The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 apply standards of
electrical safety to all workplaces and the electrical equipment
used in them. They require precautions to be taken against the risk
or death or personal injury from electricity in work
They impose duties in respect of SYSTEMS, ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT,
CONDUCTORS and the COMPETENCE OF PERSONS in respect of work
activities on or near electrical equipment. Put simply, those at
work must make sure that everything that uses or carries
electricity in the workplace is safe, that people do not interfere
with or abuse anything electrical that has been supplied for their
use or bring into the workplace anything electrical that is
One of the most important facets of electrical safety is the
regular routine visual inspection of electrical equipment. The
visual checking of electrical leads to appliances etc. should be
made part of every employee’s work habits. To comply with the
Regulations you may also need to make arrangements to ensure that
portable electrical appliances which are themselves high risk eg.
electric drills, or used in a high risk environment for example
outside or in wet environments eg. electric mowers, are inspected
by a competent person on a regular basis. Keep a record of all
maintenance, including test results, throughout the working life of
each appliance. You may find it helpful if small sticker noting the
date of inspection is attached to each piece of equipment.
The use of multi way adapters is not recommended. There should
always be sufficient socket outlets provided to supply any portable
appliances used. A wall socket is designed to have sufficient
strength to cater for a single plug; when an adapter is used with a
number of plugs, the weight of the assembly and its leverage
increases the mechanical stress on a socket contact. There is also
the danger of electrical overload as the combined loads may exceed
the rating of the socket outlet.
The danger of metal work becoming live may be reduced by the use of
a residual current device (RCD) designed to operate rapidly at very
small leakage currents (typically not exceeding 30mA) although
these devices do not eliminate the risk of electric shock. RCD’s
should be considered only as providing a second line of defence.
They should be tested regularly using the trip button and a record
of the test kept. Miniature circuit breakers which are increasingly
being used to replace wired or cartridge fuses in fuse boxes
(consumer units) do not offer protection against electric
95% of faults to electrical equipment can be detected by a thorough
Identify your equipment, where it is normally used and how it is
used. It is recommended that you keep a record of this but it is
not a legal requirement. Switch off the equipment, UNPLUG IT AND
LOOK FOR THE FOLLOWING:
- Cable damage e.g. cuts, breaks, burns etc
in the outer cable cover.
- Plug damage e.g. cracked casing, bent pins
or signs of burning.
- Temporary joints – e.g. taped joints,
- Loose cable grip. The outer sheath not
gripped where it enters the plug or equipment. Often the coloured
earth, neutral or live wire are showing.
- The equipment has been or is being used in
a condition which is not suitable e.g. wet, damp or dusty
environments, or exposed to mechanical damage it is not designed to
- Damage to the outer cover of the equipment
or signs of loose parts or screws.
- Signs of overheating – burn marks,
staining or melted parts.
- Periodically the plug top should be
removed and the interior checked for the following:
- a suitable correctly rated fuse must be used;
- the cable grip must hold the outer sheath firmly;
- the wires must be attached to the correct terminals and
- the terminal screws must be tight;
- there must be no sign of internal damage overheating or
accumulation of liquid, dust or other material.
Extension leads and plugs should also be
inspected. Equipment will need more frequent inspection if it is
exposed to heavy use or more unfriendly environments.
Remove damaged equipment immediately and ensure it cannot be used
until repaired and tested by a competent person.
For further information, contact Environmental Health. You can also
use the HSE info. line (0541 545500), or obtain leaflets on
electrical safety through HSE books, P.O. Box 1999, Sudbury,
Suffolk, C010 6FS, 01787 881165.