Unravelling the complexities of Part M

The Approved Document M of the Building Regulations was first published in the early 1990s, designed to help those with a disability to access and use buildings and the facilities within them. There have been various amendments made since the original document – the most recent coming into effect in 2013. Marie Parry (pictured), group marketing manager for Scolmore takes the opportunity to re-examine the implications for the electrical contracting industry.

marie 2015

The current edition of Approved Document M: Access to and Use of Buildings was updated in 2013 and replaces the previous edition. It incorporates text amendments made to reflect any changes arising as a result of the Building Regulations 2010 and 2013 amendments.

Some of the main 2013 amendments reflect changes to:

  • General guidance on materials and workmanship and the Construction Products Directive.
  • References relating to the Equality Act 2010 and Equality Act 2010 (disability).
  • Simplification of general guidance for stairs and ramps (that do not form part of the external principal entrances and alternative accessible entrances.
  • Updated guidance on access statements, door opening forces and changing places toilets.
  • Updated guidance on guarding and handrails, and manifestation for glass doors and glazed screens moved to Approved Document K.

Part M is now an essential element of virtually every new building project, but there still remains some confusion over what exactly it entails. Previous versions of Part M set out a number of minimum standards for disabled access for such items as steps and ramps, door widths and accessible toilets, but they did not go into a great amount of detail, nor did they consider some of the other issues affecting disabled people and their enjoyment of services.

The latest document reflects to a much greater extent the notion that people’s abilities are not all the same and they signal a move away from the narrow aim of making buildings accessible to, and usable by, disabled people towards an aim to make buildings accessible to, and usable by, everyone – including people with disabilities, the elderly, hard of hearing and visually impaired. In essence, people, regardless of disability, age or gender, should be able to:

  1. Gain access to buildings and to gain access within buildings and use their facilities, both as visitors and as people who live or work in them;
  2. Use sanitary conveniences in the principal storey of a new dwelling.

Where the requirements apply

The requirements apply if:

  • A non-domestic building or dwelling is newly erected
  • An existing non-domestic building is extended, or undergoes a material alteration
  • An existing building or part of an existing building undergoes a material change of use to a hotel or boarding house, institution, public building or shop

Part M also applies to:

  • Sanitary conveniences in extensions to buildings other than dwellings
  • Sanitary conveniences in dwellings

For electrical contractors, the focus of Part M Regulations is on the section ‘switches, outlets and controls’ – which applies to lighting and other electrical equipment. The requirements of Part M1 is to aid disabled people within their surroundings, so that they are able to activate a light, socket or control within arm’s length. For the visually impaired it means being able to identify the unit’s position against its surrounding décor. For the infirm the requirement is for a suitable pull-cord switch to raise the alarm in the event of an emergency.


With much of Part M open to interpretation manufacturers have a considerable amount of freedom over the design of products. But the emphasis should be on providing products that allow installers to meet the regulatory requirements while 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. This has led to everything from switches and socket-outlets to trunking systems and consumer units undergoing a Part M makeover.

There are a number of wiring accessory products on the market that comply with the various elements of the Part M regulations whilst satisfying the need for practical and stylish solutions. This includes modular systems which allow contractors and installers unprecedented flexibility in creating dedicated wiring solutions to deal with virtually all wiring requirements.

While manufacturers are doing their bit by continuing to research and develop compliant product solutions, the ultimate responsibility for Part M compliance lies with the contractor to firstly make sure that the appropriate products are specified and selected and secondly to ensure that they are installed and positioned to meet the regulations.