Ensuring electrical safety at work


It is true to say that the electricity supply to your premises is something that your business activity relies on hugely, but is taken for granted. From a electrical safety perspective and to ensure your fixed electrical installation is safe for continued use, it will require testing and inspection. The incoming supply cables, switchgear, distribution boards, fixed cabling of the installation and the socket outlets, fused connection units, lighting connections etc. comprise the fixed installation.

Portable electrical equipment is a separate issue. It should be ensured that fixed electrical equipment receives relevant tests and inspections either as part of planned maintenance and inspections or at the same time as the fixed electrical inspection.

An inspection and maintenance programme for production or workshop machinery and heavier plant for example, should include electrical inspection. Usually this would be carried out separately to the fixed electrical installation inspection.

An Electrical Installation Certificate giving details of initial electrical test results should be provided for new installations or changes to an existing installation.

BS 7671: 2008 – Requirements for Electrical Installations the IET Wiring Regulations Seventeenth Edition, and the IET Guidance Note 3: Inspection and Testing, set out electrical testing criteria and procedures. These tests should be performed and certified by an accredited person or inspection body. Typically members of the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC), or the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) perform these tests.

IET Guidance Note 3 details the maximum recommended time period between initial inspection and testing of fixed electrical installations. An alternative approach of a continuous system of maintenance and inspection with full records being kept is also provided in the guidance. The frequencies of inspection listed are not specific legal requirements, but for certain premises as a condition of a licence, e.g. caravan sites, petrol stations, cinemas and theatres, this may be imposed.

A routine check by a person who can recognise defects and safely use the installation, in addition to the detailed testing and inspection frequencies, is recommended. IEE Guidance Note 3 also lists the recommended period between such routine checks, typically being one year for most installations and as frequently as every four months for swimming pools and six months for educational establishments.

These frequencies are a recognised and accepted standard, though not a legal requirement and if they are not followed or there is not an alternative recorded system of ongoing maintenance and inspection, there would be difficulty in demonstrating all reasonably practicable steps were being taken in ensuring the safety of the installation.
If it can be shown that these recommended standards are not being met, enforcement authorities could take enforcement action, especially following an incident.

Action Plan

  • Electrical installation to be correctly inspected and tested by competent electricians or electrical contractors to the frequency specified in IET Guidance Note 3 as a minimum
  • Correct and followed up faults identified
  • In accordance with the frequencies specified in IET Guidance Note 3, between electrical inspection and tests, ensure that there is a routine system of checks of the installation that are planned and documented
  • An Electrical Installation Certificate with initial electrical test results for new installations, or changes to existing installations are to be provided and available for scrutiny
  • Fixed electrical equipment should have inspection programmes in place
  • Electrical installations are to be suitable for the conditions in which they are used and where there is a potentially flammable atmosphere, only certified equipment suitable for the location and flammable material is used
  • To facilitate the isolation of electrical equipment on which work is being undertaken, make sure that there are effective permit to work systems in place that are observed and supervised
  • Only undertake live work in accordance with stringent controls and have effective measures for avoiding this if possible
  • For the tasks involving electrical equipment or electrical maintenance ensure that employee information instruction and training is appropriate
  • Evaluate lightning risks and provide a lightning protection system

All of this will ensure business continuity and protect against the impacts on your organisation from such circumstances as electrical faults, the loss of electrically powered equipment as a consequence or potentially more serious incidents such as fires and electricity related injuries.

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