by Jeremy Hadaway
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.
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
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.
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:
- 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.