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N32. Electrical Safety: In-depth


This topic describes the main hazards associated with electrical work and the means of protecting against them.

General safety in the workplace, including the safety of electrical systems and appliances, is required under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974. Specific electrical safety duties are required under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAW), which applies to all non-domestic premises such as care homes.

In domiciliary care, electrical safety will apply to any offices run by {{org_field_name}}. It will also be a consideration in the safety of home-based staff, even though {{org_field_name}} is not responsible for those premises.

Portable electrical equipment carried by staff as part of their workplace duties is covered by the EAW regulations in both residential and domiciliary care.

The inspection and testing of electrical installations and equipment is covered in Electrical Inspection and Testing.

Employers’ Duties

Under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAW), dutyholders responsible for workplace premises must:

Employees’ Duties

Employees are required to:

In Practice

Legal Requirements

Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, employers are required to provide and maintain plant and systems that are, as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. This includes risks from electrical systems, plant and equipment.

Specific requirements governing the safety of electrical systems and equipment in non-domestic workplace premises are contained in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAW).

The EAW regulations contain a range of duties that apply to those responsible for premises. Key requirements include the following.

These duties are interlaced with the general duties set out under regulations 3, 5, 10 and 13 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and regulations 7–9 of Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), which require an employer to provide risk assessments, policies, information and training on the safe operation and use of all equipment used in the workplace.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for making sure that electrical installation work in non-domestic buildings is safe.

BS 7671:2018

All electrical work carried out in the UK should meet accepted standards.

There are no significant differences in general installation requirements for electrical work throughout Great Britain. Scotland, England and Wales all cite BS 7671 Requirements for Electrical Installations. IET Wiring Regulations (as amended) as the recommended means of complying with legal requirements. The 18th edition of the Wiring Regulations is effective from 1 January 2019 and will apply to installations made after that date — it is not retrospective. The issues addressed by the new edition include:

Building standards

Electrical work carried out in industrial or commercial buildings is covered by the EAW. In dwellings, the relevant building standards and regulations must be followed in all parts of the UK.

Electrical work in dwellings in England and Wales must meet the requirements of Part P of the Building Regulations. To ensure this is the case, homeowners are strongly recommended by the Government to use a registered electrician to complete any work.

Certain work is notifiable to a local building control body, such as rewiring or the installation of a replacement consumer unit.

Specific requirements for electrical installations in Scotland are covered by the Building (Scotland) Act 2003, as amended.

Electrical Safety in Domiciliary Care

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAW) apply to any premises that come under the control of a domiciliary care provider, including offices. They also apply to portable electrical equipment used by care staff in the performance of their work.

Domiciliary care organisations are not responsible for the electrical systems in service user’s homes. However, under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 they are responsible for the safety of their staff while working in such settings.

Home care managers should carry out a general risk assessment of any premises where staff will be working. Any obvious electrical faults or concerns should be noted and addressed with the premises owner. Care staff should be trained to be aware of any hazards and to report any concerns they may have. They should not use electrical equipment that they suspect may have a fault or may be hazardous. Signs of a possible hazard might include scorch marks on equipment or sockets, overloaded sockets, bare wires, etc.

Any electrical equipment supplied by a domiciliary care organisation should be subject to risk assessment and standard checks and inspection.

Risk Assessment

All work with electricity or electrical equipment should be subject to risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns that the risk of injury from electricity is strongly linked to where and how it is used. For instance, risks increase where electrical equipment is used in wet surroundings or outdoors.

The HSE warns that some items of equipment can also involve greater risk than others. For example, extension leads and flexible cables are particularly liable to damage.

Risks can be decreased by:

Risk can be further reduced by ensuring that sockets are not overloaded, by using socket outlets which are close by and thus can be easily disconnected in an emergency, and by using proper, approved, connectors to join lengths of cables if joining cables is necessary.

Persons at risk

Any person using equipment supplied with electrical power is at risk if that equipment is incorrectly or inadequately maintained, untested or has not undergone periodic examination, maintenance or test at the last date on which this was required.

Maintenance and repair personnel are especially at risk if the equipment they are testing or repairing is not correctly isolated from all possible sources of electrical power.

