fire breakout. They have been designed in such as way that they reduce hazardous fumes which can cause injury when inhaled and corrosive chemicals which can cause damage to electronics. These cables are mainly used in public and government buildings and where there is sensitive electronic equipment, that is, hospitals, supermarkets, airports, control rooms and computer suites.
It is worth noting that most cables used in installations have been insulated with PVC or similar materials. In a fire breakout, these insulation materials release chlorine gas, which is a poisonous gas. Chlorine gas also forms hydrochloric acid when it comes into contact with water. As we know, hydrochloric acid can have devastating effects on adjacent equipment.
To face the problems related to the release of chlorine gas, halogen-free cables are used. A halogen-free cable is typically made of polypropylene, which does not produce a dangerous gas or acid in fire conditions.
Both LSZH and LSF cables are used to limit smoke, fumes and halogen given off in fire conditions. In a fire breakout, both types will emit very low levels of smoke. LSF cables will emit toxic gases while LSZH cables will limit the emission of these. The use of LSZH cables protects both people and limits the amount of equipment damage during a fire situation.
The global fire-resistant cable market is amazingly active. It is expected to witness a CAGR of 3.1 percent to reach USD 2.14 billion by 2024 (Source: Energias Market Research). Rising demand from end-user industries is expected to push the growth of the market in times to come. Stringent fire safety regulations mandated by the governments has also raised the demand for fire-resistant cables. It may be mentioned that the construction industry segment held the major share of the market in 2017, owing to stringent regulatory framework mandated by the governments.
Asia Pacific held the major share of the market in the year 2017. It should also be noted that Asia-Pacific is expected to register the fastest growth in the near future. This can be due to the rapidly growing construction segment and automotive industry of this region. Additionally, the application of flame-resistant cable as a flexible charger in electric cars is expected to give impetus to the market in this region. Rapid urbanization of countries like China, India, and South Korea is anticipated to foster significant market growth in Asia-Pacific.
Some of the key companies operating in the market include Tratos Limited, El Sewedy Electric Company, Leoni AG, Nexans S.A., Helkama Bica Oy, LS Cable & System Limited, NKT Group, Universal Cable (M) Berhad, Tele-Fonika Kable S.A., and General Cable Corporation, among others.
In India, the major companied operating in the market include Ravin Cables Limited, Polycab India Limited, RR Kabel, HPL Electric & Power Limited, Finolex Cables, Gupta Power, Havells India Limited, KEI Industries and Apar Industries Limited.
Challenges and Opportunities in India
The fire-resistant as well as fire-retardant cable market in India is encouragingly active. However, as the Indian consumers are price sensitive, the cost of these types of cables can be a problem for them. Flame retardant cables can be 3-5 percent costlier than the normal PVC cables; fire resistant cables are costlier by about 15-25 percent depending on the size. Striking a balance between price and quality is one of the challenges that cable and wire companies in India have been facing for quite some time.
Besides, awareness of the importance of fire-retardant cables and fire-resistant cables is still slowly growing in India. Today’s builders do follow the electrical safety guidelines laid down by the government, but a majority of the owners of old building s and small mills and factories still prefer normal PVC cables to flame resistance cables and flame retardant cables.
If wire and cable companies in India want to fully avail themselves of the opportunities that the market affords, they must focus on educating the consumers on the importance of flame resistance cables and flame retardant cables. The customers need to be educated on the importance of quality; they need to be told that cheap and poor quality products are neither safe nor durable.
Polycab is one of the companies in India that are moving in the right direction. It has put together a team of young electrical engineers responsible for educating the customers at the district level on various aspects of cables, especially safety factors. Their job is to tell the customers why they should buy a specific cable. For this purpose they will visit builders, interior decorators, electric consultants, utilities, etc. Says Inder T. Jaisinghani, Chairman and Managing Director, Polycab India Limited, “We have made a positive beginning in this area; and within five years from now, we will educate people in every nook and corner on cables.”
