The other day, I switched on my old tile-cutter and got a shock. When I inspected it, I found that the earth-screw was loose. I got lucky because I was wearing rubber-soled shoes but it could've been a lot worse. From now on, I'm going to give all my tools a good look-over and a basic check before using them.

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. And it's not just the electricity itself that kills or injures. In some cases, it's part of a chain of events that has serious consequences. Workers getting a startling zap from their equipment could, for instance, fall from a ladder or scaffolding. Faulty equipment can also cause a fire that puts everyone at risk.

Most electrical accidents occur because individuals:

  • Work on equipment without realizing it's live
  • Work with live equipment without the proper training or knowledge of safety measures
  • Misuse the equipment
  • Use faulty equipment

What Should Workers Expect from Their Employers?

Employers, safety officers, and workers should take immediate action when they see or suspect any of the following:

  • Unsafe electrical installation and equipment
  • Improper or non-existent maintenance of electrical equipment or systems
  • Work on or using electrical equipment not performed in the safest possible way
  • Not using purpose-designed equipment (which might not be able to withstand wear or exposure to weather conditions)

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 that could be ignited by electrical equipment
  • Work with electrical equipment in wet conditions (unless using equipment designed for moist conditions)
  • Work in metal-lined confined spaces
  • Worn equipment, especially leads and extension cords
  • Exposed light-bulbs
  • Irregular maintenance and repair
  • Failure to inspect 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 – the cable should be 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 molded, sealed plug)
  • Residual Current Device (RCD) test buttons are in working order (if an RCD trips off, don't use it until it has been checked and repaired or until the manufacturer has been consulted)
  • Equipment does not have broken or damaged casing

(Learn more about the Five Leading Electrical Hazards and How to Avoid Them.)

Portable Appliance Testing Frequency

How frequently you should perform PAT testing will depend on the conditions you identify in your risks assessments.

Portable appliances should be tested at least once a year. But the test might need to be performed more often depending on the type of equipment and the environment in which it's used. Note also that portable and transportable equipment requires more frequent testing.

Basic Safety Rules Every Employee Should Follow

  • 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 fact sheet on prevention of electrical hazards for more in-depth information.