Persons not directly involved with the installation, test or repair may be placed in danger if the correct procedure for isolation is not carried out.


Electrical hazards are associated with:

Specific risk assessments

Examples of activities where a specific risk assessment will be required include:

Electrical safe systems of work

HSR25 Memorandum of Guidance is published by the HSE to help dutyholders meet the requirements of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. It states that work “shall be carried out in such a manner as not to give rise, so far as is reasonably practicable, to danger”. Typically, this will require an electrical system to be isolated and confirmed that it is not live before work commences.

Safe systems of work should be formulated following a risk assessment to assess the hazards, risks and control measures. In particularly hazardous situations, permits to work may be required. Any safe system of work has to be supported with suitable training, information and supervision to ensure the competence and safety of the workforce.

Procedures for working on electrical systems and equipment

Work on electrical systems and equipment can vary from changing a plug on a portable appliance to adding a new socket or rewiring a whole building. The procedures and control measures needed for each will be very different. The level of competence required for wiring installations will be different from those required for changing a light bulb, fuse or plug. Work that requires technical knowledge and experience, eg maintenance of, will require a qualified electrician.

Fixed installation, inspection and testing

To ensure the current and future safety of electrical equipment and systems, a regular regime of testing and inspection must be established. It is advisable to perform the inspection first, as obvious defects can be identified and rectified before testing commences.

For more information, see the Electrical Inspection and Testing topic.

Emergency procedures

Persons working on the electrical installation, or using portable electrical equipment, will report any defects noted immediately. The works manager will ensure that any defective equipment is withdrawn from use immediately the problem is discovered and is prevented from any possible inadvertent use until it has been repaired and tested.

The following incidents must be reported as a dangerous occurrence under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (SI 2013 No. 1471).

a) contact with an uninsulated overhead electric line in which the voltage exceeds 200V
b) close proximity with such an electric line and causes an electrical discharge.

Methods of Electrical Protection

Electrical insulation

Insulation is used as a physical non-conducting barrier to prevent contact with live electrical parts and persons or metalwork.

This is achieved by:

The higher the value of the insulation resistance provided, the greater the level of protection. The resistance of insulation is measured in Mega Ohms (MΩ).

Class I and II-type equipment

Earthed equipment (Class I) relies on the metallic (exposed conducting) parts of the equipment being effectively earthed. If the earth connection is lost, there is a risk of the exterior of the equipment becoming live and causing an electric shock for anyone touching it.

Double insulated equipment (Class II) includes double insulated equipment which is marked with a double-square symbol.

Such equipment is constructed with high-integrity insulation and does not have nor need an earth connection to maintain safety.

Typical examples of Class II equipment could be a plastic-bodied pistol drill, an inspection lamp or a computer monitor. As the equipment has no exposed conductive parts, it does not require an earth conductor, so it is supplied with a cable that has only two wires: live and neutral. Even though protection is afforded by double insulation, it is still advisable to give the added protection of fitting an RCD.

Equipment that does not bear the double-square symbol should be assumed to be Class I. Class I equipment is supplied with a cable that has three wires: live, neutral and earth.

Cable insulation

Insulation materials should suit the environment in which cables are to be used. Cable insulation must be afforded physical protection against accidental and normal wear and tear damage. Specialist materials will be needed in aggressive or hostile environments.

Cable insulation colours

Colour coding of cables is prescribed in BS 7671:2018, although some existing installations may have the colours of an older scheme. It is therefore vital that an electrical installation certificate describes the codes in use.

The following table shows the scheme in use since April 2004.

Single-phase wiringLive — brown (replaces red)Neutral — blue (replaces black)
Three-phase wiring (single core and multi-core cables)Live 1 — brown (replaces red)Live 2 — black (replaces yellow)Live 3 — grey (replaces blue)Neutral — blue (replaces black) The changed use of blue and black will need extra care if the new scheme is connected to the old scheme, as live and neutral may become mixed.

The colour for earth conductor insulation remains green and yellow striped.