We rely heavily on electricity to power our homes, businesses and – for a growing number of people – our cars. If there is one thing that is making forays into ever newer sectors of our lives, it is electricity. The global consumption of energy in 2018 was a whopping 62 billion kWh per day! In many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, new appliances, gizmos and gadgets are gradually increasing the load on the electrical infrastructure that was installed when the buildings were constructed. The increasing use of electricity has made our world extremely susceptible to electrical fires. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, between 2014 and 2016, electrical fires accounted for 6.3 percent of all residential fires, with approximately 24,000 fires being reported each year.
Wire & Cable India: How are fire-resistant cables different from fire-retardant cables? How are fire-resistant and fire-retardant cables different from normal cables?
Anil Gupta: In all fire disasters, fire smoke, heat and toxic fumes are the main obstacles to safe evacuation of the building or area. A major contribution towards overcoming such hazards is the use of fire-resistant and non-halogenated cables. Fire-resistant cables are the ones whose basic requirement is to keep emergency equipment like exit door lighting, exhaust fans, etc., working in case of fire, thereby helping the crowd and the management to manage the incidence of fire in an appropriate manner. This is achieved through layer(s) of heat barrier tape(s) on the conductor so as to keep the circuit integrity in place even in case of major fires in population-infested buildings. KEI’s fire-resistant cables have been developed to maintain circuit integrity in a fire breakout and to ensure maximum safe evacuation of personnel with no detrimental effects like toxic gases or smoke.
On the other hand, flame-retardant cables are the ones wherein the major requirement is to retard the spread of fire; however, to a certain extent. In addition to this, Flame Retardant Low Smoke cables play a major role in limiting smoke emissions.
Flame-retardant cables resist the spread of fire to new areas, while fire-resistant cables maintain circuit integrity and continue to work for a specified time under specified conditions. Fire resistant cables continue to operate in the presence of a fire and are commonly referred to as circuit integrity cables. The differences between the two ratings are significant for the critical circuits required for life safety or a safe and immediate plant shutdown. Additionally, flame-retardant cables are not rated to continue to operate in a fire, and in all probability, will not maintain circuit integrity during a fire. Whereas, normal cables are the ones wherein the emphasis is laid on carrying current rather than how it forays in times of emergency situations such as fire breakouts.
WCI: What are the components of fire-resistant cables and fire-retardant cables?
AG: The table given below will answer this question.
WCI: Are “green” wires fire resistant and fire retardant? What are the advantages of green wires?
AG: The purpose of green wires is to ground an electrical circuit. They connect to the grounding terminal in an outlet box and run to the ground bus bar in an electrical panel. In this way, green wires act as a failsafe, giving electricity a place to escape into the ground if a live wire within the circuit touches metal or something else conductive.
Depending upon the use, both fire-resistant and flame-retardant wires may be treated as “Green Wires”, as both are RoHS compliant. Moreover, for indoor (like household and public building , such as concert halls, malls, theatres, etc.) wirings, Flame Resistant /FRLS/Zero Halogen Low Smoke wires are preferred, and for open public places, flame-retardant wires are preferred.
WCI: Is the Indian market for fire-resistant cables and fire-retardant cables picking up? Don’t you think wire and cable manufacturers in India should make special efforts to educate their customers on the importance of fire-resistant cables and fire-retardant cables?
AG: Yes, the market is definitely picking up. With more and more consumers gaining substantial knowledge about the benefits of these cables, the shift to these cables is quite visible. The demand for these cables is surely rising. Talking about educating the customers on the importance of these cables, we have been the front runner in the industry. We have been educating the final user (electricians and dealers) on how the best results can be obtained through these cables. Moreover, we have been an integral part of FS cable specification designing for BIS under Power Cable Alliance.
WCI: Could you tell us about the safety standards that have been applied across the global wire and cable industry, especially the Indian wire and cable industry?
AG: Many standards have been adopted by different countries along with competent authority guidelines. However, the standards adopted majorly, internationally and locally, are BS-8519, CEA rules and regulations, NBCC Regulation, IEC-60364-5-52, to name a few. Moreover, CIGRE and IEEMA keep organizing workshops on safety across the globe with major focus on the Indian market.
Cables for Fire Safety
In India, awareness of safety requirements is not very high, and there are no mandatory requirements. The matter receives attention only after a few major fire accidents take place. A lot of hue and cry is raised at that time, and after some time, things are back to normal
Wire & Cable India: How are the fire resistant cables different from fire retardant cables?
