Electricity at Work – Health and Safety

Electricity is a major hazard as it can cause direct injury through shocks but also can be the cause of indirect injury through causing explosions etc.  Consequently it poses a major health and safety risk for anyone involved with electricity during the course of their employment.

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

The Electricity at Work Regulations were enacted to impose duties to limit the risks involved with using electricity at work.

Who has Responsibilities under the Regulations?

The following people are subject to the Regulations:

  • Employers and the Self employed
  • Employees

Employers and the Self Employed

Every employer and self-employed person must comply with the provisions of these Regulations in so far as they relate to matters which are within his control.

The manager of a mine or quarry to ensure that all requirements or prohibitions imposed by or under these Regulations are complied with in so far as they relate to the mine or quarry or part of a quarry of which he is the manager and to matters which are within his control.

Part III of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 impose specific duties in relation to mines but this will not be dealt with in this summary.

Employees

The duties under the Regulations are not just in relation to employers but also place a duty on employees in the following circumstances:

  • To co-operate with his employer so far as is necessary to enable any duty placed on that employer by the provisions of these Regulations to be complied with.

  • To comply with the provisions of these Regulations in so far as they relate to matters which are within his control.

Many employees in the electrical trades and professions for example have responsibilities which are part of the duties of their employment of safety in relation to the installation of electrical equipment and systems.

Electrical Equipment

What is meant by Electrical Equipment?

The definition of electrical equipment provided by the regulations includes anything used, intended to be used or installed for use, to generate, provide, transmit, transform, rectify, convert, conduct, distribute, control, store, measure or use electrical energy.

Part II Electricity at Work Regulations

General Duties

Part II Of the Electricity at Work Regulations (Regulations 4 – 16) places general duties on those individuals who the regulations apply to in relation to the following matters:

  • General Safety of Electrical Systems

  • Strength and Capability of Electrical Equipment

  • Adverse or hazardous environments

  • Insulation, protection and placing of conductors

  • Earthing or suitable precautions

  • Integrity of referenced conductors

  • Connections

  • Means for protecting from excess current

  • Means for cutting off the supply and for isolation

  • Precautions for work on equipment made dead

  • Work on or near live conductors

  • Working space access and lighting

  • Competent people

General Safety of Electrical Systems

Regulation 4 requires that all electrical systems, so far as is reasonably practicable, be of safe construction and maintained in that state.

Work carried out on or near a system including both the operation of the system and the maintenance of the system shall be carried out in such a manner as not to give rise, so far is reasonably practicable to danger.

Any equipment which is provided for the purpose of protecting those at work on or near electrical equipment shall be suitable for this purpose and maintained in a condition to ensure that it is properly used.

Adverse or Hazardous Environments

Regulation 6 states that electrical equipment that may reasonably be foreseeable to be exposed to the following dangers must be constructed in such a way to protect or prevent so far as is reasonably practicable danger arising from such exposure:

  • Mechanical danger

  • The effects of weather, natural hazards, temperatures or pressure

  • The effects or wet, dirty, dusty or corrosive conditions

  • Any flammable or explosive substance including dusts, vapours or gases

Insulation, protection and placing of conductors

Regulation 7 requires all conductors in a system that may give rise to danger shall either:

  • Be suitably covered with insulating material

  • Have such precautions taken in respect of them as will prevent danger so far is reasonably practicable

Earthing, Integrity and Connections

  • Regulation 8 specifies a requirement for suitable methods of earthing.

  • Regulation 9 specifies a requirement that earthing conductors must not have their electrical continuity broken by anything that could give rise to danger

  • Regulation 10 specifies a requirement that all joints and connections must be suitable for safe use.

Isolation and cutting of supply

Regulation 12 states that where necessary the supply must be cut off or isolated. Isolation means the disconnection and separation of electrical equipment from every source of electrical energy in such a way that disconnection and separation is secure.

Precautions for work on equipment made dead

Regulation 13 requires suitable precautions to be taken to ensure that once equipment is isolated so that work can be carried out on it, it cannot become electrically charged again while the work is being carried out on it.

Probably the best example of this is disconnecting a fuse box to enable work to be done on the electrical cabling. In this circumstance adequate precautions will not be taken if the fuse is simply disconnected and left hanging next to the box. In this case someone could easily re-insert the fuse not knowing the reason for the disconnection thus making the system live again.

Work on or near live conductors

Regulation 14 states that work shall only be carried out in relation to live conductors in the following circumstances:

  • It is unreasonable in the circumstances to be dead

  • It is reasonable in the circumstances for work to be done on it or near it when it was live

  • Suitable precautions are taken to prevent injury

Access, Space and Light

Regulation 15 specifies the requirement for adequate working space, safe access and adequate lighting to enable work on electrical equipment to be carried out safely.

Competent Persons

Regulation 16 specifies the requirement that anyone working on electrical systems where technical knowledge or experience is necessary must have the required knowledge and/or experience or be under suitable supervision.

Defence

In any proceedings brought for a violation of regulations 4-16 it is a defence to prove that all reasonable steps are taken and that all due diligence was exercised to avoid the offence.

Exemption Certificates

The Health and Safety Executive may be a certificate in writing exempt any person, premises, electrical equipment, system, process or any activity from any requirement or prohibition stated in the Electricity at Work Regulations.