Working with electricity


The potential for injury or death arising from work on electrical systems or from coming into contact with electricity must never be underestimated.

Legislation relating to electricity in the workplace imposes health and safety requirements upon employers, employees and the self-employed.

It is essential that precautions are taken to prevent death and injury from electricity in work activities.

Main hazards

Rather than shocks, faulty items are more likely to cause a fire than anything else. Problems occur because we don’t maintain the items properly, we don’t use them as we should, or we do our own repairs to equipment and circuits when we really shouldn’t.

One newer hazard identified is that of cables and the method used to fix them in place. This must now be substantial, so as not to allow cables to fall and entrap anyone in a fire, such as firefighters. So be vigilant and act if you see insecure cables.

Electrical systems

The design and installation of electrical systems should be such that, so far as is reasonably practicable, danger is always prevented. A system refers to all electrical equipment within a fixed system and all electrical equipment connected to it.

To ensure that danger is prevented, current BS/EN standards should be applied to all new systems and to extensions to existing systems. However, where equipment was installed to earlier standards they do not need replaced, if they remain safe.


To prevent danger, all systems need to be maintained. The most effective way of discovering what maintenance is required is by inspecting and testing the system. A competent person must carry out this work. Those under training may work on systems provided that appropriate supervision is provided, the level of which should be commensurate with the degree of risk associated with the task involved.

To protect people from electric shock, a maintenance schedule should be introduced, including:

  • Unique numbering of each appliance
  • Regular inspections by users
  • The appointment of competent people to regularly inspect and, where appropriate, test each appliance
  • Recording the dates and details of all such inspections and tests
  • Written instructions to all employees not to use faulty or damaged equipment
  • Effective maintenance system.

Where items are found to be faulty, a label should be attached and the item should then be put in a secure area.

Fixed electrical installations

Maintenance work on fixed wiring must be carried out in accordance with the Institution of Electrical Engineers Wiring Regulations which has been adopted as BS7671.

Installations should be inspected and tested at regular intervals. The recommended interval for testing in commercial premises is five years.

Electrical control equipment

Unobstructed access to all electrical switch and control gear must be maintained at all times. Access to equipment should be restricted to authorised personnel.

Portable electrical appliances

All portable electrical appliances must be maintained in safe condition. The most effective way is to have a competent person carry out tests at regular intervals. The frequency of these inspections and tests will depend on the type of appliance, the nature of its use, and the environment it is used in.

My advice is, remember the term is ‘portable’ – fridges aren’t very portable, so less frequent testing is required. But a hand drill needs tested frequently. In addition, frequent visual checks are required, so users know what to look for.

What do I tell users to look for?

It doesn’t need to be complicated, and people don’t need ‘qualifications’ to do a check. Ask them to look for:

  • damage to the supply cable, including fraying or cuts
  • damage to the plug or connector (e.g. cracked casing)
  • damage to the cables, including exposed wires or temporary repairs
  • a loose outer sheath of the cable where it enters the plug or the equipment
  • damage to the external casing of the equipment
  • loose parts or screws
  • evidence of overheating (burn marks or discolouration).

If you still want support then don’t worry.

Help is at hand! As a member of SAIF:

You can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business by calling 08456 344164. You are also entitled to a discount on fees when we help you with Health & Safety needs.

We can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs. So, what have you got to lose?

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