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Following Benjamin Franklin's discovery of electrical charges in the 18th century, the natural resource we know as electricity has become an irreplaceable part of our lives, powering devices at home, at work and everywhere in between. It is almost impossible to find a workplace without electric currents flowing through its length and breadth. Computers, printers, photocopiers, kettles, microwaves, heaters, telephones and clocks are only a few of the electrically powered items found in our offices today.
This wondrous resource that we take so much for granted can easily turn murderous. Voltages above 50 volts AC, or 120 volts DC are known to be hazardous. Shocks from faulty equipment can cause severe and permanent injury, if not death. Faulty electrical appliances can also lead to fires that may cause death or injury to others.
The majority of electricity-related injuries occur due to:
As an employer, you need to assess the risks associated with electricity and reduce these to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 apply to all aspects of electricity in the workplace from the supply to the use of electrical equipment. The Regulations place a duty on employers, the self-employed and employees to:
Most faults can be identified by an informal visual inspection. It is important before an item is used, that the plug, cable, cable-entry, or input socket are checked along with the equipment casing. If a fault is noticed, the item should be removed and repaired before being used again. Staff can be trained fairly easily to carry out these simple checks.
Regular formal visual inspections should also be carried out, backed up by a system of Portable Appliance testing (PAT) and the results recorded where appropriate. There is a general misconception that this testing should be carried out annually - the legislation actually allows employers to decide on the type and frequency of inspection and testing, which may be more or less often based on their risk assessment. Factors to consider when deciding on how often to test include:
Fixed installations should also be inspected and tested periodically by a competent person. Records of the results of inspection and testing can be useful in assessing the effectiveness of the system.
In addition to the safety checks, you can also install a Residual Current Device (RCD) in the workplace. This is a device that detects some, but not all, faults in the electrical system and rapidly breaks the supply when a fault is detected (they are often found in lawnmowers where they are used to prevent electrocution if the cable is cut). In the workplace, the best location for an RCD is built into the mains supply or the socket outlet, where the supply cables will be permanently protected. If this is not possible, a plug incorporating an RCD, or a plug-in RCD adapter can provide additional safety.
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