In 2015/16, Electrical Safety First noted that across England and Wales, there were 1,665 fatalities and casualties caused by electrical fires. In addition to this, there were 598 casualties and nine fatalities in Scotland caused by the same hazard in 2016 alone. Clearly, the maintenance and regular checking of electrical equipment is vital — read on to ensure you are up to date on the laws and regulations surrounding electrical equipment safety.
Laws to be aware of
There are several laws surrounding the maintenance of electrical equipment. As a requirement found within the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, all electrical equipment should be maintained (so far as reasonably practicable) to prevent danger. Both portable equipment and installations are covered here, while the phrase ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ means that you are not required to remove every risk, but do everything expected to protect people from harm.
There are no laws requiring which process you use to do this, nor the frequency in which it must be carried out. However, you can determine the level of maintenance which is needed by considering the risk which will be attached to the gadget becoming faulty. For instance, will the level of risk increase if an item that becomes faulty, meaning that it’s no longer suitable for the job? Or, is it being operated in a harsh environment?
Different equipment will require different check frequencies. For example, according to leading stairlift manufacturers, stairlift servicing should be performed at least once a year, whether it is a stairlift for curved stairs or straight stairs. This will help to prevent any serious problems from developing and also prolong the life of the equipment. In general though, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states: “Electrical installations should be tested often enough that there is little chance of deterioration leading to danger. Any part of an installation that has become obviously defective between tests should be de-energised until the fault can be fixed.”
Ways to check equipment
You’ll gain the most peace of mind by having a registered electrician carry out checks on your electrical equipment. Electrical Safety First has a great resource for finding a registered electrician in your area who is part of a government-approved scheme.
You can, of course, conduct a few checks of your own. Here’s how to go about undertaking this particular check:
- Ensure the electrical equipment has been switched off and unplugged before carrying out any checks.
- Begin the checks by looking to see if the plug is correctly wired. The HSE has a handy visual of a correctly wired plug in its guide to maintaining portable electrical equipment in low-risk environments, though seek out assistance if you don’t feel competent doing this check.
- Consult either the equipment rating plate or the device’s instruction book to make sure that the fuse is correctly rated.
- Look to see if the plug is damaged in any way, as well as if the cable is not properly secured. No internal wires should be visible either.
- Ensure the electrical cable isn’t damaged. Take note that cables should not have been repaired using an unsuitable connector or insulating tape, while any damaged cable needs to be replaced with a new cable — the work of which must be performed by a competent person.
- Determine if the outer cover of the electrical equipment has been damaged in a manner that gives rise to either electrical or mechanical hazards.
- See if there are any burn marks or staining on the device. If so, these could indicate that the gadget is prone to overheating.
- As well as analysing the actual equipment as part of the visual inspection, also check that any trailing wires from the device aren’t causing a trip hazard. By eliminating this hazard, you’ll reduce the risk of the gadget becoming damaged.
Regarding this, the HSE notes: “Checks should be carried out often enough to ensure there is little chance the equipment will become unsafe between checks.
“It is good practice to make a decision on how often each piece of equipment should be checked, write this down, make sure checks are carried out accordingly and write down the results. You should change how often you carry out checks, according to the number and severity of faults found.”
Discovering unsafe electrical equipment
If your checks uncover any unsafe electrical equipment, act swiftly in order to prevent anyone using the equipment any further. Aim to switch off the gadget as well, but only if it’s safe to do so. From there, seek out help from a competent person so that they can carry out a more thorough check. Approved contractors are available from each of the following organisations:
- The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC)
- The Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA)
- The National Association for Professional Inspectors and Testers (NAPIT)
- The Electrical Contractors’ Association of Scotland (SELECT)
It is important that, if you’re not the equipment’s owner, to get in touch with the person who does own it in order to resolve the matter. A contact telephone number is often attached to electrical distribution poles, pylons and equipment, for instance, though you can also get in touch with the HSE or a local authority for assistance.