Fake cables present 'serious' fire safety risk

Counterfeit cables are an ever-present problem for the building sector, so how can contractors avoid inadvertently falling foul of the fakes?

Wire and cable industry body the IWCS held a webinar last week to highlight the problem, with speaker Dave Kiddoo - executive director of the Communications Cable & Connectivity Association (CCCA) noting that counterfeiting has created "the potential for catastrophic fire safety and critical performance consequences in building network infrastructure."

Some sources estimate that as much as 20 per cent of the cable for sale at any time may be unsafe, unapproved or counterfeit. A common scam is to pass off inferior riser cable as Low Smoke Zero Halogen (LSZH) cable, and it is also known that copper clad aluminium (CCA) cable has been mis-sold as 100 per cent copper plenum (CMP) cables (Cat5e/Cat6), which have fire retardant jackets and cannot actually cause fires.

Among the things to watch out for are cabling or packaging with unauthorised UL, ETL or third-party certification marks – or indeed no marks at all, according to the CCCA. Every box of UL-listed cable should carry a holographic label, and it is important to watch out for misleading and false claims such as CMP 'plenum-rated', CMP 'plenum approved' or CMP 'plenum cable'

Earlier CCCA testing of counterfeit CMP cabling failed peak smoke testing as well as the Average Smoke test. That's very important, as rapidly spreading and heavy smoke makes it difficult to evacuate and rescue occupants of a building.

Even packaging or cabling with authorised UL or ETL marks can be counterfeit and non-compliant, according to the webinar, so it is important to be mindful of other clues that all may not be above board, particularly pricing below market norms.

Other warning signals can include private-label, unfamiliar brands from offshore manufacturers, sometimes supplied only through a website or local store front distributors, and poor English on company websites.

Kiddo recommends buying known brands but - if purchasing an unknown brand is necessary - require written proof of listing or verification. It is advised to use the websites of the listing agencies to see if any public notices or recalls have been posted for that company name, but purchasers need to be aware that counterfeiters' details may not yet be in the database.

The CCCA has developed a smartphone app – called CableCheck – that can be used as a field screening tool to check UL holographic labels.

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