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This page gives information on reducing the risks presented by electricity in the workplace, including advice on basic electrical safety and safer working practices.
It also gives details of related legal duties and obligations on employers and links to further information.
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 property.
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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:
As well as a moral duty on employers to protect employees and members of the public, General Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces.
In addition, 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. They place a duty on employers, employees and the self-employed to:
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) These regulations cover the reporting of certain incidents, including those involving electricity.
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:
To view the full text of the above legislation online, please follow the links under Legislation.
Consider the following hazards in your risk assessment:
Live parts Normal mains voltage, 230 volts AC, can kill. Also, contact with live parts can cause shocks and burns.
Fire Electrical faults can cause fires. This is particularly true where the equipment contains a heat source (e.g. heaters, including water heaters, washing machines, ovens, heat-seal packaging equipment).
Flammable or explosive atmospheres Electricity can be a source of ignition in a potentially flammable or explosive atmosphere, e.g. in spray paint booths or around refuelling areas.
Where and how electricity is used The risks from electricity are greatest in harsh conditions.
In wet conditions, unsuitable equipment can easily become live and can make its surroundings live.
While outdoors, equipment may not only become wet but may be at greater risk of damage.
In cramped or confined spaces with a lot of earthed metalwork, such as inside tanks, ducts and silos, if an electrical fault develops it can be very difficult to avoid a shock.
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, cables, and electrical connections. Other flexible leads, particularly those connected to equipment that is moved a great deal, can suffer from similar problems.
Below are some minimum steps you should take to ensure electrical safety.
Use the right equipment
Maintenance and repairs
Use other forms of power where possible Electrical risks can sometimes be eliminated by using air, hydraulic or hand-powered tools. These are especially useful in harsh conditions, but remember they could introduce other hazards.
Reduce the voltage Using lower voltages can reduce or eliminate the risks of electric shocks and burns:
Use Residual Current Devices (RCDs) for extra safety An RCD can provide additional safety. An RCD detects some (but not all) faults in the electrical system and rapidly switches off the supply.
The best place for an RCD is built into the main supply or the socket-outlet, as this means that the supply cables are permanently protected.
If this is not possible, use a plug incorporating an RCD or a plug-in RCD adaptor. RCDs for protecting people have a rated tripping current (sensitivity) of not more than 30 milliamps (mA).
Maintain your electrical equipment and installations All electrical equipment and installations should be maintained to prevent danger. This should include an appropriate system of formal visual inspection, and where necessary, testing.
Most faults can usually be identified by an informal visual inspection. It is important that before an item is used a check is made on the plug, cable, cable-entry or input socket and the casing of the equipment.
If a fault is identified, the item should be removed from use and repaired before being used again. Staff should be trained to carry out these simple visual checks.
There should also be a system where formal visual inspections are carried out and recorded, backed up by a system of Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) where appropriate.
There is a misconception that this testing should be carried out annually, but the legislation requires employers to decide on the frequency of testing based on their risk assessment.
Factors to consider 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.
More detailed guidance is available in the booklets listed in further information.
Work safely Make sure that people working with electricity are competent to do the job. Even simple tasks such as wiring a plug can lead to danger - ensure that people know what they are doing before they start.
Make sure that:
More complicated tasks, such as equipment repairs or alterations to an electrical installation, should only be tackled by people with knowledge of the risks and the precautions needed.
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, both to the workers and to anyone else who may be in the area.
Always assume supplies are live unless it is confirmed otherwise by a competent person or utility company. Use plans and cable-avoiding tools to locate cables. 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.
Your local inspector of health and safety will be listed under the number of your local HSE office in the phone book under Health and Safety Executive. For premises inspected by local authorities for health and safety, the contact point will be the environmental health department at your local council.
Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:
Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive: Note – all links are to external pages at HSE giving options to download or order these resources:
Priced guidance from the Health and Safety Executive: Note – all links are to external pages at HSE giving options to download or order these resources:
Priced guidance from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Note: links below are to pages on the IET website where you can order the following publications:
→ View The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (external site)
→ View The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)
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