1.

Introduction to ELECTRICAL SAFETY

To some degree, we all take electricity for granted. It was only 150 years ago when domestic electricity wasn’t even a concept, let alone available at the flick of a switch.

Despite electricity being something of a fifth limb, dangers remain ever present. The power generated is strong enough to instantly kill and when mishandled, electricity poses a grave threat.

In this resource, we’ll discuss the safety concerns surrounding electricity in the home and provide useful tips and advice on how to approach common situations.

Most common electrical mishaps & accidents

There are still a huge number of accidents every year in the UK and around 2.5 million Brits receive an electric shock annually. From electrical fires to fatal incidents, there are plenty of potential dangers to safeguard against.

But what are the most common reasons for an electrical mishap?

Old wiring

Old wiring can be dangerous and in particular, faulty wiring will lead to electric fires or shocks. If you have any concerns over the safety of your home’s electrics, don’t hesitate to contact an electrician registered to a competent persons scheme.

  • Cables coated in black rubber were phased out in the 60s
  • Cables coated in lead or fabric were installed pre-60s
  • A wooden-backed fuse box or cast iron switches would be pre-60s
  • Wall-mounted light switches in the bathroom are pre-60s

Faulty cords and plugs

The National Fire Protection Association say electrical cords and plugs are responsible for the leading number of electrical deaths each year. Any plug or cord with evidence of burning, melting or other visible damage, should not be used. If the insulating cover is missing or damaged, replace the whole unit. You shouldn’t continue to use cords repaired with electrical tape either.

Extension cords

The misuse of extension leads is one of the biggest offenders in the cords category. And the dangers are present in thousands of homes around the UK.

Avoid using extension cables as a permanent feature, and instead as a way to extend reach for a limited time only – such as mowing the garden or hoovering out your car. The biggest problem is homeowners plugging in appliances such as their TV, Sky box, games console and DVD player into the same extension cord – leaving it on throughout the day and night.

You should also be aware of using the right cord for the job. For instance, the capacity should well exceed the electrical demand you’re placing on the cord.

Fixtures and appliances

Be aware of your fixtures and appliances around the home and avoid using fixtures that emit sparks, smoke or buzzing noises. Also, before cleaning any fixture, you should remove it from the power source.

Also be careful when using basic appliances such as lamps. A 100 Watt bulb in a table lamp with a 60 Watt fixture is an electrical hazard. This could result in a subsequent shock or fire.

Electrical safety in the kitchen & bathroom

Electrical dangers are present throughout the home, but because of the inclusion of water, the kitchen and bathroom are both extra-hazardous.

The kitchen

50% of house fires start from the kitchen, with government statistics highlighting the misuse of electrical cooking appliances to be the number one cause.

Sockets and switches

For all sockets and switches in the kitchen, they should be installed at least 30cm from the sink. Hard-to-reach cables, such as those connecting your fridge or dishwasher, are best fitted with a fuse connection above the worktop – this means you can switch off power if needed.

Also remember, don’t use electrical appliances with wet hands.

Appliances

Kitchen appliances can also be a cause for concern, as they use a huge amount of energy. Because of this, avoid overloading your sockets or using an extension cable for multiple large appliances.

When not in use, switch off your kitchen appliances every time. This even includes a toaster or kettle.

You should also avoid using a dishwasher or washing machine when out of the home or asleep. Never cover the vents on microwaves or ovens either – this could lead to overheating.

Fire safety

Fire safety is integral in your home. To limit the spread of fire, close the kitchen door each night before going to bed, whilst also having a plan of action should a fire occur. You should also install a fire alarm and never remove the batteries.

Top tips for kitchen safety

  • Avoid leaving the home when kitchen appliances are running, such as your dishwasher, washing machine or tumble dryer
  • Don’t use smaller appliances that aren’t in a good condition – including the toaster or kettle
  • Avoid repairing an appliance when it’s plugged in
  • Don’t remove bread from a toaster when the appliance is still live – especially with a knife
  • Regularly clean your oven and grill, to prevent fire from the build-up of fat or grease
  • Don’t overload your plug sockets with multiple appliances
  • Defrost your fridge on regular occasions to prevent it being overworked
  • Always have a working smoke alarm installed

The bathroom

The bathroom is just as important when it comes to electrical safety and any electrical work should be completed by a qualified and competent persons scheme registered electrician.

Sockets

The only sockets permitted to be installed in bathrooms or shower rooms are those designed specifically for shaving and electric toothbrushes. That is unless they can be fitted at least three metres from a bath or shower.

