“The other day, I switched on my rather ancient tile-cutter, and man! Did it give me a nasty little shock! On closer inspection, I found that the earth-screw was loose. I’m just glad I was wearing rubber-soled shoes at the time. It made me think about other electric shocks I’d seen at work. There was the time the electrician got blown clean off his ladder, and now and then you read about deaths caused by electrical accidents. Anyway, I’m giving all my tools a good going over now, and in future, I’ll do a few basic checks before I use any power tools”

Electric Shocks Cause Injuries and Fatalities

Electric shocks are one of the most frequent causes of workplace injuries and fatalities – and most of these accidents were preventable. Shocks can cause direct injuries and they can cause indirect injuries when workers fall from ladders or scaffolds. Faulty equipment can also cause fires that put everyone in the workplace at risk and damage property.

Most electrical accidents occur because individuals:

  • Work on equipment without realizing it is live
  • Work with live equipment without proper training or safety measures
  • Misuse of equipment
  • Use of faulty equipment

What Should Workers Expect From Their Employers?

Employers, safety officers and workers should take action when they see or suspect:

  • Unsafe electrical installations and equipment
  • Lack of necessary maintenance to electrical equipment or systems
  • All work on and use of electrical equipment or systems should be performed in the safest possible way
  • Electrical equipment that will be exposed to the elements or other harsh conditions should be purpose-designed to withstand wear that will render it hazardous, and only people who are qualified or properly trained to do so should work with, repair or maintain electrical equipment

Electrical Risk Assessment

The following are common electrical hazards:

  • Exposed live parts – even normal main power can cause a fatal electric shock. Fires could be caused by an electrical fault
  • Flammable or explosive fumes could be ignited by electrical equipment. If electrical equipment must be used in a flammable environment, get advice from professionals and use specialized tools
  • Work with electrical equipment in wet conditions – only purpose designed equipment should be used in moist conditions
  • Work in metal-lined confined spaces
  • Worn equipment. Leads and extension cords are particularly vulnerable to damage
  • Exposed light-bulbs
  • Regular maintenance and repairs
  • All equipment should be inspected before use.

Where applicable ensure that:

  • The correct fuses have been fitted
  • Cable ends are securely clamped so that wires cannot work loose
  • Split insulation is not simply covered with insulation tape, but the cable is replaced
  • Proper connectors are used when cables are joined – never simply splice, or use connector blocks
  • All plug connections are secure (unless the equipment has a moulded, sealed plug)
  • Test Residual Current Device (RCD) test buttons to ensure that they are in working order. If an RCD trips off, do not try to use it until it has been checked and necessary repairs have been made. If no fault can be found, contact the manufacturer
  • Equipment with broken or damaged casing should not be used

Frequency of Portable Appliance Testing

The frequency of portable appliance testing depends on conditions identified in risk assessments. Portable appliances should be tested at least once a year, and more often depending on:

  • The type of equipment being used
  • The environment in which it is used
  • Portable or transportable equipment requires more frequent testing

Basic Safety Rules Every Employee Should Know

  • Never use suspect equipment
  • Clearly label equipment that should not be used owing to a suspected fault
  • Disconnect power supply, and if possible, store where it cannot be accessed until repairs have been done
  • Switch off equipment and power sockets before removing the plug from the power source
  • Switch off equipment before adjusting or cleaning it
  • Any equipment that can be switched off when not in use, should be switched off
  • Repairs and alterations should only be attempted by a qualified person

You can download OSHA’s factsheet on prevention of electrical hazards for more in-depth information.