All electrical work could hurt someone. The biggest dangers are shock, arc flashes and arc blasts, which can reach a temperature of 19,000°C – hotter than the surface of the sun.
Over the past four years more than 2000 people have received electric shocks in NSW workplaces. Six were permanently disabled and five died.
Almost any job around energised equipment could end in tragedy. Protect your workers, don’t take short cuts and never assume an electrical system is safe.
This video outlines some simple steps to keep your workers safe.
There are specific laws about working safely with electricity. Here we summarise those laws and give you some practical tips.
Assess the risks
You must manage the risks associated with any electrical work, electrical equipment or electrical installation.
Firstly, talk with your workers about any potential electrical hazards in your workplace.
Disconnect unsafe electrical equipment
Disconnect any electrical equipment that is unsafe. If you find damaged equipment, fix it or get rid of it.
Regularly inspect and test electrical equipment
Get a ‘competent person’ to inspect and test your electrical equipment regularly if:
- your power tools use a socket for electricity
- you use tools in conditions where they are exposed to moisture, heat, vibration, damage, chemicals or dust.
The competent person must have the knowledge and skill, acquired through training, qualification or experience, to carry out the task. They must also have the proper testing equipment.
Once tested, keep a record of, or tag the equipment with, information including:
- the name of the tester
- the date of testing
- the date of the next testing
- the outcome of the testing.
Only use electrical equipment that has been tested and tagged.
For more information about inspections, testing and tagging, see AS/NZS 3760: 2013 In service safety inspection and testing of electrical equipment.
De-energise equipment before working on it
Most of the time, no-one is allowed to work on energised equipment. Before touching it, test every circuit and every conductor – and never assume equipment is de-energised.
Make sure a competent person tests the electrical equipment to find out whether it is energised before you carry out any work.
Working live is prohibited
Work Health and Safety Regulations in NSW prohibit work on energised (live) electrical equipment unless:
- it is necessary in the interests of health and safety that the electrical work is carried out while the equipment is energised (for example, it may be necessary for life-saving equipment to remain energised and operating while electrical work is carried out on the equipment)
- it is necessary that the electrical equipment to be worked on is energised in order for the work to be carried out properly
- it is necessary for the purposes of testing to ensure the equipment is de-energised
- there is no reasonable alternative means of carrying out the work.
You must also ensure that:
- no-one can accidentally touch any part that is live and exposed
- all work is carried out by a competent person with the proper tools, testing equipment and personal protective equipment
- all work is carried out in accordance with a safe work method statement that has been prepared for the job
- a competent observer is present, if needed – eg an observer is not required for testing, or if a risk assessment suggests no serious risks.
Don’t allow access to areas where energised equipment is being worked on.
Keep a record of any testing you do on your energised electrical equipment. Also keep records of your safe work method statements (until the work is finished) and risk assessments (for at least 28 days after the work is completed). Should there be an electrical shock or a serious injury, keep records for at least two years.
This video provides advice to emergency personnel in the event of an electrical incident.
You need to use residual current devices (RCDs), or safety switches, if your electrical equipment is likely to be moved frequently or damaged due to heat, cold or other factors, or if it forms part of other equipment, like an amusement ride. These devices are designed to immediately switch off electricity supply when a leak is detected. Test your devices regularly.
Keep away from powerlines
Don’t work too close to overhead or underground powerlines. If that’s not practical, do a risk assessment and follow the advice of the electricity supply authority.
Electrical work on construction sites
If you’re doing electrical work on a construction site, you must comply with AS/NZS 3012: 2010 Electrical installation – construction and demolition sites.
For the specific laws about the risks of electrical work, see clauses 144 – 166 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.
Electrical risks must also be managed in accordance with clauses 32 – 38 of the regulation, which are applicable to all risks to health and safety.
There are also general work health and safety laws that will apply to you in any situation, including when working with electricity.
For information about risk management, specific electrical hazards, working de-energised, working near energised electrical parts, tools and equipment, and high-voltage electrical work, see the code of practice for managing electrical risks in the workplace.