Lights

Wall light switches are a thing of the past in most British bathrooms and were phased out in the 1960s. Instead, modern homes are installed with switches that hang from the ceiling or are located just outside. The previous wall mounted switches are a danger because of the potential of coming into contact with water and steam.

Heaters and towel rails

Electrical heaters of any kind can only be installed a safe distance from baths and showers (as with sockets). It’s also advised to have the switch located outside the bathroom, in order to improve safety levels.

Showers

For homes fitted with an electric shower, the electricity must be supplied on its own circuit directly from your fuse box.

Portable electrical appliances

This is one of the greatest dangers associated with electricity in the bathroom and you should avoid the use of portable appliances in the bathroom at all times. This includes heaters, hair dryers and radios. All mains powered appliances should be kept out.

Electrical DIY advice

Many homeowners feel capable of being able to carry out DIY jobs around the property, without the need for calling an electrician. However, DIY errors result in 50% of all electric shocks in the home.

Many people feel they should be capable of completing basic DIY tasks and subsequently, fall into trouble. Accidents include cutting through power cables, drilling into wiring and repairing electrical equipment still plugged in.

One-third of professional electricians have been called to deal with the aftermath of an electrical mistake – which have resulted in severe electric shock or fire. This usually incurs a hefty repair bill.

The Internet is much to blame, because how to videos on YouTube and online tutorials. Rather than seeking help on the web though, you should instead speak to a registered electrician.

If you do feel up to completing some basic DIY tasks though, bear the following in mind:

  1. Know where your cables are. Whether you’re putting up a shelf or hanging curtains, you should know exactly where your wires are. It’s a common mishap to drill or nail into cables – but with a reliable detector you can avoid the danger.
  2. Use a residual current device (RCD). RCD units will cut the power should an electrical fault be caused and as such, has the potential to be lifesaving.
  3. Switch off the power. Perhaps you’re wallpapering and want to remove a socket to make life easier – ensure the power is completely switched off. Locate the switch on your fuse board and turn off the mains.
  4. Check power tools. As with appliances, it’s advised to check your power tools before use and ensure they’re in a good condition. Any sign of damaged cables and you should avoid using. Also be aware of cutting through power cables - when mowing the grass, for instance.
  5. Seek professional advice. The best way to keep yourself and your home safe, is to speak to a competent persons scheme registered electrician. They’re trained to provide high quality help, so don’t shy away.

Visual checks & practical tips

Millions of people in the UK are exposed to potentially fatal electrical hazards and in order to avoid problems, knowing what should and shouldn’t be done is essential.

To make life that little bit easier though, there are a number of visual checks to perform. You’ll be able to carry these out and ensure not falling victim to common electrical faults.

  • Ensure your property is fitted with an RCD in the fuse box
  • Don’t overload plug sockets for lengthy periods of time
  • Regularly check cables and plugs for signs of fraying and damage
  • Make sure any light fittings haven’t suffered from damage
  • Avoid storing any combustible materials around your fuse box or electric meter
  • Don’t store belongings on top of your microwave or oven
  • Ensure there are no trailing wires on carpets and rugs
  • Never take mains-powered electrical items into the bathroom – such as hairdryers
  • Switch off all electrical appliances not in use
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Electrical safety around the home

Every home has potential hazards waiting to happen and in most instances, problems can be averted by taking the right precautions. Staggeringly, there are 20,000 reported fires in British homes every year and the result of these is an average of between 60 and 70 fatalities annually.

Of course, with dozens of electrical appliances scattered around the home it’s no surprise accidents do occur, but much of the time the blame lies at the feet of those being reckless with electricity.

Dangers of overloading sockets

As was mentioned in the previous section, a contributing factor to household accidents is the overloading of sockets – and this is responsible for a huge proportion of the fires we mentioned.

If you want to ensure your home is safe and the prospect of fire limited, bear the following tips in mind:

  • Stop overloading sockets: Avoid plugging too many appliances into an extension lead, as this can result in overheating and as a result, fire.
  • Be vigilant: If there’s anything untoward with your electrics, get it professionally seen to. This includes circuit breakers regularly tripping.
  • Be aware: Monitor your plugs to ensure they’re not overheating. Avoid using plugs and cables with visible, loose wiring.
  • Kitchen appliances: Ideally, your larger kitchen appliances should be connected to a single socket each – including your washing machine, dishwasher and tumble dryer.
  • Know the power: Get an idea of how much electricity your home products use, compared to the socket supporting them. For instance, a vacuum cleaner may well use more electricity than a TV.