Electrical segregation

Segregation providing a physical means (distance) to avoid contact with foreign bodies (including fingers) or the ingress of dust or moisture is achieved by:


Electricity will always take the path of least resistance. Therefore, the purpose of an earth protection is to provide a low resistance path to conduct a fault current to earth. In the event of a fault, a high current flows to earth with the deliberate intention of rapidly blowing a fuse, tripping a circuit breaker or operating an earth fault protection device to disconnect the electrical supply. The earthing connection should therefore be as low resistance as possible to ensure that an earth fault current does not allow a rise in potential (voltage).

Where metal enclosures are used for electrical equipment, they must always be earthed. The level of protection afforded by an enclosure is known as the Ingress Protection number (IP number) and is expressed as a code (eg IP54).

Bonding (or cross bonding) is an earth connection that links all metal equipment that could become live.

This is categorised as:

Bonding cables should have green and yellow insulation and the connections (bonding clamps) should be clearly marked (usually with an embossed aluminium tag) displaying the words:


The requirements of cable sizes and resistance values of earthing systems are set out in BS 7671:2018. These calculations are outside the scope of this topic and should be checked and measured by a competent electrical contractor.

Earth fault protection

RCDs are fitted to electrical circuits to detect current leaking to earth.

An RCD will protect against the effects of electric shock by sensing current flow and disconnecting the circuit before significant harm occurs. It is important to note that RCDs do not protect against overload or short-circuit faults.

RCDs should be regularly tested, with care taken to ensure that disconnecting the supply does not cause hazards due to the shutting down of safety critical devices, computers or lighting circuits. There is usually a small button on the RCD to operate the trip for test purposes.

Overload protection

Overload protection is an electrical or mechanical means to disconnect the electrical supply in the event of overload and short-circuit conditions. Its purpose is to protect the electrical system, cabling and equipment, rather than people.

In general terms, an overload device (eg a fuse or circuit breaker) will operate very rapidly when a large fault current is passed through it. However, it is a common misconception that overload protection always operates instantaneously.

Design specifications set out in British Standards permit and even specify that the device must carry loads well in excess of their rating for a time before the overload protection operates. This is to allow for sudden surges and to prevent fuses blowing under normal operating conditions.

Low voltage systems

To reduce the risk of shock when working with powered hand tools, it is common to reduce the working voltage levels by providing transformed extra-low voltage supplies or, whenever possible, by using battery-powered tools.

Electrical Hazards

Risks from electrical appliances and systems

There are around 1000 electrical accidents at work each year and some 25 to 30 people die of their injuries. Typical causes are:

Electrical shock

Electrical shock can result from direct or indirect contact with live electrical equipment, often from a faulty appliance.

Direct contact involves touching conductors that are meant to be electrically charged and indirect contact involves touching parts of the system or equipment (such as the casing) that has become electrically charged through a fault condition.

The effect of an electrical shock can range from mild muscle spasms through difficulty in breathing to coronary failure. It is dependent on the current flow and the time a person is exposed to that current. A person may also be thrown away from the circuit. This can result in a fall or the person being thrown into another hazard (eg moving machinery or vehicles).

Anyone suspected of suffering from an electric shock should be approached with extreme caution. If they are still in contact with the electrical source they should not be touched as the shock can pass from person to person. To remove them from the electricity, the source appliance should be unplugged or the power turned off at the fuse box. If this is not possible then the source appliance should be removed from the person by using a piece of insulating material, such as a length of wood.

After removing the person from the source of electricity, if they are unconscious an ambulance should be called immediately and first-aid delivered. If a person is not breathing then cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be started.

Even if the electric shock is minor and the person appears unhurt they should still be advised to see a doctor.

Electrical burns

Flesh can be burnt if contact is made with live electrical parts. This occurs from the flow of electricity through skin and tissue. Burns are due to the heating effect of the current flow and can occur at either the point of contact or the path out of the body. Electrical burns are frequently deep tissue burns as the body presents a resistance to the current, which causes heat to be generated. Physical burns can also occur from the heat generated from an electrical arc created by a fault condition.

