Health and Safety - Electricity at Work
Electricity can kill
Electricity can kill or severely injure people and cause damage to property. Every year many accidents at works involving electric shock or burns are reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Even non-fatal shocks can cause severe and permanent injury. For example, shocks from faulty equipment may lead to falls from ladders, scaffolds or other work platforms.
Those using or working with electricity may not be the only ones at risk - poor electrical installations and faulty electrical appliances can lead to fire, which may also cause death and injury to others. Most of these accidents can be avoided by careful planning and straightforward precautions.
Legislation in the workplace
Under the Health & Safety etc. Act 1974 employers are responsible for ensuring the safety and health of their employees and the public, if they are at risk from those work activities. This responsibility is made more specific under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.
What are the hazards associated with electricity?
The main hazards are:
- contact with live parts causing shock and burns (normal mains voltage, 230 volts AC, can kill)
- faults which could cause fires
- fire or explosion where electricity could be the source of ignition e.g. in a spray paint booth.
How can the hazards be reduced and controlled?
1. Ensure that the electrical installation is safe and then maintain in a safe condition
- install new electrical systems to a suitable standard, e.g. BS 7671
- existing installations should be properly maintained
- provide enough socket-outlets - never overloading socket or outlets as this can cause fires.
2. Provide safe and suitable equipment
- choose equipment that is suitable for its working environment
- ensure that equipment is safe when supplied and then maintain it in a safe condition
- provide a switch near each to cut off power in an emergency
- for portable equipment, use socket-outlets which are close by for easy disconnection in an emergency
- the ends of flexible cables should always be firmly fixed into the plug using the cable clamp
- replace damaged sections using connectors or cable couplers - do not use strip connector blocks covered in insulating tape
- trailing or extension leads are intended as a temporary measure - do not use as a permanent source of supply.
3. Reduce the voltage
One of the best ways of reducing the risk of injury when using electrical equipment is to limit the supply voltage to the lowest needed to get the job done.
Alternatively, where electrically powered tools are used, battery operated are safest.
Portable tools are readily available which are designed to be run from a 110 volts centre-tapped-to-earth supply.
4. Provide a safety device
If equipment operating at 230 volts or higher is used, an RCD (residual current device) can provide additional safety. The best place for an RCD is built into the main switchboard or the socket-outlet. If this is not possible a plug incorporating an RCD, or a plug-in RCD adaptor, can also provide additional safety.
5. Carry out preventative maintenance
All electrical equipment and installations should be maintained to prevent danger, this includes an appropriate system of visual inspection. It is recommended that fixed installations are inspected and tested periodically by a competent person. Equipment users can help by reporting any damage or defects they find.
6. Work safely
Make sure that people who are working with electricity are competent to do the job. Even simple tasks such as wiring a plug can lead to danger - ensure that people know what they are doing before they start.
- suspect or faulty equipment is taken out of use, labelled "Do not use" and kept secure until examined by a competent person.
- tools and power socket-outlets are switched off before plugging in or unplugging.
- equipment is switched off and/or unplugged before cleaning or making adjustments.