Mobile phone, tablet & laptop chargers

There’s every chance you have a number of products around your home that require regular charging – including mobile phones, tablets and laptops. However, there has been a rise in the number of incidents related to faulty electrical goods, making it even more important to remain vigilant.

The stats say 30 million mobile phone chargers are bought every year – with 1.8 million of these purchased online. The problem is, many of these aren’t fit for UK properties, with poor quality products manufactured in China for as little as 3p a piece.

In fact, over the last four years, the increase of counterfeit electrical goods has grown six-fold.

So what do you need to know to keep safe?

  • Plug pins: Check the pins and look for a distance of a least 9.5mm between the edge of the pins and the edge of the charger. If yours doesn’t meet this standard, there’s the risk of electric shock. If you’re struggling to plug the charger in, this is another sign the pins are the wrong length or size.
  • Check markings: If you’re buying a charger, ensure the brand’s marking is visible. The output voltage should match between the charger and your device, whilst a CE mark should also be present. This mark confirms the product complies with EU regulations.
  • Consult the manual: When purchasing a device or charger, you should be provided with instructions on its use. This will detail how to correctly use the charger and offer basic electrical guidance.

Plug Safety

Regularly checking plugs and wires is likely to be something you don’t practice, however, it’s vital to ensuring your home is safe and sound all year round. As a matter of fact, checking these is relatively straightforward:

  • Is the cable securely attached?
  • Is there any visible damage?
  • Have you attempted to repair the cable with tape?
  • Is there damage on the plug’s casing?
  • Does the plug overheat?
  • Does the plug meet British Standards (BS 1363)?

See the following diagram for which colour wire is associated with Earth, Live and Neutral.

image description

Once each wire is correctly fastened, ensure all screws are fitted tightly and that the fuse meets British Standards (BS 1362). It should not be loose in its casing.

Portable heating devices

Portable heating devices are often used in Winter, as a way to keep the property warm. However, they’re responsible for 4% of accidental fires every year and a higher percentage of fatalities compared to other products.

To avoid the potential deadly consequences of using portable heating, check out the following tips and advice:

  • Positon the heater on a level surface, away from things that could knock it over. Be wary of children and pets running close to the heater
  • Keep all combustible materials away from the heater when it’s on – including paper, furniture and curtains
  • Never leave the home when your heater is plugged in
  • Don’t leave the portable heater unattended or leave on when asleep
  • Avoid using an extension lead to power your heater. This can result in overheating of the cable
  • Don’t buy a second hand heater
  • Regularly check for signs of damage and degradation

Fuse boards & RCDs

The fuse box in your property controls the distribution of electricity for all outlets. You should locate your fuse box, and in the event of an emergency, shut off the power. In your fuse box you’ll find the main switch, circuit breakers and a Residual Current Device (RCD).

  • Main Switch: This allows you to shut off the electricity supply to your property.
  • Circuit Breakers: These switch off automatically if a fault is detected, known as ‘tripping’. Each breaker should be linked to a separate part of the property.
  • RCD: In place to instantly disconnect the electricity in the event of dangerous conditions.

If your property still has an older fuse board, (noted by wooden back, cast iron switches or mixture of fuses), it should be replaced.

Residual Current Device

The RCD has the potential to be lifesaving and as mentioned above, automatically disconnects the electricity in the event of an emergency. It’s an extra layer of protection that the traditional circuit breakers don’t provide.

How does an RCD work?

RCDs monitor the electric current in your home, detecting if the flow takes an unnatural path. This could be someone receiving a shock after touching a bare wire, for instance. If this occurs, the power will be completely switched off, reducing the risk of severe injury or death.

What is the reliability of an RCD?

RCD units have a high reliability rating, around the 97% mark. With regular testing, this figure increases further. To reduce the risk of injury or death, you should likewise have your home’s wiring checked every 10 years or so.

In the UK, all new or rewired homes from July 2008 require an RCD.

Tips on buying electrical products

Not all electrical products will be suitable for your home and if you’re shopping for gadgets, keep the following in mind:

  1. The UK’s usual domestic voltage is 230V (50Hz). Ensure all plugs have the three pin model as standard.
  2. Beware when buying online and ensure the return address is UK based.
  3. Avoid second hand products.
  4. Only use websites with the padlock symbol. This ensures safety in your payment.
  5. Don’t buy if the price seems too good to be true. Do a price check on other websites.
  6. Check the guarantee and seller conditions, including returns policy.
  7. Ensure your electrical goods are purchased from a site approved by an accrediting body, such as ISIS. This means certain standards have been met.
  8. Read online reviews before buying.
  9. Use a credit card when spending more than £100. You can then hold the seller liable in the event of faults.
  10. Keep all transaction records.
3.

