Businesses operating under the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) have additional obligations in regards to electrical safety.

Each state and territory also has separate laws that deal specifically with electricity regulation, including:

  • a system for licensing electrical workers and contractors; and
  • a platform to provide consumer protection against electrical work that has not been adequately conducted or completed.

All businesses use electrical equipment and hence there are common risks of electrical hazards.

Electrical equipment may be an integral part of the business, e.g. in a factory, or it may be limited to operating systems within an office, e.g. computers, photocopiers, heating and cooling.

Common risks and causes of injury from electricity include:

  • electric shock;
  • arcing, explosion or fire, causing burns;
  • toxic gases released by burning electrical equipment; and
  • fire resulting from an electrical fault.

To manage the risks of electrical hazards in your workplace, you must implement an electrical safety policy, use residual current devices, check that your electrical plant is safe, and that your electrical installations are safe. Also, ensure that you supply your workers with appropriate personal protective equipment and that your workers conduct their work safely, especially when working near overhead power lines and when digging near electricity cables.

It is a good business sense for employers, particularly those of larger companies, to develop an electrical safety policy that outlines the appropriate standards and practices for electrical safety within the business, and the associated responsibilities.

Make sure your electrical safety policy is available to workers as a demonstration of your business’s commitment to ensuring a safe working environment.

Residual current devices (RCDs)

An RCD (also called a safety switch) is a device for monitoring the flow of electricity through a circuit. It automatically shuts off an electricity supply when a leaking current from faulty switches, wiring or appliances is detected.

RCDs are designed to prevent serious injury or death by disconnecting the supply of electricity before it reaches a magnitude likely to cause physical harm. As such, they are an important hazard control measure for electrical equipment.

Only licensed electricians can install RCDs, which must also be regularly tested. This can usually be done by pressing the ‘test’ button. But a qualified electrician should always check complex systems.

It’s important to note that if a safety switch operates (trips) then you should check the electrical equipment for obvious faults. If the problem reoccurs, get help from a qualified electrician.

Safety standards for all devices

The electrical plant you use in your workplace, such as any machinery, equipment, appliance or tool that consumes or generates electricity, e.g. computers, vacuum cleaners, soldering irons and welding machines, must be safe to use.

Always remember that when commissioning or purchasing plant for your business, in order to limit the risk of bringing unsafe plant into the workplace, check that the electrical plant has been manufactured and tested according to the relevant Australian Standard approval and test specification, and that the plant will be suitable for the purpose and working environment where it is intended to be used.

Check the degree of protection the plant provides against electric shock and whether further modification might be required, e.g. all live parts must be adequately enclosed; and that the plant or equipment has clearly marked switches that cut power or isolate the machine.

It is also essential that you keep records of the electrical equipment at your workplace. Record-keeping includes documenting the history of tests on the electrical equipment, for instance, attaching a ‘tag’ to each item indicating the date, item, person performing the test and the status of the test, i.e. whether it passed or failed, along with a new date for retesting.

You should maintain a register of all electrical equipment and historical records for all the test items and test results, including faulty items and any repairs (and by whom).

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