Electrical hazards when working in ceiling spaces

Safety Alert | 11/12/2017

Electrical hazard signThis alert reminds both electrical and non-electrical workers of the risks of electric shock when entering ceiling spaces of properties. Electric shock arising from contact with damaged or exposed energised (live) wiring or equipment could lead to serious injury or death.

Background

Recently, a licenced electrician died when undertaking electrical wiring work in the ceiling space of a residential duplex. The incident occurred as a result of making contact with live electrical wiring. In a separate incident a carpenter received a fatal electric shock when carrying out roof repairs on a residential property after coming in contact with damaged wiring that formed part of the electricity supply wiring to the meter box.

Electrical sources in ceiling spaces

Sources of electricity that may be present within a ceiling space include:

  • Electrical wiring powering various circuits within the property itself such as lighting, power points, hot water systems, ovens and air conditioners etc.
  • Electrical wiring that may be installed within the ceiling space but powering another part of property such as an extension, garage, granny flat or duplex attached to the same property.
  • Electrical wiring from solar/battery storage systems
  • Electrical  wiring (consumer mains) that connect  overhead service lines (street supply) to the electricity meter box

Action required

Prior to entering any ceiling space:

  1. Identify and confirm all sources of electricity to the property. There may be more than one source or multiple properties powered from the same meter box.
  2. Identify any hazards that may be introduced as a result of isolating the power to the affected property.
  3. Switch OFF all power at the electricity meter box and place a lock on the MAIN SWITCH or on the meter box itself. This will prevent inadvertent re-energisation. If it is not reasonably practicable to use a lock, use a recognisable lock-out tag.
  4. For non-electrical workers, before entering the ceiling space confirm the power is isolated by turning on lights or appliances within the property. A non-contact proximity voltage tester commonly known as a volt stick can be used as an additional check on wiring and any exposed metallic material. If you are not sure power has been isolated, contact a licensed electrician to confirm power has been disconnected.
  5. For electrical workers entering the ceiling space, always Test Before You Touch prior to undertaking any electrical work.
  6. Check if the property has a solar/battery storage system. If so, consult with the system owner regarding the proper isolation procedure and follow that procedure.

Important notes

  • Switching OFF power at the meter box does not turn off electricity supply from the street to the meter box. This means the incoming overhead service lines and the consumer mains will still be live. If you find any damaged wiring or appliances within the ceiling space, exit safely and report it to the owner or person in control of the property in order for proper repairs to be organised.
  • Isolating the solar power system at the inverter does not isolate all power. Power will continue to be generated by the panels and supplied to the inverter. This means the electrical wiring that connects the solar panels to the inverter will still be live.
  • Electrical work must only be carried out by a licensed electrician who has the necessary training and experience to undertake the task.

More information

SafeWork NSW Code of Practice: Managing Electrical Risks in the Workplace

Queensland Electrical Safety Office: Stay Safer Up There, Switch Off Down Here

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