Electrical safety advice by demographic

Electrical safety is important for everyone, no matter if you’re a homeowner, tenant, landlord or even student. As such, this section has been designed to provide tailored guidance to each demographic.

Electrical advice for homeowners

Homeowners and landlords must meet Building Regulations when installing any new electric system in the property and as such, work must be completed by a competent electrician. Electrical work not conforming to these regulations is a criminal offense.

Failure to comply could result in local authorities requesting the removal of all illegal installations.

What electrical work must meet Building Regulations?

As of April 2013, the following must be notifiable to the local building control body:

  • New circuit installations
  • Replacement of consumer unit or fuse board
  • Alterations to existing circuits

From April 2014, it was made legal to appoint a non-registered electrical installer, as long as the work was approved and signed off by someone with the correct certification.

If the work is completed by an approved electrician though, you won’t have to deal with the authorities. Instead, you’ll receive:

  • An Electrical Installation Certificate verifying the quality of the work and confirming it complies with BS 7671.
  • A Building Regulations Compliance Certificate, confirming the work meets required Building Regulations.

Electrical advice for landlords

Many landlords around the country put themselves at risk of fines and invalidated insurance by not acting on their electrical safety obligations. There are a number of responsibilities a landlord must have when it comes to the property’s electrics, such as:

  • Ensuring the electrics are regularly maintained and safe when tenants move in
  • Arranging electrical inspections every five years for multiple occupancy houses. Even if the property isn’t multiple occupancy, it would still be advised to have an inspection every five years
  • Providing appliances that are safe and CE marked – showing the product complies with European Law

When renting out a property, it would also be advisable to:

  • Install an RCD unit for protection
  • Only use a government approved electrician
  • Conduct regular safety checks on the property

Ultimately, as the landlord you’re responsible for the property and its maintenance.

Electrical advice for homebuyers

When buying a property of any size, you shouldn’t take for granted that the electrics will be in a good, working order. In fact, a survey from Electrical Safety First claims 67% of homebuyers fail to check their electrics.

And this is costly. On average, people spend up to £2,000 on the electrics when moving in, and this can rise to £10,000 in some instances.

To prevent any unforeseen problems rearing their head, homebuyers should invest in an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR).

What is an EICR?

The EICR will inspect a property’s electrical state, including the switches, sockets, wiring and other power sources. This is completed to ensure the above are all in line with international safety standards and can be arranged before exchange of contracts.

The EICR is carried out by a qualified electrician and can vary in cost – averaging between £140 and £200. It’s important to note an electrical inspection is not completed during a building survey.

The EICR includes:

  • Checking the RCD protection and fuse board
  • Inspecting plugs and sockets for damage
  • Reviewing light fixtures and downlighters for damage
  • Ensuring appropriate wiring has been used throughout the property

By arranging an EICR, you’ll be able to move into a new property safe in the knowledge you won’t be left facing a potential bill worth thousands of pounds.

Electrical advice for tenants and students

The risk of death or injury from electrical-related faults is higher in rented properties. Whilst there’s some confusion over who is responsible for the electrics (tenant or landlord), the law is clear. Your landlord is ultimately responsible.

As such, you should inform the landlord of any electrical faults, so they can be suitably dealt with.

When moving into a property, ask for:

  • An EICR report confirming the safety of all electrical components in the property. A fresh inspection should ideally be completed every five years (for multiple occupancy households this is the law).
  • Certification to confirm any recent electrical work complies with British Standards and Building Regulations.

If you’re renting a property and have informed the landlord of an electrical fault, they are obliged to ensure the repairs are carried out. If they don’t, you can take enforcement action against them.

Electrical advice for parents

As children grow they become more inquisitive and as such, electricity poses a greater threat. To prevent the risk of injury or even death, the following tips should be noted:

  • Socket blanking plugs aren’t necessary and won’t prevent shock if the installation isn’t safe in the first instance
  • Ensure you have an RCD installed in the fuse board, as a way of safeguarding against serious injury
  • Always keep electrical cords out of reach from children and never leave an appliance plugged in near to an unsupervised child
  • Avoid cable related accidents such as trips by ensuring cables are kept tidy and untangled, this can be achieved with cable ties or cable spiral wrapping
  • Be mindful of leaving chargers plugged in. Children may be tempted to put the end in their mouth
  • After a bath or shower, ensure your child is completely dry before using an electrical device, such as a games console
  • Enforce a policy whereby drinks are kept away from all electrical products, including TVs, DVD players and computers
4.

