Offshore-made cables still fail on fire safety, says CCCA; new quality measures are pending

Nov. 2, 2009
The CCCA says that the prevalence of offshore-manufactured communications cable products which fail to meet industry fire safety requirements continues to plague the marketplace.

November 2, 2009 -- The Communications Cable and Connectivity Association, Inc. (CCCA) announced that the prevalence of offshore-manufactured communications cable products which fail to meet industry fire safety requirements continues to plague the industry and marketplace.

In July 2009, the CCCA commissioned an independent test laboratory to again analyze whether eight offshore-manufactured cable samples met National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) minimum requirements for fire safety. Test results showed that six of the eight samples failed to meet the minimum NFPA code requirements for low flame spread and/or smoke generation for installation in commercial buildings, schools and multi-tenant residences. All of the failing samples exhibited catastrophic results, indicating an unacceptable public safety hazard still exists.

Last year the CCCA commissioned tests which showed that eight out of nine randomly selected samples failed to meet the minimum requirements for fire safety. Unlike the randomly selected samples from last year's study, five of these eight samples tested this year were chosen from companies whose products
failed the 2008 fire safety tests. Four out of the five repeat companies’ samples failed the fire safety tests for a second year in a row.

Cables selected for the tests were all procured from North American distributor’s inventory between March and May 2009 and were comprised of riser and plenum rated Category 5e and Category 6 cables, which are the predominant cable types used for wired local area networks (LAN). Category 5e cables also are typically used for telephone interconnection within a building. These cables are commonly installed behind walls and in ceiling cavities, and are connected to wall outlets that have phone or Ethernet ports. The invisible placement of these cables makes their flame and smoke characteristics particularly critical because combustion would not be evident to inhabitants until after the fire had significantly progressed.

“As we witnessed last year, the failing products were made with inferior materials and designs to save on production costs and they predictably failed the minimum fire safety requirements,” says CCCA executive director, Frank Peri.

Peri adds, “The CCCA has taken the position that this serious problem will not go away until quality assurance procedures include testing of samples of finished cable procured directly from the marketplace. Our association is cooperating with the major independent telecommunications industry testing agencies to establish a stronger approach to assure compliance to safety standards. We are very encouraged that a major independent testing agency has informed our association that it plans to put in place new quality assurance measures which include testing of finished product procured directly from the marketplace.”

The CCCA first sponsored the independent tests in 2008 in response to concerns from the membership that many of the new cable brands entering the North American market appeared to be constructed of inferior materials that would not pass the flame and smoke tests required by the National Electrical Code. The testing program was repeated this year because these concerns still exist. The CCCA is not publicizing the names of the manufacturers of the cable products but confirmed that it has shared details of the tests with the proper industry testing agency.

In advance of the fire safety tests, the CCCA also commissioned a test laboratory to analyze the materials contained in each of the eight cable samples for flame and smoke retardant characteristics.

These analyses proved to be reliable predictors of the fire safety test results obtained. Peri notes, “Like our stance on the importance of testing finished product obtained from the field, the material investigation we undertook shows that CCCA is being proactive. As stewards for a viable industry where everyone competes by the same set of rules, we are also proactive in proposing steps for a solution. Material testing indicates a possible means of predicting fire safety performance from samples as short as 5 feet in length.”

According to CCCA, while fire performance is vital for public safety and the potential ensuing liability problems, three of the eight samples also failed to meet the minimum electrical performance required by industry standards for Category 5e and 6 cables, to which they also claimed independent test certifications. Communications cable products that fail to meet minimum standards for physical and electrical performance can impair network performance and in some cases result in network failures and lost productivity. Replacing substandard cable is extremely costly because of the cost of new cable and the intensive labor needed to re-route cables in crowded and difficult to access building spaces.

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