Electrical arcs

Arcs occur when the electrical energy discharge literally “arcs” over, through an air gap or some other conductive medium (metal tools, condensation, ingress of moisture, debris, contamination through corrosion or reaction to elements in the environment). Arcs are a high-energy transfer (capable of allowing tens of thousands of amperes to flow instantaneously) that can melt or fuse metals.

An arc also produces ultraviolet (UV) light, which can damage eyesight.

The heat generated from an arc can cause physical burns, with the main risk from the spattering of molten metal resulting from the arc.

Electrical overload and short circuit

These conditions occur when excessive current, usually caused by a mechanical or electrical overload, is drawn through conductors, connections and motors. The heat created by an overload condition can lead to a breakdown of insulation materials and cause a short circuit either between supply lines or to earth and/or neutral. Overloads are also frequently the cause of fires.

Overloads typically occur from the effects of:

Electrical fires

Faulty electrical installations cause approximately 12,500 electrical fires and an average of 81 deaths per year. These fires are often due to a lack of testing and inspection and poor housekeeping, or both.

All electrical equipment (including cables) produces heat when using electrical energy. If a circuit is overloaded, the conductors get hotter and the temperature can rise to the point where the insulation starts to break down and cables eventually catch fire.

If materials are left or stored too close to electrical equipment, overheating can occur by restricting ventilation or by acting as a heat insulator. This allows temperatures to rise to abnormal levels.

Regular maintenance and inspection of electrical equipment is extremely important to ensure that the equipment is functioning properly and that all airways and ventilation grills are clear.

The most common causes of electrical fires are:

Electrical explosion

Electrical explosions are caused or initiated by electricity in areas that have flammable or explosive atmospheres. An explosion can occur when a spark from a switch, relay or motor ignites a flammable substance, such as fuel vapours or explosive dusts. There are specific requirements for safety in these conditions that are set out in the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR).

Earth faults

If the earth conductor is missing or badly connected, normally safe parts of equipment may become and remain live when another fault condition arises. This can lead to the risk of shock, fire, arc or explosion. Earthing systems therefore need periodic testing by a competent person.

Faults associated with earthing include:

Work Near Electricity

Work near or around electrical power supplies should only be conducted by suitably qualified and competent persons. If in doubt, advice can be obtained from electricity supply companies.

A high voltage cable does not have to be touched to get an electric shock and even low voltage cables can be dangerous.

Electrical danger signage

Signs warning of electrical danger should always be heeded. Yellow warning signs stating Danger of Death are often found on or around electrical distribution equipment such as substations, electricity poles and pylons.

Overhead power lines

Overhead Power Lines (OHPLs) pose a major risk of serious injury, as the supply voltages carried are considerably higher than industrial or domestic supplies. In addition, OHPLs are often not insulated and contact (or near contact) with them can be fatal.

If non-electrical work is to be carried out near OHPLs, it is advisable to contact the supply authority to request that they isolate the supply in the area.

HSE guidance should be followed: Avoiding Danger from Overhead Power Lines.

Underground cables

In an accident they are often not electrocuted but are usually severely burned on the front of their bodies and often blown backwards for several yards. The severity of these injuries can prove fatal.

Serious injuries are preventable if a safe system of work is followed. The HSE recommends that anyone conducting work that involves digging near to buildings should:

HSE guidance should be followed: HSG47 (Third edition) Avoiding Danger from Underground Services.

Finding Registered Electrical Contractors

Using an electrician registered with an approved certification scheme ensures that a client is getting work that meets the British Standard for electrical safety (BS 7671). It also ensures that the contractor has valid insurance policies in place, including Public Liability Insurance.

Both the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) and the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) have search facilities on their websites to find registered members. An additional joint ECA/NICEIC “one stop shop” search facility is available at www.electricalsafetyregister.com.

The ECA offers membership and certification to contractors and businesses across the electrotechnical and engineering services industry. Certification is generally through approved industry certification bodies or the ECA’s own Certification Scheme.

The NICEIC is a national accredited certification body. They offer registration for a wide range of recognised electrical schemes and provide learning and development courses throughout the UK.

Registered contractors should carry a scheme certification card. Search facilities on the ECA/NICEIC websites include certificate checks to ensure that contractors are who they claim to be.

