Health and Safety

by Pete Fisher


The risk of electrocution and electric shock are the main hazards associated with electricity. This risk is controlled by protection against direct contact through the provision of proper insulation, and the avoidance of indirect contact by good standards of earthing or double insulation.

Other important strategies for protecting people against electric shock include the use of correctly-rated fuses, circuit breakers, reduced voltage and the implementation of safe systems of work. Access to electrical risers and switch panels must be restricted to authorised persons only. The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require employers to maintain systems to, so far as is reasonably practicable, prevent danger.

Working with electrical equipment

All users of electrical equipment, whether fixed or portable, should be instructed to check periodically for signs of damage to the equipment, including the connecting lead and plug (look out for staining from overheating) and whether the cable sheath is correctly gripped at both ends. These checks should only be undertaken where the leads are easily accessible; in other words, office staff should not be encouraged to crawl under desks!

Portable electrical equipment is generally equipment which has a cable and plug and which can be easily moved around the workplace.

If the check reveals signs of damage, no electrical repairs, however minor, must ever be attempted by any employee. If an item of electrical equipment is damaged or faulty, it should be isolated from the supply, provided it is safe to do so, and a competent, registered electrical contractor engaged to undertake repairs.

Testing of portable electrical equipment

Under existing legislation, all portable electrical equipment must undergo regular testing by a suitably trained person and then labelled with the date of testing and when it is next due. Items of electrical equipment that rarely move out of an office environment do not generally require testing as frequently as items that are used away from the office or in inclement conditions. Equipment should not be used if the test is out of date.

This test is commonly known as a ‘PAT test’ and the following chart from the Health and Safety Executive, INDG236, gives the recommended intervals in line with current best practice. The risk assessment associated with the use of the equipment should identify the frequency of testing subject to the proposed use of the item.

Work on electrical systems

Electrical systems are used throughout buildings to conduct power to individual equipment as well as to provide signalling or controls to and from items of plant or equipment, or for security purposes. The voltages will range between High Voltage (>1,000 Volts) to extra low voltage (1 Volt) and the loading may range from 1 Watt to many kilowatts.

Work on or with any electrical system is also covered by the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and will normally be part of a project or maintenance activity.

Only competent and trained personnel, conversant with the risks involved and with the authority to stop work where necessary, should work on electrical systems.


All live working is subject to a permit to work