Electrical Safety

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Electricity can kill or severely injure people and cause damage to property.

However, you can take simple precautions when working with or near electricity and electrical equipment to significantly reduce the risk of injury to you, and others around you.

The main electrical hazards

The main hazards of working with electricity are:

  • electric shock and burns from contact with live parts
  • injury from exposure to arcing (when electricity jumps from one circuit to another)
  • fire from faulty electrical equipment or installations
  • explosion caused by unsuitable electrical apparatus
  • static electricity igniting flammable vapours or dusts, for example in a spray-paint booth

Electric shocks can also lead to other types of injury, for example by causing a fall when working from ladders or scaffolds etc.

Even incorrectly wiring a plug can be dangerous and lead to fatal accidents or fires.

Actions you must take

You must ensure an assessment has been made of any electrical hazards, which covers:

  • who could be harmed by them
  • how the level of risk has been established
  • the precautions taken to control that risk

The risk assessment should take into consideration the type of electrical equipment used, the way in which it is used and the environment it is used in.

You must make sure that the electrical installation and the electrical equipment are:

  • suitable for their intended use and the conditions in which they are operated
  • only used for their intended purpose

In wet surroundings, unsuitable equipment can become live and make its surroundings live too. Fuses, circuit-breakers and other devices must be correctly rated for the circuit they protect. Isolators and fuse-box cases should be kept closed and, if possible, locked.

Cables, plugs, sockets and fittings must be robust enough and adequately protected for the working environment. Ensure that machinery has an accessible switch or isolator to cut off the power quickly in an emergency.


You must make sure electrical equipment and installations are maintained to prevent danger, so far as reasonably practicable. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble.

Users of electrical equipment, including portable appliances, should check the equipment each time they use it and remove the equipment from use immediately if:

  • the plug or connector is damaged
  • the cable has been repaired with tape, is not secure, or internal wires are visible etc
  • there are burn marks or stains (suggesting overheating)

Repairs should only be carried out by a competent person .This is someone who has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the work safely.

Have more frequent checks for items more likely to become damaged, such as:

  • portable electrical tools
  • equipment that is regularly moved, used frequently, or likely to get damaged, for example in wet or dusty environments

Less frequent checks are needed for equipment less likely to become damaged, for example desktop computers.

Consider whether electrical equipment, including portable appliances, should be more formally inspected or tested by a competent person. Also think about the intervals at which this should be done.

Fixed installations

Arrange inspecting and testing of fixed wiring installations to minimise deterioration leading to danger. This should cover circuits from the meter and consumer unit supplying:

  • light switches
  • sockets
  • wired-in equipment (eg cookers, hairdryers)

The work should normally be carried out by a competent person, usually an electrician.

How do I know if someone is competent to do electrical work?

One way of demonstrating technical competence for general electrical work is to complete an electrical apprenticeship, with some post-apprenticeship experience.

More specialised work, such as maintenance of high-voltage switchgear or control system modification, is almost certainly likely to require additional training and experience.

Overhead electric lines

  • Be aware of the dangers of working near or underneath overhead power lines. Electricity can flash over from them, even though machinery or equipment may not touch them
  • Don’t work under them when equipment (e.g. ladders, a crane jib, a tipper-lorry body or a scaffold pole) could come within a minimum of 6 metres of a power line without getting advice.
  • Speak to the line owner, e.g., the electricity company, railway company or tram operator, before any work begins

Underground cables

  • Always assume there will be underground cables when digging in the street, pavement and/or near buildings
  • Consult local electricity companies and service plans to identify where cables are located

Electrical wiring

You may not see electrical wires near where you plan to work but this doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Even if you do see wires, there may be others you cannot see. Electrical wiring may sometimes look like pipes and may be a range of colours.

Before you drill or start cutting into surfaces:

  • look for electrical wires and any other hazards such as asbestos. Remember to look on both sides of walls;
  • ask to see plans of the electrical installation, and use these to find electrical wiring;
  • If you are competent, use a suitable cable detector, or get a competent person to do it for you. Remember that some cable detectors won’t find a wire carrying a small current – consult the user guide.
  • look for nearby electrical equipment or installations and find where the wiring runs to these.
  • use equipment that will minimise the risks during the work.
  • wear suitable protective clothing.

If you are in doubt STOP WORK and consult a competent person.

Cable colours

Many electrical cables are coloured to show their purpose and the voltage they are carrying. However, there are many standards used around the world, and you should never assume that a cable of a particular colour is at a particular voltage. The colours used for wiring in Britain changed in 2004. It is very important that you identify what voltages are present on an installation you are not familiar with.

Making sure the power is off

If you are not competent to check if the power is off, ask a competent person to do it for you, and watch them doing it. If you have any doubts about the method they have used, ask someone you know is competent.

When checking that power is off the competent person should be SURE that:

  1. The device being used is suitable for the purpose of isolation.
  2. The isolator being used to turn off the power is working correctly and reliably.
  3. The switch being used is the only way that the circuit can be fed with electrical power.
  4. The switch being used is locked in the off position and cannot easily be turned on again.
  5. The equipment and method being used to check for voltage works and is reliable.
  6. The isolation has been successful by confirming the circuit is no longer ‘live’.

Some electrical systems and equipment must be earthed before it is safe to work near them. Check whether this is necessary, and if it is, ensure that this is done properly

Making sure the power stays off

If the electrical power has been turned off to allow you to do work safely, it is essential that the power stays off until you have finished work. Make sure YOU are in control and STAY in control. A good way is to have the only key to the switch or a locked room or cabinet containing the switch. Remember, if you remove a fuse, another one could be inserted in its place, and people ignore notices. If you have any doubts that the electricity may be turned on again without you agreeing, STOP WORK.

Checklists of points to remember

  • Ensure workers know how to use the electrical equipment safely
  • Stop using equipment immediately if it appears to be faulty – have it checked by a competent person
  • Make sure enough sockets are available. Check that socket outlets are not overloaded by using unfused adaptors as this can cause fires
  • Ensure there are no trailing cables that can cause people to trip or fall
  • Switch off and unplug appliances before cleaning or adjusting them
  • Ensure everyone looks for electrical wires, cables or equipment near where they are going to work and check forsigns warning of dangers from electricity, or any other hazard
  • Checks should be made around the job, and remember that electrical cables may be within walls, floors and ceilings (especially when drilling into these locations)
  • Ensure any electrical equipment brought into the workplace by workers, or any hired or borrowed, is suitable for use before using it and remains suitable by being maintained as necessary
  • Consider using a residual current device (RCD) between the electrical supply and the equipment, especially when working outdoors, or within a wet or confined place

For more information or support, contact us on info@wpsafety.co.uk or 01268 649006.

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