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Electrical safety

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, your workers and others around you. This section provides a summary of those precautions.

Case study

A 19-year-old man was electrocuted and killed when he touched a refrigerated display cabinet in a café. Investigation showed that the 13A plug had been incorrectly refitted to the cabinet’s main lead.

This meant the metalwork of the cabinet, which should have been safe to touch, was dangerously live at mains voltage. The man’s sister received two shocks from the cabinet before realising what had happened to her brother.

How to avoid similar accidents

Even wiring a plug incorrectly can have serious consequences. You must ensure that your electrical installation and equipment is safe. Don’t cut corners – electrical installations must be installed by someone who has the necessary training, skills and experience to carry out the work safely.

What are the hazards?

The main hazards of working with electricity are:

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

What do I have to do?

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

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

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

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.

Maintenance

So far as is 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. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk. , you must make sure that electrical equipment and installations are maintained to prevent danger.

Users of electrical equipment, including portable appliances, should carry out visual checks. Remove the equipment from use immediately and check it, repair it or replace it if:

Repairs should only be carried out by a competent person (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 (eg portable electrical tools and equipment that is regularly moved, or used frequently or in arduous environments). Less frequent checks are needed for equipment less likely to become damaged (eg desktop computers etc). 

Visual checks are not usually necessary for small, battery-powered items, or for equipment that works from a mains-powered adaptor (laptops or cordless phones etc). However, the mains-powered adaptor for such equipment should be visually checked.

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.

An HSE leaflet Maintaining portable electrical equipment in low-risk environments can help you decide whether and when to test portable appliances in low-risk environments.

Make arrangements for inspecting and testing fixed wiring installations, ie the circuits from the meter and consumer unit supplying light switches, sockets, wired-in equipment (eg cookers, hairdryers) etc, to be carried out regularly so there is little chance of deterioration leading to danger. This work should normally be carried out by a competent person, usually an electrician

When is someone competent to do electrical work?

In this context, a competent person is someone who has the suitable training, skill and knowledge for the task to be undertaken to prevent injury to themselves and others.

A successfully completed electrical apprenticeship, with some post-apprenticeship experience, is one way of demonstrating technical competence for general electrical work.

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

Key points to remember

Overhead electric lines

Underground cables

Find out more

The law

Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

Updated 2014-06-25