If there is a positive lesson to be learnt from the recent food standards crisis then it’s the importance of knowing your supply chain. As Tesco undertakes to sell more meat from “closer to home” and others similarly look to reassure customers, Peter Smeeth of the Approved Cables Initiative examines whether this is a pledge that the cable supply industry should be considering to deliver a better and safer product to the market.
As the UK’s supermarkets face a significant drop in sales of processed foods and ready meals, 43% of the 1,000 people surveyed said they were more likely to buy food traceable from UK farms in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, demonstrating a strong demand for British-farmed products.
Although it has a far higher consumer profile, the issues faced by the British food industry currently mirror an ongoing problem for the UK cable industry. Once a thriving, sustainable sector with more than 30 cable manufacturers in the UK alone; today it is down to less than a dozen stoical companies.
The reason for the decline lies firmly with the influx of and demands for cheaper cable products. Just as we have seen the food industry source cheap meat to support the supermarket’s value brands, so electrical wholesalers and distributors have looked beyond the UK for cheaper cable products. The cables purchased and installed in our new homes and public buildings is more likely today to have been imported from Europe, the Middle and Far East. Whether it is compliant with British Standards is another question.
In the UK, cable manufacturers operate a fully audited supply chain that is regularly checked. Their cable products will be independently inspected by third party approval organisations – such as BASEC, LPCB, HAR – to ensure that raw materials used are from approved sources and that the finished products are tested to required standards. This in turn enables the manufacturer to be confident that its finished cable product has been produced correctly in accordance with the stringent standards and regulations that we voluntarily operate in this country.
Third party approval is not unique to UK cable manufacturers – many reputable overseas cable producers have similar high expectations for their cable product. Yet since its inception in 2010, the Approved Cables Initiative (ACI) receives weekly calls and emails from installers and contractors regarding high risk and sometimes unsafe cables.
In almost all instances reported to us, the cables in question are manufactured outside the UK, imported by distributors and electrical wholesalers and do not meet our British Standards. Yet despite this non-compliance they are still deemed fit for sale and installation in our shopping centres, schools and hospitals.
`Why’ is a question the ACI has been asking Government for some time. In the UK we have excellent manufacturing capabilities and British Standards, which are recognized as a benchmark worldwide. Yet we currently allow cable distributors and electrical wholesalers to step outside this process to seek out cheaper products that risk being inferior, non-compliant and in some instances dangerous.
A distributor’s remit is no different – whether they supply cable to an electrical contractor or meat to a food processing factory – they are responsible for what they purchase and sell. Right now non-compliant cable products are arriving at our ports, ordered by UK distributors for purchase by UK contractors and installation in our public buildings and private dwellings.
The ACI has spent the past three years working with industry to help educate the market in better cable purchasing practice but it is down to the whole of the cable supply industry to consider their position and act accordingly.
The supply chain from specification through to installation needs to be an audited and checked process. When placing an order a contractor needs to include the details of the type of cable required, referencing British or other standard and cable reference number or code. They should detail the number of cores and nominal cross section and the quantity and lengths of cable required.
When cross referencing deliveries it is important to ensure traceability so a manufacturer’s details should be present on the cable and conformance certification should also be checked. Third party approval ensures a cable and its manufacturer’s processes have been independently checked and meet relevant standards. By listing technical options and delivery details it helps to rule out other errors in supply chain practices.
Customers, whatever the industry, need to know and be confident about where their product is coming from. The ACI is aware of instances where distributors will supply from several different manufacturers – not just from order-to-order but even in the same batch. Meaning that what you buy today may be different from what you can buy next week.
The ACI continues to lobby for change and meet with those with the power to influence change. For instance there are benefits for all from the single market in Europe, but ensuring that products traded across borders are up to our UK expectations is vital and we are pressing Government for assurances on the measures that are being applied to prevent safety or quality problems in the future.
Certification schemes, such as we have for cables, are voluntary and led by the cable industry. They are important but currently don’t go far enough. At the ACI we want to be clear about how they can be strengthened to prevent safety and quality problems when products are traded across borders, when not every product can be inspected at ports.
The ACI believes it’s time that third party certification of cables became mandatory through tougher consumer and business protection legislation.
We hope that the cable supply chain will take a long hard look at what is happening in the food supply chain and wake up to the problem it has created. Let’s hope it’s soon for sake of UK cabling and public safety.
Further information can be found on the ACI website at www.aci.org.uk
Notes to editors
The Approved Cables Initiative is addressing the issue of unsafe, non-approved and counterfeit cable entering the UK marketplace. Anyone with information or concerns about a suspected faulty or counterfeit cable should contact the ACI who will test samples and if found to be unsafe supply details to relevant industry regulators and legislators. ACI can also provide guidance where appropriate to installers.
For suspect importers, manufacturers and distributors, the ACI is direct in its approach to investigate and publicise the results. This is the first initiative of its kind in the electrical industry with the framework to proactively communicate, educate, investigate, eradicate and legislate.
The ACI is an industry-wide working group with supply chain representative bodies including Electrical Distributors Association (EDA); Electrical Contractors Association (ECA); Electrical Safety Council; British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC); British Cables Association (BCA); Energy Networks Association (ENA); Ascertiva Group; SELECT and JIB.