This toolkit provides guidance for all organisations on electrical safety when using, maintaining or installing electrical appliances.

What are the risks from electricity?

Electricity can kill or severely injure people. Any voltage above 55V AC is potentially fatal.

The main hazards of working with electricity are:

  • electric shock and deep tissue burns from contact with live parts

  • injury from exposure to arcing

  • fire from faulty electrical equipment or installations

  • explosion caused by unsuitable electrical apparatus or static electricity igniting flammable vapours or dusts.

Electrical fires and explosions may also damage property/assets and can be caused as a result of:

  • leakage of current due to poor insulation

  • faulty or poorly maintained protective devices

  • overloads of electrical circuits causing overheating

  • ignition of flammable substances in the working environment.

What do you need to do as an employer?

General legislative requirements

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require employers to assess the work activities that use electricity, or may be affected by it, and to put in place safe systems of work.

There are also requirements in relation to the safe maintenance of electrical equipment and installations.

Under the regulations, employers should ensure the following in relation to electrical equipment.

  1. No electrical equipment is used in a manner that will exceed its strength and capability.

  2. Where electrical equipment is likely to be used in hazardous or adverse conditions, it is constructed or protected to prevent danger in such conditions.

  3. There is a means of protecting systems from excess current.

  4. There is a means of cutting off the supply and isolating the current.

  5. Suitable precautions are taken to work on live systems.

  6. Anyone carrying out a work activity involving or near to electrical systems must be competent so as to prevent danger.

Use of electrical equipment in potentially explosive atmospheres

Safety requirements are detailed in the Equipment and Protective Systems Intended for Use in Potentially Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2016 (and the Northern Ireland equivalent).

Electrical equipment safe to use in potentially explosive atmospheres must meet EU conformity criteria and be CE marked accordingly.

Portable electrical equipment

Portable electrical equipment can be described as equipment that is not part of a fixed installation but is intended to be connected to a fixed installation, or a generator, by means of a flexible cable and either a plug and socket, or a spur box, or similar means.

This includes equipment that is either hand-held or hand-operated while connected to the supply, intended or likely to be moved while connected to the supply.

To promote the safety of portable electronic equipment:

  • select the most appropriate equipment for the work activities in question and environment that the equipment is to be used in, as identified through the risk assessment process

  • ensure electrical equipment is quality marked and comes with user instructions.

Second-hand and hired electrical equipment should go through the same process.

When using portable electrical equipment, employers should ensure the following.

  • Employees are trained in how to use the electrical equipment safely.

  • Employees are capable of checking for signs of hazards and danger and can stop work if necessary.

  • Enough sockets are available and are not overloaded.

  • The use of extension leads is reduced to the minimum.

  • There are no trailing cables that can cause people to trip or fall.

  • Appliances are switched off and unplugged before cleaning or adjustment.

  • Any electrical equipment brought to work by employees, or hired or borrowed, is suitable for use and remains suitable by being maintained as necessary. See the Portable Electrical Equipment — Test and Repair History Form.

  • A residual current device (RCD) has been considered for use between the supply and the equipment, particularly when working outdoors, or in wet or confined conditions.

Employees using the equipment (including extension leads) should be encouraged to look at it critically and check for signs that it may not be in sound condition.

Fixed electrical installations

Fixed electrical systems in new buildings have to comply with relevant building standards and controls and many now have integral safety features, such as residual circuit breakers. BS 7671 (IET Wiring Regulations, 18th Edition) sets the standards for electrical installation in the UK.

It is a legal requirement that all electrical work should be carried out by competent persons. A successfully completed electrical apprenticeship, with some post-apprenticeship experience, is one way of demonstrating technical competence for general electrical work.

More specialised work, such as maintenance of high-voltage switchgear or control system modification, is almost certainly likely to require additional training and experience.

Where contract electricians are to be used to undertake work, competency should be verified. A number of trade associations have approved lists for competent electricians including:

  • Electrical Contractors Association

  • National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers

  • National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting.

Live work on the electrical fixed installation should be avoided. Unavoidable live working should only be undertaken using a Permit-to-Work procedure.

Inspection and Testing

Fixed installations and portable electrical equipment should be subject to a maintenance regime.

For fixed installations, IET Guidance Note 3 Inspection & Testing recommends procedures for periodic inspection and testing of fixed installations by a competent person. The frequency of inspections will depend upon the type of building, its use and condition. See Fixed Electrical Installations Inspection Form.

For portable electrical equipment, frequency of inspection and testing will need to be determined by the risk assessment and by referring to guidance produced by the Health and Safety Executive in the form of HSG107 Maintaining Portable Electrical Equipment. This details user checks, formal visual inspection and combined inspection and test frequency.

Formal visual inspections should be undertaken by a suitably trained person. Periodic combined inspection and testing is the only reliable way of detecting certain faults, and should be carried out to back up the checks and inspection regime. This is often called “portable appliance testing”.

Useful Q&As

Last reviewed 8 July 2021