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 are severe, yet very few have been penalised. Is this industry so complaint that we no longer need to be regulated?
Article originally published in BICSI Column of ECD mag and republished in BICSI Bytes with permission of WF Media. Click here to read article on ECD web site.
This was a question the regulator – Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) – had to ask recently under Federal Government guidelines of reviewing existing regulations. In November 2018, the ACMA issued a Consultation Paper seeking industry’s views on retaining or removing regulation. Explaining its rationale, 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 – the ‘pillars’ of telecommunications regulations: 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 added: “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.”
The answer to that opening question: “Is this industry so complaint that we no longer need to be regulated?” is a resounding “No”.
BICSI and the other cabling registrars frequently hear about the shortcomings in our industry. While most of us 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”. Mostly, their sub-standard workmanship and products result in poor network performance for their unsuspecting customers. But there are unfortunately times when their sub-standard practises result in catastrophic failures – electrocution, fire, failed medical or security services. People suffer severely because of their carelessness.
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 healthcare, security and life-safety (read all 32 submissions at https://www.acma.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-08/IFC_38-2018-Submissions.zip)
On 16 February 2021, after deliberating on these submissions, the ACMA stated that 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”. (Read full ACMA statement at https://www.acma.gov.au/consultations/2019-08/review-regulation-telecommunications-customer-cabling-consultation-382018#outcome-of-this-consultation).
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 legally protect cablers. Yes, it’s a legal requirement to obey the cabling regulations – AS/CA S008 for products and AS/CA S009 for installation. While massive fines can be applied for non-compliance, the bigger concern for cablers is consequential failure. If something goes wrong, like a fire, electrocution, or equipment failure, you can be held partially accountable for it, even if your work there was years earlier and you 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’ve complied with the regulations, you’re in a ‘defensible position’. Put simply, adherence to regulations is your best friend.
But sadly, the cabling registrars report that some cablers have no idea of AS/CA S009, or that it’s mandatory.
Action No. 1 – get the latest edition of AS/CA S009:2020 (Wiring Rules) from https://www.commsalliance.com.au/Documents/all/Standards/s009. There’s no excuse for not having it – it’s free; it’s the basis of cabling training courses; and it’s widely publicised by the ACMA and the registrars.
Two key tasks we registrars undertake are making the industry aware that the Wiring Rules are mandatory and encouraging cablers to get to know its contents well, along with its amendments. We sit on the committee that writes the Wiring Rules; we direct cablers to the Wiring Rules for technical guidance; we refer to them in our newsletters; we notify cablers of updates and amendments to them; and we liaise with the RTOs (Registered Training Organisations) who provide cablers training, advising them of the regulatory material that needs to be on their syllabuses.
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. Since this standard explains the mandatory installation and maintenance practices, it’s an essential element of cabler training. It covers the requirements for fixed or concealed cabling or equipment that is intended to be connected to a telecommunications network. And when it’s designated ‘Wiring Rules’, that’s exactly what it means – the Rules that must be adhered to. It’s viewed in the same manner as the AS/NZS 3000 Electrical Wiring Rules by the electrical sector – mandatory.
Unfortunately, some RTOs don’t spend enough time teaching the Wiring Rules. In courses as short as four or five days, it’s impossible for an RTO to deliver a meaningful understanding of the Wiring Rules, let alone the technologies involved. For years, cabling registrars have called for training programs to comprehensively cover technical and regulatory matters, which means longer, not shorter courses. But 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 booking any new employees, trainees, or apprentices into a course, ask the RTO how much time they allocate to teaching the S009 Wiring Rules; ask if they’re teaching the latest (2020) edition; and ask how their teachers are maintaining their own currency with these regulations. If you don’t get the answers you want from the RTO, go to another RTO who does have the right answers.
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 primary for compliance, they are very useful for a legitimate cabler in a legal situation. A TCA1 form is proof that you did the works listed in the form in accordance with the regulations. If there’s ever an insurance claim by the property owner or tenant, even if they weren’t your original customer, the insurance company will go to all parties looking for contribution to the incident. With proof that what you’ve done is compliant and didn’t contribute to the incident, you’ve ‘dodged a bullet’.
Action No. 3 – use TCA1 forms. They’re mandatory for all your projects, but they’re equally important to use and retain for your 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.