Electricity is a familiar and necessary part of everyday life, but electricity can kill or severely injure people and cause damage to property. There are simple precautions when working with, or near electricity that can be taken to significantly reduce the risk ofof electrical injury to you and others around you.
What are the hazards?
The main hazards of working with electricity are:
- electric shock and burns from contact with live parts
- injury from exposure to arcing, fire from faulty electrical equipment or installations
- explosion caused by unsuitable electrical apparatus or 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 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:
- 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 that it is used in.
You must make sure that the electrical installation and the electrical equipment is:
- suitable for its intended use and the conditions in which it is operated
- only used for its intended purpose
So far as is reasonably practicable , 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:
- the plug or connector is damaged
- the cable has been repaired with tape, is not secure, or internal wires are visible etc
- burn marks or stains are present (suggesting overheating)
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.