Each year, thousands of new innovations are released into the Canadian market. These can range from slight improvements to existing products to revolutionary new technologies that fundamentally change the way we do things. But no matter how big or small the innovation, it is critically important that there are regulations in place that account for change and keep people safe.
In Ontario, the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) is mandated by the government as the authority responsible for electrical safety throughout the province. On May 16, 2019, the new Ontario Electrical Safety Code took effect. Essentially, this code adopts the Canadian Electrical Code, while adding some Ontario-specific amendments on top of it.
Among the changes that could affect Ontario apartment building owners and property managers are the following:
- Requirements for installing an identified (neutral) conductor at each control (switch) location of permanently installed luminaire;
- Alignment with the Ontario Building Code to prevent the installation of high-voltage conductors over buildings;
- Providing of adequate working space for electrical workers to undertake necessary repairs, maintenance and installation of transformers greater than 50kVA;
- Prohibiting of installation of cables in concealed locations in corrugated roof decking
- Adding requirements for Energy Storage systems; and
- Facilitating the use of Power over Ethernet to provide a pathway for sources of electricity.
All electrical work must align with the Ontario Electrical Safety Code
Property owners are required to regularly maintain and repair electrical systems to ensure they are in safe working order. That means that as they conduct repairs and ongoing maintenance to the electrical systems within their building, it’s important to ensure that they’re operating according to the most up-to-date standards available—that means that all electrical work must be done in accordance with the most recent version of the Code.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. A survey of property managers in Ontario conducted in 2015 indicated that close to 35 per cent didn’t realize the Code applies to electrical work in their buildings. But it does. In fact, the Code must be followed for ¬all electrical work – maintenance, repair and new projects.
The best way to ensure that work is up to code is to work with a Licensed Electrical Contractor (LEC). LECs are familiar with the Code and they’ll ensure that the necessary notifications (also referred to as permits) are obtained to facilitate review of the electrical work by inspectors from the ESA.
The dangers of unlicensed work
For building owners and managers who don’t do their due diligence, the implications can be catastrophic. First, by working outside the safety system, you put tenants at risk. According to the Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Management , between 2012 and 2016, there were an average of 23 fire injuries per year caused by electrical wiring—working to Code ensures that your electrical system is as safe as possible.
Next, fixing bad work can be far more expensive than doing it right the first time. If an inspector comes across work that’s not up to Code, they can shut off the connection to the grid if the risk is high enough. To get the building back up to Code as soon as possible, you may need to do emergency rush work, which costs a significant premium.
Aging infrastructure a growing problem
As a modern regulator, ESA is committed to identifying potential threats and mitigating risk quickly as issues emerge. We’ve identified aging infrastructure as one such emerging issue.
When new innovations are introduced, buildings don’t simply throw away what existed before. There are millions of buildings and houses across Canada operating with old electrical systems that haven’t necessarily been upgraded to meet modern safety standards. This is especially true of large multi-residential buildings.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) , three quarters of the country’s primary rental stock was built before 1980, with 25 per cent built before 1960. This means that the majority of rental properties built in Canada are at least 40 years old, with many of those buildings much older than that. In Ontario, 85 per cent of purpose-built rental units are more than 35 years old .
Property owner or managers can be proactive in maintaining their building’s electrical system by working with an LEC to create a preventative maintenance plan. An LEC partner should be selected based on their experience working with buildings of similar type, age and with similar equipment. Their plan would include scheduling inspections regularly to ensure that issues are addressed, and their systems are up-to-date.
At the end of the day, we all want to be safe in our homes and at work. By following the updated Code and working with trained professionals, you’re doing your part to keep people safe while also limiting your own liability. It’s a win-win for all of us.
Dr. Joel Moody (MD, PhD, MPH) is Director of Safety, Risk, Policy and Innovation with the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA).