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EARTHING AND BONDING FOR

INSTALLATIONS AND BUILDINGS


Standards
The IEE Wiring Regulations, which were adopted as BS 7671 in 1992, have no statutory force, though
compliance with them is likely to satisfy the relevant requirements of the Electricity at Work Regulations.
Compliance with the Wiring Regulations is intended, amongst other things, l o protect persons against
hazards arising from electrical installations that are used with reasonable care, and having regard to the
purpose for which they were designed.
The regulations relate to protection against:

electric shock,
fire,
burns,
and injury from mechanical movement of electrically actuated equipment.

The Wiring Regulations apply to most electrical installations in and around buildings, including those
serving information technology equipment. The Wiring Regulations are based on IEC Standard 364, and
are becoming increasingly aligned with the corresponding European Harmonised Document 384 being
developed by CENELEC.
Useful guidance on the principles of earthing can be found in BS 7430: 7997 - Code ofpractice for
earthing. It applies to land-based installations and covers both svstem earthing, which is for providing a
reference for the system voltage, and to protective earthing, which is for limiting potentials on conductive
parts under earth fault conditions.
Earthing and bonding
The terms earthing and bonding or, more correctly, eauiDotentia1 bonding are often confused.
Conceptually, these terms relate to two distinct and different measures.
Earthing
Earthing is defined in the Wiring Regulations as Connection of the exposed-conductive-parts of an
installation to the main earthing terminal of that installation. The purpose of earthing is to ensure that a
path of relatively low impedance is provided to safely discharge electrical energy under earth fault
conditions.
Conductive-parts
Conductive parts, other than live parts, fall into one of two types. These are exposed-conductive-parts
and extraneous-conductive parts.
An exposed-conductive-part is defined in the Wiring Regulations as A conductive part of equipment which
can be touched and which is not a live part but which may become live under fault conditions. Such parts
include metallic switch plates, steel conduit, and the earthed metallic cases of Class I electrical equipment.
An extraneous-conductive-part is defined as A conductive part liable to introduce a potential, generally
earth potential, and not forming part of the electrical installation.Such a part may be a metallic gas sewice
pipe or a radiator of a central heating system.

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Equipotential bonding
Bonding, as opposed to earthing, is defined as electrical connection maintaining various exposedconductive-parts and extraneous-conduc~ive-parts
at substantially the same potential. Except for the
specialised application of earth-free equipotential bonding, the purpose of equipotential bonding is
threefold:

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to maintain exposed-conductive-parts and extraneous-conductive-parts at substantially the same


potential under no-load and load conditions, and
to maintain exposed-conductive-parts and extraneous-conductive-parts at substantially the same
potential under phase to earth fault conditions on the supply (external to the installation), and
to limit the prospective touch voltage within the installation to the magnitude equal to the product
of the impedance of the circuit protective conductor and the earth fault current.

System types and earthing arrangements


There are five types of system defined in the Wiring Regulations:
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TN-C System
TN-S System
TN-C-S System

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TT System
IT System

Of these, TN-S, TN-C-S and TT are used far more frequently than the others. TN-C systems are rarely
used, and IT systems are not permitted on supplies that are subject to the Electricity Supply Regulations
The types of system are illustrated in both BS 7671 and BS 7430. Figure 23 of BS 7430 brings together
the installation earthing arrangements for TN-C-S, TN-S and 7
TSystems, as well as IT. It shows how the
exposed-conductive-parts and the extraneous-conductive-parts are connected to the Main Earthing
Terminal, and the different paths the earth fault current takes depending on the type of system. For most
77systems, it is necessary to provide indirect contact protection by means of an RCD.
Protective conductors
A protective conductor is a conductor used for some measures of protection against electric shock and
is intended for connecting together any of the following parts:

Ia
Ia

exposed-conductive-parts
extraneous-conductive-parts
the main earthing terminal
earth electrode(s)
the earthed point of a source

Protective conductors, which include circuit protective conductors (cpc) and equipotential bonding
conductors, are deemed by the Wiring regulations not to be live conductors though they may carry current.
For example, under earth fault conditions, a cpc may carry earth fault current, as will a main equipotential
bonding conductor to a lesser degree.

Protective conductors PME supplies


In t h e case of an installation connected to a Protective Multiple Earth supply, the equipotential bonding
conductors may take substantial current for long periods or even continuously, as a result of network
circulating currents. The Wiring Regulations therefore require a particular cross-sectional area for these
conductors, based on the cross-sectionalarea of the supply neutral. These circulating currents may occur
even when the installation main switch is off.