Part P, safety testing & emergency help

Ensuring the safety of all electrical appliances in your home is vital and this section of the resource will cover the importance of Part P, PAT testing and how to act in the event of an electrical emergency.

Part P

In 2005, electrical safety rules were first integrated into Building Regulations in England and Wales. As such, electrical work from this date must meet Building Regulations, with no exceptions. There were several changes to this in 2013, reducing the number of electrical works notifiable.

However, to be approved by Building Regulations, the electrician or professional signing off the work, must be a member of one of the government’s competent persons schemes.

Find more details on the Communities and Local Government website: www.communities.gov.uk

In Scotland, a separate law requires electrical work to meet a Building Standards system. There is no statutory requirement in Northern Ireland.

To ensure not falling foul of the law, the straightforward approach is to use an electrician registered with a competent persons scheme, such as NICEIC. Once registered, these electricians can self-certify their work and inform local authorities of the changes.

PAT testing

Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is the name given to testing of electrical appliances at home or in the workplace. Many defects can be spotted with a visual inspection, however, it takes a professional to discover the hidden and often, more dangerous faults.

In many workplaces there’s often a process in place to regularly carry out visual inspections of electrical tools and appliances. On top of this though, a PAT test is advised to ensure all equipment is in a good working condition.

Whilst there is no law behind PAT testing and no documentation needs to be kept, it would be sensible to have frequently used machinery and tools tested annually.

For more information on PAT testing, see the Health and Safety Executive website.

Electrical injuries & emergency advice

As discussed throughout this resource, electricity has the capability to severely injure or kill, so maintaining electrical safety at all times should be of high priority.

If someone is suffering an electric shock:

  • Approach with extreme caution
  • Never touch the victim, or you too could suffer the shock
  • Switch off the power source, unplugging the appliance or turning off the mains
  • If that isn’t possible, use a piece of insulating material to separate the person from the electricity
  1. If the person is unconscious, call 999 for an ambulance immediately. Only attempt first aid if you have the necessary knowhow.
  2. If the person is conscious, monitor their condition and seek medical advice if necessary. Injuries include deep-seated burns, muscle damage and electroporation (where cells in the body rupture).

An RCD unit will detect when electricity flow is unnatural and immediately cut the power.

5.

Useful links & further information

Throughout this resource we have provided information and best practice tips on dealing with a number of electrical situations. For further guidance and assistance, see the links below:

6 tips to stop overloading plugs: http://www.sparksdirect.co.uk/blog/6-top-tips-to-avoid-overloading-your-sockets-and-extension-leads-at-home/

Causes of electrical accidents: http://www.networx.com/article/top-causes-of-electrical-accidents

Electrical injuries: http://www.hse.gov.uk/electricity/injuries.htm

Electrical products & bathroom safety: https://victoriaplum.com/blog/posts/electrical-products-and-bathroom-safety

Electrical safety: https://www.sse.co.uk/help/emergencies/electrical-safety-advice#item1

Electrical safety – dwellings: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20151113141044/http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/uploads/br/br_pdf_ad_p_2013.pdf

How dangerous are phone chargers? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27390466

Kitchen safety tips: http://www.esfi.org/resource/kitchen-safety-tips-475

Landlord electrical inspections: http://www.rla.org.uk/landlord/guides/responsibilities/electrical_inspections.shtml

Maintaining portable electric equipment: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg236.pdf

Replacing old wiring: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/should-you-replace-old-wiring/

Two thirds of homebuyers don’t check electrics: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-3498654/Two-thirds-homeowners-fail-check-electrics-buying-property.html

Visual electrical checks: https://www.essex.ac.uk/health-safety/equipment/documents/simple-visual-check.pdf

What is an EICR? http://www.powercor.co.uk/blog/what-is-an-eicr-and-do-i-need-one/

What is an RCD? http://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/guides-and-advice/electrical-items/rcds-explained/

What is Part P? https://www.niceic.com/find-a-contractor/electrics-explained/what-is-part-p

Workplace hazards: http://www.healthyworkinglives.com/advice/workplace-hazards/electricity