Gary Parker, Senior Technical Manager at the Electrical Contractors’ Association, discusses a new electrical installer safety campaign – “Don’t cut corners! Plan, test, isolate”.
You wouldn’t drink and drive… so why would you work on a circuit without isolating it?
Every year, people working on electrical installations suffer avoidable electric shock and burn injuries. Some of these are, tragically, fatal. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), between 2015 and 2020, 21 fatalities were reported under RIDDOR which were caused by contact with electricity. It is vital that ECA members and the wider electrical contracting industry know that many of these accidents are a direct consequence of installers neglecting proper isolation procedures on low voltage installations (operating at up to 1,000V AC or 1,500V DC).
ECA’s new electrical installer safety campaign – “Don’t cut corners! Plan, test, isolate”– aims to raise awareness of this issue, promote safe isolation procedures, and ultimately reduce the number of injuries caused by incorrect isolation of low-voltage circuits.
What is isolation?
Isolation means safely establishing a break in the electricity supply to an installation. This also means making sure any inadvertent reconnection is not possible. One of the key principles of safe isolation is that the person carrying out the work should have full control of the point of isolation – if you are working on an installation, you should know exactly what has been done to isolate it, along with the risks that may be involved, as well as what to do in an emergency.
Securing the point of isolation should be by a combination of the following methods:
- A padlock, with a unique key or combination (note that any padlock keys or combinations and removed fuses should be retained by the person carrying out the work)
- A locked switch-room door, or locked distribution box
- Circuit breakers should be locked off using an appropriate locking-off clip, with a padlock
- Removal of the relevant circuit fuse (may be used with a lockable fuse insert and padlock)
Where more than one person is working on an installation, a multi-lock hasp can be used to prevent access to a main isolator until everyone has completed their work and removed their padlocks from the hasp. In all instances where there is any risk that an electrical supply could be inadvertently switched back on, a clear and visible warning notice should be placed at the point of isolation reading something along the lines of, “Caution Do Not Switch On, System Undergoing Maintenance” or the like.
Employers: what are your obligations?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the general health and safety duties of employers, employees and the self-employed. A lot of the responsibility for safe isolation lies with employers. The onus is on them to make sure proper safety procedures are in place on all work. They are responsible for ensuring that employees who work with electrical systems have the right technical knowledge, training and experience to carry out their work safely and competently, and are provided with suitable tools, test equipment and PPE.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 are also key. They require precautions to be taken against the risk of death or personal injury from electricity during work activities. To comply with these Regulations, work on electrical equipment or circuits should always be done with the system powered down and isolated (known as dead working).
‘Live’ working should only be carried out in very special circumstances where it is unreasonable to work dead, such as fault finding and testing, where the risks are acceptable, and where suitable precautions can be taken against injury.
The Provision of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) also say that “every employer shall take appropriate measures to ensure that re-connection of any energy source to work equipment does not expose any person using the work equipment to any risk to his health or safety.”
Don’t cut corners!
In the coming weeks, ECA will share a range of guidance and materials, including a step-by-step video, to help you, your colleagues and your employees to ensure safe isolation procedures are followed and the risk of electric shock are kept to an absolute minimum.
The electrical sector is one of the most dangerous to work in. HSE’s Health & Safety training brochure says that, in Great Britain, “roughly 2 in every 50 electrical accidents at work result in a fatality, compared with 1 in 500 from other causes. As well as electric shock, other electrically-related injuries arise from burns, arcing and fires. Many of the injuries can take a long while to heal and often result in lifechanging conditions.”
At the end of the day, safe isolation could save your life. Don’t cut corners, and don’t leave your, or your employees’, safety to chance.
Keep an eye on ECA’s social media channels and ECAtoday.co.uk for more information and resources. We will also soon be launching an animation video outlining 10 key steps to safe isolation… so watch this space!
To find out more about Safe Isolation from the ECA’s Partner, Electrical Safety First, click here