A Complete Guide to Industrial Electrical Safety

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In this guide we will be examining the dangers of electrical equipment in factories and other industrial environments and discussing recommended methods for managing those risks and protecting the health and safety of employees, contractors and visitors.

Electrical hazards and safety

Almost every factory or workplace features electrical equipment of some kind. If poorly maintained such machinery can cause serious accidents. The risks increase the larger and more powerful the equipment, making electrical safety measures even more important.

To ensure workplace safety all wiring and circuits must be properly and fully inspected on a regular basis: this is perhaps the single most effective way to protect employees from shocks.

Why is electrical safety important?

Electricity is dangerous: it can arc across spilled liquid and damp surfaces; it can start fires, igniting flammable materials - even gases and dust - causing serious damage to equipment and buildings. Electric shock can cause burn injuries and interfere with the heartbeat of anyone exposed, with potentially fatal results.

The symptoms of electric shock range from headaches, numbness and blurred vision, all the way up to an irregular heartbeat, spasms and seizures.

Even relatively minor shocks can cause major injuries – by, for example, causing heavy objects to be dropped or workers to fall from ladders.

In the year to 2016, electrical fires caused almost 1,400 serious injuries and fatalities: that’s around four per day. In 55% of cases, the misuse of electrical equipment was the root cause. More recently, electrical accidents caused four fatalities in UK workplaces during 2018-19.

What are the electrical safety regulations?

Employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of electrical equipment under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, or its equivalent, the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, as well as the Electricity at Work Regulations (EAWR) 1989. These obligations extend to members of the public who visit or pass the premises. Employers must take ‘all reasonable and practicable steps to prevent danger from electrical systems’.

Regular visits by official electrical inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are a must. They will check the safety of on-site equipment and provide advice on good working practice.

Employers are required to ensure that potential electrical hazards within the workplace are regularly assessed and that all equipment is fit for purpose and safe for use. They must maintain an electrical safety register documenting these inspections. When problems are identified, maintenance must be conducted as soon as possible.

Inspection and testing should be carried out by ‘skilled person or persons, competent in such work’. Normally this implies a properly qualified and experienced electrical engineer, accredited by a recognised trade body and familiar with applicable codes of practice.

Key potential risks include:

  • Isolators and fuse box cases: these should be kept closed and locked whenever possible.

  • Cables, sockets and plugs: these must be properly insulated and have sufficient capacity for their use.

  • Fuses and circuit-breakers: these must be properly matched to the circuit in which they are installed.

  • Machines: these must have an off switch that is easy to find and immediately accessible in case of emergency.

Train users to examine electrical equipment before switching it on, looking for damaged plugs and adapters, insecure fastenings, loose connectors or cables, exposed inner wiring and similar issues. This is especially important for portable equipment, which is more likely to be damaged.

Any issues that come to light should be reported immediately, with the affected equipment taken out of action for replacement or repair. For obvious reasons, repairs should only be undertaken by properly trained individuals.

Failure to meet your legal obligations as an employer places both individual employees and your business as a whole at risk.

Faulty electrical equipment is a major cause of fires and if your insurer decides proper precautions were not taken, they may refuse to pay out.

In January 2019, the BS 7671 (IET Wiring Regulations) came into force. Originally issued by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), these set a range of standards for wiring and electrical installation within the UK.

Meanwhile, the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 impose a range of responsibilities on the manufacturers and distributors of electrical equipment.

Electrical Safety First, formerly known as the Electrical Safety Council, is an active campaigning charity which works to improve regulations and education.

Electrical safety at work: a checklist

The key principles of electrical safety at work are:


green-tick Respect live electricity - touching a live circuit could have fatal consequences.
green-tick Conduct regular inspections of equipment - any electrical equipment should be routinely assessed: is still safe to use? Is the cabling properly sealed and insulated? Does it need repair or a replacement?
green-tick Ensure correct training - everyone who uses electrical equipment in the course of their job should be confident in how to use it safely. Nobody should conduct any kind of repairs on electrical equipment without sufficient skills and training.
green-tick Don’t overload sockets and extension cables - this can cause fires.
green-tick Switch off equipment after use and before cleaning or adjusting it in any way.
green-tick Check for hidden cables in walls before drilling or inserting nails
green-tick Stop using any apparently faulty equipment immediately and have it checked by qualified personnel.
green-tick Make sure all equipment in use is suitable for its purpose – and that it remains so via regular checks and maintenance.


Although the amount and strength of electrical equipment in use varies according to industry, these principles are fundamental and apply more or less equally to hospitals, factories, offices and warehouses.

Electrical safety products

The following safety products are widely used by industrial firms to protect their machine operators and employees from electrocution and related risks.

Electrical safety mats

Also known as insulation mats or switchboard matting, electrical safety mats provide some degree of protection from high voltage discharges.They are made from insulated rubber and should be placed near potentially dangerous machinery and live switchboards.

Electrical safety toolkits

Electrical safety toolkits are used by electricians and properly qualified professionals to test and repair electrical equipment.

Tools that are insulated and have a VDE approval are ideal for use with electricity as they have been specifically designed to protect against the risk of an electrical shock.

Portable appliance testing (PAT)

Portable appliance tester kits are used by electricians and properly trained workers to verify the electrical safety and working order of portable appliances, which are especially prone to wear.

Insulation testing

Insulation testers are handheld devices used to monitor the electrical flow within cables, motors, switches, generators and similar equipment. The electricity that escapes from insulated cables can feed back, interfering with equipment.

Voltage indication and testing

Voltage indicators are standard safety equipment for most electricians. These handheld devices provide a quick and reliable indication of live currents in particular circuits.

Lockout kits

Also known as lock-offs, lockout kits are sets of tools used to cut off electrical currents and ensure the safe isolation of devices that require repair or close checking.

Earth or ground testing blocks

Also known as ground terminal blocks or earth terminals, earth blocks are used to safely ground cables and wires to protect from electrical discharge or magnetic fields. Typically, they are screwed or clamped into place.

RCD testing

Residual current devices (RCDs) automatically swift off electricity in the event of such faults as exposed wires, earthing failures or overheating – and they can save lives. Alternative names include residual circuit breakers (RCCBs) in the UK and ground fault circuit interrupters in the United States.

Electrical safety signs & posters

Electrical safety posters are a convenient way to promote electrical safety and raise awareness amongst employees of good working practices. They must be reliable and accurate. Display them in common areas such as canteens and breakrooms, as well as near hazardous areas such as electrical rooms and substations. Safety signs provide immediate visual signals of potential electrical danger and they should be displayed in all potentially hazardous working areas. Their effectiveness will be complemented by staff training. Provide up-to-date electrical safety handbooks as reference material for properly trained employees and on-site electricians.

Conclusion

There are no shortcuts to safety. Careful planning, full training and reliable equipment are all vital. The health and safety of your employees is too important for corners to be cut. Source your safety equipment from a reliable, expert in the field like RS Components.