Electricity and electrical equipment

Electricity kills and injures people. In the UK, around 1,000 electrical accidents at work are reported to the HSE each year and about 25 people die of their injuries. A few milliamps (one-thousandth of one amp) is sufficient to cause serious injury or death, and the energy in a 60W lightbulb is sufficient to electrocute four people simultaneously.

The UK’s Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 emphasise the responsibilities of the ‘duty-holder’ to ensure that all electrical installations and equipment are selected, installed and maintained at all times in a safe condition to prevent danger. The duty-holder is anyone who looks after a premises, including an MD, director or manager, or carries out any electrical work.

Only competent persons, who have the technical and practical knowledge of the electrical equipment, and have had sufficient training, should work on such equipment and installations. The Regulations state that ‘work on or near to an electrical system shall be carried out in such a manner as not to give risk, so far as is reasonably practicable, to danger’. In addition, they require that ‘no person shall be engaged in any work activity on or so near any live conductor that danger may arise unless:

• it is unreasonable in all the circumstances for it to be dead; and
• it is reasonable in all the circumstances for him to be at work on or near it while it is live; and
• suitable precautions (including, where necessary, the provision of suitable protective equipment) are taken to prevent injury.’

This latter requirement makes it clear that working on live equipment is not something that is OK to do just because you are an electrician. It prohibits work on live equipment other than in exceptional circumstances, e.g. where other risks to life might exist if the supply were isolated.