You are on page 1of 11

What are the risks from electricity?

Harm can be caused to any person when they are exposed to ‘live
parts’ that are either touched directly or indirectly by means of some
conducting object or material. Voltages over 50 volts AC or 120 volts
DC are considered hazardous.
Electricity can kill. Each year about 1000 accidents at work involving
electric shocks or burns are reported to the Health and Safety
Executive (HSE). Around 30 of these are fatal, most of them arising
from contact with overhead or underground power cables.
Shocks from faulty equipment can cause severe and permanent
injury and can also lead to indirect injuries, due to falls from ladders,
scaffolds, or other work platforms.
Faulty electrical appliances can also lead to fires. As well as causing
injuries and loss of life, fires cause damage to plant, equipment and
back to top

Who is most at risk from electricity?
Anyone can be exposed to the dangers of electricity while at work
and everyone should be made aware of the dangers.
Those most at risk include maintenance staff, those working with
electrical plant, equipment and machinery, and people working in
harsh environments such as construction sites.
Most electrical accidents occur because individuals:

are working on or near equipment which is thought to be dead but which is, in fact,

are working on or near equipment which is known to be live, but where those
involved are without adequate training or appropriate equipment, or they have not taken
adequate precautions
misuse equipment or use electrical equipment which they know to be faulty.

or closure of.back to top Legal duties and obligations around electricity As well as a moral duty on employers to protect employees and members of the public. In addition. or on.g. employees and the self-employed to:  have the electrical systems constructed in a way that prevents danger  maintain their electrical systems as necessary to prevent danger  have work on. use of. The Reporting of Injuries. or who are under adequate supervision should work with. specific duties and obligations are laid out in the following regulations: The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 These regulations apply to all aspects of the use of electricity within the workplace from electrical supplies to the use of electrical equipment. Additionally:  electrical equipment used in hazardous environments (e. corrosive conditions) must be constructed or protected to prevent it becoming dangerous  only those with adequate knowledge or experience. including those involving electricity. electrical equipment that could cause danger or injury. extremes of weather. They place a duty on employers. temperature. General Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces. You must notify the enforcing authority immediately by telephone using the Incident Reporting Line 0845 300 9923 or via the Health and Safety Executive's Incident Report page (external site) The following incidents must be reported: . Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) These regulations cover the reporting of certain incidents. electrical systems carried out in a way that prevents danger.

ovens. Where and how electricity is used The risks from electricity are greatest in harsh conditions. heat-seal packaging equipment). including water heaters. contact with live parts can cause shocks and burns. injury to staff due to an electric shock or electrical burn leading to unconsciousness or requiring resuscitation. and electrical connections. Other flexible leads. cables. In cramped or confined spaces with a lot of earthed metalwork. such as inside tanks. e. back to top Assessing the risks from electricity Consider the following hazards in your risk assessment: Live parts Normal mains voltage. This is particularly true where the equipment contains a heat source (e. Also. Flammable or explosive atmospheres Electricity can be a source of ignition in a potentially flammable or explosive atmosphere. While outdoors.g. In wet conditions. Types of equipment in use Some items of equipment can also involve greater risk than others. Extension leads are particularly liable to damage to their plugs and sockets. or admittance to hospital  electrical short circuit or overload causing fire or explosion  plant or equipment coming into contact with overhead power lines. To view the full text of the above legislation online. can kill. Fire Electrical faults can cause fires. particularly those . 230 volts AC. heaters. if an electrical fault develops it can be very difficult to avoid a shock. ducts and silos. please follow the links under Legislation. washing machines. unsuitable equipment can easily become live and can make its surroundings live. in spray paint booths or around refuelling areas. equipment may not only become wet but may be at greater risk of damage.g.

back to top Basic electrical safety Below are some minimum steps you should take to ensure electrical safety. Mains supplies  install new electrical systems to BS 7671 Requirements for Electrical Installations  maintain all electrical installations in good working order  provide enough socket-outlets for equipment in use  avoid overloading socket-outlets – using adaptors can cause fires  provide an accessible and clearly identified switch ('Emergency Off' or 'EMO' button) near fixed machinery to cut off power in an emergency  for portable equipment. . Use the right equipment  choose electrical equipment that is suitable for its working environment  ensure that equipment is safe when supplied and maintain it in a safe condition  electrical equipment used in flammable/explosive atmospheres should be designed not to produce sparks. Maintenance and repairs  ensure equipment is fitted with the correctly rated fuse.  ensure cable ends always have their outer sheaths firmly clamped to stop wires working loose from plugs or inside equipment  replace damaged sections of cable completely – never repair cuts with insulating tape.connected to equipment that is moved a great deal. connect to nearby socket-outlets so that it can be easily disconnected in an emergency.  protect light bulbs and other easily damaged equipment – there is a risk of electric shock if they are broken. Seek specialist advice when choosing this type of equipment. can suffer from similar problems.