On PME systems, the neutral may rise above Earth potential or true earth, under load conditions, and
may rise to dangerous levels if the supply neutral is broken. This rise in potential of the neutral also effects
the Main Earthing Terminal and all exposed-conductive-partsand &raneous-conductive-parts connected
to it. For this reason, taking the PME earthing to locations outside the zone of influence of the main
equipotential bonding is not desirable.
Electric shock
Electric shock is defined in the Wiring Regulations as a danaerous physiological effect resulting from the
passing of an electric current through a human body. An electric shockcan be received in two ways:

Direct contact contact with live parts


Indirect contact contact with exposed-conductive-parts which have become live under fault
conditions

The first, and most obvious way, is by touching a bare live part. The most common forms of protection
against such direct contact are the insulation and the enclosure of live parts. The second way is by
touching an exposed-conductive-part that has become live as a result of an earth fault.
Earthed Equipotential Bonding and Automatic Disconnection of Supply (EEBAD)
By far the most common measure employed for the protection against indirect contact is Earthed
Equipotential Bonding and Automatic Disconnection of Supply, or EEBAD for short. It is used
extensively, from the humble domestic installation, through to large commercial and industrial sites.
The underlying principle of this protective measure is that by providing equipotential bonding, the
magnitude of the prospectivetouch voltage is limited and, by the provision of a low impedance earth fault
path, the duration of the fault is also limited to acceptable levels.
Co-ordination of the earth fault impedance with the particular protective device is an essential part of the
design process to ensure that automatic disconnection occurs sufficiently rapidly to prevent the touch
voltage from causing electric shock as defined above, ie a danaerous physiological effect.
Within the zone of influence of the main equipotential bonding, the prospective touch voltage is limited to
the product of the impedance of the circuit protective conductor and the magnitude of the earth fault
current.
The limit on prospective touch voltage appears to be widely misunderstood. Many experienced
practitionersseem to think that compliance with the Wiring Regulations will ensure that the touch voltage
cannot exceed 50 V but, in fact, its not uncommon for touch voltages to be of the order of 160 V or more
for the duration of an earth fault.
Protection by EEBAD is effective only when the cpc and other protective conductors are able to perform
their intended function. If, for example, the cpc becomes disconnected, there is a risk of effective direct
contact during an earth fault condition. In other words, the exposed-conductive-partson the faulty circuit
will rise to near phase voltage, and any person coming into simultaneous contact with, say, the metalwork
of Class I equipment which has an earth fault, and any earthy part such as a radiator, will be at serious
risk from electric shock.
Functional earthing
There are many instances where, even though there may be no need to earth an item of equipment for
safety reasons, a connection with earth is needed in order for it to function. BS 6701 deals with Earth
connections in general, and Functional Earth in particular.

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Where a protective conductor is installed for functional reasons only, the requirements relating to safety
need not be applied. Protective conductors used for functional purposes only are required by the Wiring
Regulations to be coloured cream.

So far as minimum cross-sectional area is concerned, the only constraint imposed by the Wiring
Regulations is that a separate copper conductor should be at least 0.5 mm, or 0.1 mm2 if part of a
composite flexible cable of not less than 7 cores. BS 6701, however, requires a minimum of 1.5 mm and
recommends that the conductor sheath be continuously embossed TELECOMMS FUNCTIONAL
EARTH.

Clean earths
Clean earths are another form of functional earthing conductor. Where such separate conductors are
used, there may be a risk of a potential difference between, say, the clean earth and another protective
conductor.

Combined protective and functional earthing conductors


Where a protective conductor serves as both a protective and a functional conductor, the requirements
relating to the protective purpose must take precedence.

Earth leakage current


An earth leakage current is a current which flows to Earth, or to extraneous-conductive-parts, in a circuit
which is electrically sound. The current may have a capacitive component including that resulting from
the deliberate use of capacitors.
Earth leakage occurs to some extent with all current-using equipment and always will do, unless perfect
insulating materials are found. The distinction between earth leakage current and earth fault current is
important. As the definition in the Wiring Regulations confirms, earth leakage current occurs in a healthy
circuit.
The product standards relating to most current-using equipment lay down the limits for earth leakage,
which is generally not more than 3.5 mA per item. In the vast majority of cases, this level of leakage
current does not introduce significant additional risk from electric shock.
There are many causes of earth leakage besides the obvious one of imperfect insulation. For example,
filters designed to provide a low impedance path for high frequency waveforms often employ capacitors
connected between phase and earth, and between neutral and earth.

High earth leakage currents


Where the leakage current of equipment exceeds 3.5 mA, special installation requirements apply. These
requirements are set out in Section 607 of the Wiring Regulations. The principal aim of this section is to
minimise the risk associated with the loss of protective conductor, which would result in an unacceptably
high touch voltage between the broken protective conductor ends and all the conductive parts connected
to those ends. The Wiring Regulations provide a number of options for connecting single items of high
earth leakage equipment to a final circuit, depending on the magnitude of permitted earth leakage for the
equipment.
Designers of installations intended to supply a significant quantity of Information Technology equipment
need to consider not only the requirements for final circuits, but also the integrity of the protective
conductors of distribution circuits (sub-mains), where the accumulated leakage currents may be
considerable.

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Residual current devices


A regulation in Section 607 of the Wiring Regulations calls for RCDs protecting equipment to have a rated
residual current of not less than four times the total earth leakage. This is intended to avoid unwanted
tripping. Section 607 also specifically requires that for TT systems serving equipment having a total
leakage current exceeding 3.5 mA, the product of the total leakage current and the resistance of the
installation earth electrode should not exceed 25 V.

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0 1997 The Institution of Electrical Engineers.


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