Vivek Chaudhari : This is a good question, as most of the people are not aware of the difference. Fire Resistant cables are constructed using a flame barrier like Mica and covered with Low Smoke Zero Halogen (LSZH) materials. They are designed to maintain circuit integrity of lighting/essential services and continue to work for 3 hours under fire conditions. They emit negligible amount of smoke and toxic gases, thereby providing good visibility, allowing the evacuation activity in the event of fire breakout. Based on past experience, it has been concluded that most of the fatalities happen due to heavy smoke and inhalation of toxic gases, not because of burning. Invariably, all emergency lighting, exit signboards, fire alarm systems, water sprinklers, etc., need to be wired using Fire Resistant cables that can provide high degree of safety. Under fire conditions, even if the LSZH material has burned, the Mica covering over the conductor provides the basic level of insulation to maintain circuit integrity. Flame/Fire retardant cables are generally insulated with the formulated compound of PVC which is a self-extinguishing material designed to resist the further spread of fire. These cables continue to burn under fire conditions and extinguish when fire is removed. The insulation material melts under fire conditions and cannot maintain any circuit integrity.
WCI: How are fire resistant and fire retardant cables different from normal cables?
VC: Here is a comparison of the key features of various categories of fire safety cables.
WCI: What are the components of fire resistant cables and fire retardant cables?
VC: Fire resistant cable consists of conductor wrapped with heat barrier tape (high temperature sustaining Mica tape), LSZH insulation (Cross Linked LSZH will be even better), LSZH material inner sheath, metallic armor (galvanized steel wires or flat strips) and LSZH outer sheath. More heat barrier tape can be added depending on customer requirement and application. Whereas Flame Retardant cables use Formulated FR grade of PVC compound in place of LSZH material, and no Mica is used over insulation. While Fire Resistant cables can maintain circuit integrity for 3 hours, Fire Retardant cables do not provide any circuit integrity.
WCI: Are green wires fire resistant and fire retardant? What are the advantages of green wires?
VC: Green wires use lead-free ingredients of the insulation and jacketing compounds and have nothing to do with the fire performance of the cables. The LSZH as well as FR PVC compounds can be lead free (green) compounds. These compounds comply with Restrictions of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) standards.
WCI: How cost-effective is it to make fire resistant cables and fire retardant cables?
VC: Flame retardant cables use a better grade of PVC compounds and can be 3-5 percent costlier than the normal PVC cables. However, fire resistant cables are costlier by about 15-25 percent depending on the size. The higher the cross section of the cable (higher metal component), the lesser is the increase in cost for making it fire resistant or flame retardant.
WCI: Is the Indian market for fire resistant cables and fire retardant cables picking up? Don’t you think wire and cable manufacturers in India should make special efforts to educate their customers on the importance of fire resistant cables and fire retardant cables?
VC: The Indian market for fire resistant as well as fire retardant cables is picking up. Demand for products like fire survival cables increased as compared to last year and is expected to go up in future. Better safety standards and awareness about safety requirements are being imposed by regulatory authorities, leading to increased use of fire resistant cables especially for commercial complexes, airports, metro railway projects, hospitals, etc.
Cable manufacturers are educating customers on the importance of fire resistant cables and flame retardant cables by making in-house technical presentations to customers and by arranging technical seminars for electrical consultants, electrical contractors, technical advisors, maintenance head, technicians and government concern officers. But unless there is a regulatory, mandatory requirement, this is not easy to implement.
WCI: Could you tell us about the safety standards that have been applied across the global wire and cable industry, especially the Indian wire and cable industry?
VC: In India, awareness of safety requirements is not very high, and there are no mandatory requirements. The matter receives attention only after a few major fire accidents take place. A lot of hue and cry is raised at that time, and after some time, things are back to normal. While the wire and cable Industry has all the technical know how to offer fire resistant cables and fire retardant cables, due to cost considerations, the end users make compromises. There are no Indian standards for fire resistant cables, and most of the consultants in India follow the British standards or IEC specifications. However, for fire retardant cables, the Indian standards are available and most of the end users have started using FR grade of cables and wires. The BIS has recently established standards for LSZH wires. These standards will hopefully be enforced in due course.