It is now more than six years since the 2004 edition of Approved Document M of the Building Regulations was published to help those with a disability to access and use buildings and the facilities within them. Like any legislation it takes time for the requirements to filter through, but today the full impact of the regulations is being felt and Part M is now part and parcel of virtually every new project coming on line. It is estimated that some nine million people are registered as disabled in the UK today and the introduction of Part M1 of the Building Regulations was intended to make buildings accessible to and usable by everyone – including people with disabilities.
For us as an electrical wholesaler and our customers, the area of focus is on the section ‘switches, outlets and controls’ which applies to lighting and other electrical equipment. Manufacturers have had plenty of time to digest the regulations and to implement a product development strategy to meet the requirements and we are now starting to see an increasing number of new products on the market which meet this requirement. The key factors that affect the use of switches, outlets and controls are that they must be visible, easy to operate, be located at an easily accessible height and be free from obstruction.
The Visibility of the Switches and Sockets
The controls that contrast visually with their surroundings are more convenient for visually-impaired people to operate, as are light switches that are activated by a large push pad. Section 0.29 indicates that the visual perception of one element of the building, or fitting within the building against another must have a light reflectance value difference of 30 points, where black = 0 points and white = 100 points. Anthracite grey (LRV 8.9) on a brilliant white background (LRV 100) for example gives a contrast of 91.1 points which complies with Part M. This is fairly simple to achieve and understand, but one area which is open to interpretation is Section 4.30 which relates to the contrast between the front plate and the background. Some people have taken this to mean that the complete product must contrast with the background while others have interpreted it as meaning that the switch must contrast against its front plate.
One thing which is quite clear however is that the colours red and green should not be used in combination as indicators for ‘on’ and ‘off’ settings for switches and controls. It may however prove to be useful to use text or a pictogram to help clarify the purpose and status of multiple switches and controls.
The Switches and Sockets Ease of Operation
Any controls need to be user-friendly and easy to locate, but the main concern is that all users should be able to locate a control, know what setting it is on and operate it without inadvertently changing its setting. It is also an advantage if individual switches on panels and on multiple socket outlets are well separated, or in the form of large touch plates, to avoid the inadvertent selection of an adjacent control by visually impaired people and people with limited dexterity.
The Location of the Switches and Sockets
Part M is quite clear on the location of switches and controls in that they should have a consistent relationship with doorways and corners to further reinforce the ease with which they can be manipulated. Wall mounted socket outlets, telephone, data and TV outlets must be located between 400mm and 1200mm above the floor, with a preference towards the lower end of the range.
Switches for permanently wired appliances should be located between 400mm and 1200mm above the floor, unless they are needed at a higher level for particular appliances and where wall mounted switches cannot be provided, such as in a bathroom or toilet, lighting pull cords are recommended. There are further requirements for the use of such pull cords which must have a 50mm bangle visually contrasting with its background fitted between 900mm and 1100mm above the floor. For emergency alarm systems the pull cord and bangle need to be coloured red and located as close to the wall as possible. In this case two bangles need to be fitted, with one set at 100mm and the other set between 800mm and 1000mm above the floor.
The Flexibility offered by Part M of the Building Regulations
With a great deal of Part M open to interpretation this does give the manufacturer a considerable amount of freedom when it comes to the design of products. However, the emphasis should be on providing products that allow installers to meet the regulatory requirements while at the same time offering a standard of design and flexibility that sets them apart. With all wall-mounted switches and sockets now required to be positioned at a certain height and therefore much more visible, the overall aesthetic appearance has become increasingly important.
Highly popular for their smooth profile and flexibility, the Mode wiring accessories are now available in an anthracite grey finish to provide an effective visual contrast against the high reflective decors used in the majority of today’s buildings. Lighter coloured rockers are also an aid to visibility. The modular design is a standard feature of the Mode range allowing contractors and installers unprecedented flexibility in creating dedicated wiring solutions to deal specifically with virtually all wiring requirements.
Read the entire article (very helpful tips about the Part M of the Building Regulations) via the Electrical Wholesaler Magazine website. To purchase high quality Switches and Sockets, visit the Metal Plate, the White Moulded Plastic Wiring Devices, or Modular and Grid Systems on our website.