7 min read
June 19, 2024

7 Common Mistakes to Avoid with Cable Management

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Priyan Majumdar
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Cable management plays a vital role in ensuring the efficiency, safety, and reliability of electrical and data cable installations in various environments. Proper cable containment not only enhances the aesthetics of a space but also minimises the risk of accidents, improves accessibility for maintenance, and facilitates future expansions. However, achieving effective cable management requires careful planning, adherence to best practices, and avoidance of common mistakes. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the essential aspects of cable management, highlighting best practices and pitfalls to avoid.

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Mistake #1: Neglecting Environmental Conditions

Neglecting environmental conditions when selecting cable management materials can have significant consequences on the longevity and effectiveness of the infrastructure. One crucial aspect often overlooked is the choice of material finish, which plays a vital role in protecting cable management systems from corrosion and degradation.

When determining the material finish, it's essential to consider factors such as the type of coating and its thickness. Let’s take cable tray for instance - these are available in 3-metre lengths in either light, medium, or heavy-duty gauges and are usually pre-galvanised or hot-dip galvanised – although other finishes, like powder-coating and stainless steel, are sometimes used where specific installation environments may require a more corrosion-resistant material.

cable containment options are available in hot-dip galvanised and pre-galvanised finishes, each offering varying levels of protection against corrosion.

Pre-galvanised finishes feature a coating of roughly 20 microns of zinc applied before manufacturing. While this provides some level of protection against corrosion, it may not be sufficient for environments with higher exposure to moisture, chemicals, or other corrosive elements.

On the other hand, hot-dip galvanised finished products undergo a more robust coating process, with approximately 55 microns of zinc applied after manufacture. This thicker coating offers enhanced durability and is better suited for harsh environments, such as industrial settings, coastal areas, tropical climates, tunnels, and industrial processing plants.

Neglecting this consideration can lead to premature corrosion, deterioration, and ultimately, costly repairs or replacements.

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Mistake #2: Exceeding Load Capacity

Exceeding load capacity in cable management systems poses significant risks to the integrity, safety, and performance of the entire infrastructure. Cable containers and their supports are designed to withstand specific loads based on factors such as material strength, design, and installation methods. When the weight of cables exceeds the system's capacity, it can lead to deformation, bending, or even collapse of the containment system. This not only damages the infrastructure but also poses risks to personnel and equipment located below.

Parasitic loading is often the reason why the load capacity of cable management systems is often exceeded. This happens when contractors place additional cables or objects on top of existing cable supports, causing the combined weight to exceed the load-bearing capacity of the cable containment system.

To mitigate the risks of exceeding load capacity, it's essential to adhere to manufacturer specifications and industry standards when selecting and installing cable management systems. This includes accurately calculating the anticipated weight of cables, considering factors such as cable type, size, and quantity. For instance, cable baskets are usually preferred when there are a large number of smaller cables whereas ladders are more suitable for heavier cables. Additionally, regular inspections and maintenance are crucial for identifying signs of overloading, such as sagging trays, stressed supports, or visible cable deformation.

It is also important to ensure that the load is distributed evenly within the container and the support. Unevenly distributed weight can result in concentrated stress points and excessive strain on certain sections of the containment system. This can lead to excessive tension or compression on cables, reducing their lifespan and reliability. For this, it is recommended to place heavy cables towards the edges of the container and lighter cables towards the centre so that most of the cable weight is supported close to the side links.

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Mistake #3: Overcrowding or Cable Entanglement

Overcrowding occurs when cables are packed too tightly or are not adequately compartmentalised or separated within cable trays, baskets or hangers, leaving insufficient space for proper organisation. Here are the key issues associated with overcrowding and entanglement:

  • Difficulty in Maintenance: Overcrowded cable trays or conduits make it challenging to identify, trace, and access individual cables for maintenance or repairs. Technicians may struggle to navigate through tangled cables, leading to longer downtime and increased costs.
  • Increased Risk of Cable Damage: In tightly packed cable installations, cables are more likely to rub against each other, leading to abrasion, insulation wear, and potential electrical faults. This can result in intermittent connectivity, signal loss, or short circuits.
  • Impaired Heat Dissipation: Overcrowded cable trays restrict airflow around cables, impairing heat dissipation and promoting the accumulation of heat. Elevated temperatures can degrade cable insulation, reduce cable lifespan, and increase the risk of fire.
  • Signal Interference: Mixing different types of cables, such as power cables, data cables, and communication cables, without adequate separation can lead to interference and crosstalk. This can result in data corruption, signal degradation, and reduced performance in communication systems.
  • Safety Hazards: Failure to separate high-voltage cables from low-voltage or data cables can pose safety risks, such as electric shock hazards. Accidental contact between incompatible cables may lead to short circuits, electrical faults, and potential injuries to personnel.
  • Regulatory Non-Compliance: Many regulatory standards and codes require the segregation of cables to ensure safety, reliability, and compliance with industry regulations. Ignoring these requirements may lead to legal liabilities and penalties.