An RCD detects some (but not all) faults in the electrical system and rapidly switches off the supply. (usually from a transformer)  where electrically powered tools are used. RCDs for protecting people have a rated tripping current (sensitivity) of not more than 30 milliamps (mA). The supply leads have only two wires – live (brown) and neutral (blue)  make sure all wires are connected securely if the 13A plug is not a moulded-on type. back to top Use Residual Current Devices (RCDs) for extra safety An RCD can provide additional safety. Reduce the voltage Using lower voltages can reduce or eliminate the risks of electric shocks and burns:  portable tools are available which can be run from a 110 volts. If this is not possible. The best place for an RCD is built into the main supply or the socket-outlet. Remember: . hydraulic or handpowered tools. 12. 50 or 110 volts. centre-tapped-toearth supply. These are especially useful in harsh conditions. battery-operated are safest  temporary lighting can be run at lower voltages. use a plug incorporating an RCD or a plug-in RCD adaptor. as this means that the supply cables are permanently protected.g. 25. use proper connectors to join lengths of cable – don't use connector blocks covered in insulating tape or 'splice' wires by twisting them together  some equipment is double insulated. e. back to top Good practices: Use other forms of power where possible Electrical risks can sometimes be eliminated by using air. but remember they could introduce other hazards. These are often marked with a ‘double-square’ symbol.

Staff should be trained to carry out these simple visual checks. There is a misconception that this testing should be carried out annually. cable. If a fault is identified. Most faults can usually be identified by an informal visual inspection. This should include an appropriate system of formal visual inspection. back to top Maintain your electrical equipment and installations All electrical equipment and installations should be maintained to prevent danger. Factors to consider include:  type of equipment  where equipment is used  is equipment portable or transportable?  is it used in a harsh environment? . cable-entry or input socket and the casing of the equipment. but the legislation requires employers to decide on the frequency of testing based on their risk assessment. and where necessary. consult the manufacturer of the RCD use the RCD test button regularly to check that its mechanism is free and functioning. testing. the item should be removed from use and repaired before being used again. backed up by a system of Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) where appropriate. There should also be a system where formal visual inspections are carried out and recorded. an RCD is a valuable safety device – never bypass it  if the RCD trips. it is a sign there is a fault.   if the RCD trips frequently and no fault can be found in the system. Check the system before using it again. It is important that before an item is used a check is made on the plug.

Fixed installations should also be inspected and tested periodically by a competent person. back to top Underground and overhead electrical supplies .ensure that people know what they are doing before they start. 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 where possible. Work on exposed live parts of equipment and systems must not be carried out unless it is absolutely unavoidable and suitable precautions have been taken to prevent injury. More complicated tasks. both to the workers and to anyone else who may be in the area. all electrical appliances are switched off at the mains at the end of the working day. Records of the results of inspection and testing can be useful in assessing the effectiveness of the system. More detailed guidance is available in the booklets listed in further information. back to top Work safely Make sure that people working with electricity are competent to do the job. should only be tackled by people with knowledge of the risks and the precautions needed. Even simple tasks such as wiring a plug can lead to danger . such as equipment repairs or alterations to an electrical installation. Make sure that:  suspect or faulty equipment is taken out of use immediately  suspect or faulty equipment is labelled ‘DO NOT USE’  suspect or faulty equipment is kept secure until examined by a competent person    where possible.