For domestic work, the Registered Competent Person Electrical single mark and register applies in England and Wales.

All electrical enterprises that are listed on the register and permitted to display the mark are certified to undertake work on domestic electrical installations under the Government approved Competent Person Scheme. Electricians must meet strict qualification requirements and their work is regularly assessed by their electrical Competent Person Scheme Operator to ensure their ongoing competence. The scheme allows individuals and enterprises to self-certify that their work complies with the Building Regulations.

A search facility is available on the Registered Competent Person Electrical website. This allows people to enter their postcode and find a registered electrician nearby.

Managing Electrical Contractors

Contracts offered to electrical contractors for any design, construction, maintenance, inspection or testing work carried out on fixed electrical installations should specify the following details.

Registered electricians should provide a certificate to confirm that their work has been designed, inspected and tested in line with the BS 7671 electrical safety standard. If the work is notifiable they should also arrange a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate to confirm compliance with Building Regulations.

CQC Fundamental Standards Compliance

In England, adult social care providers must comply with the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 in order to maintain registration with the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The regulations include Fundamental Standards below which care must not fall.

With regard to electrical safety, Regulation 15: Premises and Equipment, includes a requirement for all premises to be safe, suitable and properly maintained.

Under the regulations, where premises are unsafe and put patients at risk of harm, or where harm has occurred, CQC can move directly to prosecution, without first serving a warning notice.

Guidance for Providers on Meeting the Regulations, describes how the regulations apply.

Prompts included in section 15(1)(d) of the guidance state that:

CQC key question test

Since October 2014, a five key-question test has been used during CQC inspections in England in order to determine published ratings for each provider.

Key question judgments are made with reference to guidance published by the CQC for its inspectors. Service providers should make sure that they access the latest copies to inform their policies and procedures.

From November 2017, the revised guidance in Key Lines of Enquiry, Prompts and Ratings Characteristics for Adult Social Care Services applies. This contains:

With reference to the electrical safety of premises and equipment, inspectors are prompted to ask a range of KLOE questions, including the following.

To answer these questions, inspectors are encouraged to ask patients and their relatives their views and experiences about the care they receive. They are also prompted to gather feedback from other sources and stakeholders.

In addition to the KLOE prompts, the CQC guidance describes what inspectors should look for in services with different ratings. For example, with reference to the electrical safety of the premises and equipment, in a service rated as “good” inspectors are encouraged to look for evidence that:

In a service rated as “outstanding” inspectors are prompted to look for evidence that:

Key Lines of Enquiry, Prompts and Ratings Characteristics for Adult Social Care Services replaces the guidance found in the appendices to {{org_field_name}} handbooks published by the CQC in 2015.


All Staff

It is important to stress to all employees that electricity can kill. Therefore, instruction and training must be given on electrical safe systems of work. In addition, many employees will require some level of training for working with electricity. This may be an instruction not to carry out certain work and, in other cases, that certain work can only be carried out by those with specific qualifications.

General risks and instructions on the use of electricity should be given at induction and/or general health and safety training sessions. Items that should be covered include:

Staff Authorised to Carry Out Minor Work on Electrical Equipment

Training sessions should be held for those carrying out work on equipment that does not need to be isolated. Such tasks will have been determined through the risk assessment procedure. Training should focus on:

Staff Authorised to Carry Out Electrical Activities


Electricians required to do any form of electrical work, including inspection, testing and certification of electrical installations should be suitably qualified and competent.

A range of different qualifications are available and these have gone through considerable changes over the years. Qualifications such as the City & Guilds 2382 provide a certificate in the requirements for electrical installations and this is required by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which produces the BS 7671 wiring regulations.

Staff to carry out work on high-risk activities

All such staff must be qualified and trained electrical technicians. City & Guilds qualifications will be necessary, with a particular emphasis that all qualifications are updated to include the latest edition of the IET Regulations (BS 7671).

List of Relevant Legislation

Further Information


HSE Publications

The following are available from the HSE website.

British Standards

The following are available from the BSI Shop.

IET Publications

The following are available from the Institution of Engineering and Technology website.

CQC Publications

The following are available from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website.

Other Publications


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