To address the lack of interior separation:

  • It is important to adhere to the recommended load capacity of the cable container or use a larger cable container instead.
  • It is also important to implement cable segregation strategies, such as using separate cable containers or for different types of cables.
  • Cable bundling is a cable management strategy used to organise and secure multiple cables or wires into a single bundle. This process involves grouping together cables of similar types or functions and securing them with various types of fasteners, ties, or wraps. This can reduce clutter and make it easier to identify, trace and manage complex wiring setups, whilst also protecting them from damage, abrasion, and environmental hazards.
  • Labelling cables can also help identify their type, function, and routing path, facilitating easy identification and maintenance.

Mistake #4: Not Preparing for Future Expansion

Planning for future expansion is a critical aspect of effective cable management. When cable containment systems are not designed with future growth in mind, it can lead to significant challenges and costs down the line. Limited scalability is a common issue, as systems that lack scalability may not accommodate additional cables or infrastructure upgrades, resulting in extensive modifications or replacements when expanding the network. Inefficient space utilisation is another concern, as containment systems that do not provide ample space for future expansion may lead to parasitic loading and overcrowding, increasing the risk of structural failures and cable damage. This can make maintenance and troubleshooting more complex in the future, prolonging downtime and increasing labour costs.

To address these challenges, contractors should adopt a proactive approach by conducting thorough assessments of current and anticipated cable requirements, investing in scalable containment systems, retrofitting existing systems to expand their load capacities, and regularly updating strategies to align with evolving needs and technological advancements. By prioritising future expansion in cable management planning, organisations can minimise disruptions, enhance agility, and position themselves for long-term success.

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Mistake #5: Using Only Plastic Cable Fixings

As per the 18th Edition Cable Fixings wiring regulations, the use of plastic cable fixings alone as the sole means of support is no longer compliant. While this does not mean that plastic cable fixings has been banned entirely, but adequate support from metal fixings is now deemed necessary to ensure that the cable systems do not collapse in the event of a fire.

In practice, the difficulty lies in deciding where and how frequently to position the metal supports, and determining the sufficient quantity. To simplify this process and ensure compliance with standards, it may be prudent to use metal cable supports uniformly throughout the entire installation.

Any cable support crafted from steel or copper adheres to the standards outlined in the wiring regulations. However, it's important to note that a copper fixing will reach its melting point at the same temperature as the copper cable it supports. Therefore, opting for a steel cable fixing provides an additional layer of safety, as steel can withstand higher temperatures than copper. There is a variety of fixings available that comply with the 18th edition regulations, offering options suitable for various applications. These include steel cable ties, fire-safe tie mounts, metal screw mounts, fixing bands, safe-D conduit clips, among others. When selecting the appropriate cable fixings, it's crucial to ensure that the screws or anchors used are also fire-resistant, such as all-steel anchors. Examples of suitable fire-resistant anchors include masonry screws, steel expansion plugs, and cordless nail fixings. Plastic and nylon wall plugs, as well as similar anchors, cannot be relied upon to prevent premature collapse of the installation in the event of a fire.

Mistake #6: Not Adequately Spacing Cable Supports

Regulation 521.10.202, Note 4, mentions that cable supports should be spaced 'appropriately.' This might seem vague, but there's a good reason for it. The suitability of spacing depends on various factors, including the context of the installation and considerations for cable sag and fire safety to ensure they don't pose a hazard.

To determine the suitable spacing, it's advisable to refer to the recommendations provided by cable manufacturers and the IET 'Selection and Erection Guidance Notes.' These recommendations typically outline the maximum allowable distances between cable supports. Additionally, to prevent cable entanglement and ensure fire safety, it's essential to use fire-resistant supports at the recommended maximum intervals. For instance, horizontal cable installations across doorways and windows should have spacings of 250mm, while vertical installations should have 400mm spacings, and ceiling installations should have 1000mm spacings. However, it's crucial to adjust these spacings based on your specific installation needs. If necessary, these spacings should be reduced considering the unique installation conditions and load-carrying capacity of the supports.


Mistake #7: Not Engaging with a Consultant

Cable management is a complex task that requires careful consideration of various factors, including environmental conditions, load requirements, safety regulations, and future expansion needs prior to specification. While it may be tempting to rely solely on in-house expertise or general industry knowledge, ensuring the involvement of a consultant is crucial for understanding the specific needs and objectives of the project and develop customized solutions that address the client's requirements effectively. This may involve specifying the most suitable cable containment materials, optimizing cable routing and organization, and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations. Consultants can also identify potential risks early in the planning process and implement proactive measures to address them effectively.


In conclusion, it's imperative to view cable management not merely as isolated components but as interconnected systems crucial for the seamless operation of electrical and data networks. Each element, from the choice of materials to the spacing of supports, plays a vital role in ensuring the integrity and functionality of the overall infrastructure. By adopting a systemic approach that considers the interplay between various factors such as environmental conditions, load requirements, and future expansion needs, organizations can optimize their cable management strategies for maximum efficiency and reliability. Embracing this holistic perspective enables businesses to build robust, scalable, and future-proofed cable systems that adapt to evolving demands and technologies.