which covers:  who could be harmed by them  how the level of risk has been established . Case study 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. This section provides a summary of those precautions. for example in a spray paint booth Electric shocks can also lead to other types of injury. What do I have to do? You must ensure an assessment has been made of any electrical hazards. Electricity can kill or severely injure people and cause damage to property. you can take simple precautions when working with or near electricity and electrical equipment to significantly reduce the risk of injury to you. Use plans and cableavoiding tools to locate cables. your workers and others around you. for example by causing a fall from ladders or scaffolds etc. However. fire from faulty electrical equipment or installations  explosion caused by unsuitable electrical apparatus or static electricity igniting flammable vapours or dusts.Always assume supplies are live unless it is confirmed otherwise by a competent person or utility company. Have overhead lines switched off if possible or maintain safe distances from the lines for plant and equipment. More detailed guidance on avoidance of danger from underground and overhead electric lines is available from the Health and Safety Executive.

circuit-breakers and other devices must be correctly rated for the circuit they protect. the precautions taken to control that risk The risk assessment should take into consideration the type of electrical equipment used. 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. if possible. locked. including portable appliances. you must make sure that electrical equipment and installations are maintained to prevent danger. Ensure that machinery has an accessible switch or isolator to cut off the power quickly in an emergency. Visual checks are not usually necessary for small. knowledge and experience to carry out the work safely). Less frequent checks are needed for equipment less likely to become damaged (eg desktop computers etc). Have more frequent checks for items more likely to become damaged (eg portable electrical tools and equipment that is regularly moved. repair it or replace it if:  the plug or connector is damaged  the cable has been repaired with tape. the mains-powered adaptor for such equipment should be visually checked. Remove the equipment from use immediately and check it. Isolators and fusebox cases should be kept closed and. Fuses. or used frequently or in arduous environments). plugs. should carry out visual checks. . unsuitable equipment can become live and make its surroundings live too. battery-powered items. Maintenance So far as is reasonably practicable . 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. However. or for equipment that works from a mains-powered adaptor (laptops or cordless phones etc). the way in which it is used and the environment that it is used in. Cables. Users of electrical equipment. sockets and fittings must be robust enough and adequately protected for the working environment. is not secure.

is almost certainly likely to require additional training and experience. should be more formally inspected or tested by a competent person. Checks should be made around the job. usually an electrician When is someone competent to do electrical work? In this context. skill and knowledge for the task to be undertaken to prevent injury to themselves and others. Make arrangements for inspecting and testing fixed wiring installations. or any other hazard. including portable appliances. wired-in equipment (eg cookers. floors and ceilings (especially when drilling into these locations) etc  Make sure anyone working with electricity has sufficient skills. ie the circuits from the meter and consumer unit supplying light switches. cables or equipment near where they are going to work and check forsigns warning of dangers from electricity. such as maintenance of high-voltage switchgear or control system modification. is suitable for use before using it and remains suitable by being maintained as necessary . More specialised work. hairdryers) etc. This work should normally be carried out by a competent person. a competent person is someone who has the suitable training. sockets. Also think about the intervals at which this should be done. Check that socket outlets are not overloaded by using unfused adaptors as this can cause fires  Ensure there are no trailing cables that can cause people to trip or fall  Switch off and unplug appliances before cleaning or adjusting them  Ensure everyone looks for electrical wires. Key points to remember  Ensure that workers know how to use the electrical equipment safely  Make sure enough sockets are available. knowledge and experience to do so. and remember that electrical cables may be within walls. to be carried out regularly so there is little chance of deterioration leading to danger. A successfully completed electrical apprenticeship. with some post-apprenticeship experience. is one way of demonstrating technical competence for general electrical work. 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. Incorrectly wiring a plug can be dangerous and lead to fatal accidents or fires  Stop using equipment immediately if it appears to be faulty – have it checked by a competent person  Ensure any electrical equipment brought to work by employees.Consider whether electrical equipment. or any hired or borrowed.

or within a wet or confined place (see HSE's electrical safety at work site) Overhead electric lines  Be aware of the dangers of working near or underneath overhead power lines. railway company or tram operator. even though machinery or equipment may not touch them  Don’t work under them when equipment (eg ladders. a tipper-lorry body or a scaffold pole) could come within a minimum of six metres of a power line without getting advice. before any work begins Underground cables  Always assume cables will be present when digging in the street. Speak to the line owner. Electricity can flash over from them. eg the electricity company. Consider using a residual current device (RCD) between the electrical supply and the equipment. a crane jib. especially when working outdoors. pavement and/or near buildings  Consult local electricity companies and service plans to identify where cables are located .