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Last updated: 07 April 2021
We use electricity everyday, often forgetting the dangers it carries. This guide will alert you to the precautions you should take to ensure your safety and peace of mind.
How can I identify electrical hazards?
Though electrical maintenance can sound daunting and best left to specialists, you can easily ensure your safety by committing to regular visual checks of your household. Look out for overloaded plug sockets, frayed wires, and damaged light fittings or sockets, as these may cause fire or electrocution.
Ensure that no cables are trip hazards or trailed under carpets or rugs, and switch off any appliances that are not in use. Check that nothing is stored on top of appliances such as microwaves, as this may prevent sufficient ventilation.
If you wish to be guided through a thorough risk-assessment of your home, consider downloading one of the smartphone apps that draw your attention to potential hazards in each room, providing instruction on how to speedily resolve non-technical issues. They will also prompt you to contact an electrician if needed.
How can I fix or prevent electrical hazards?
When buying extension leads and multi-sockets, do not be tempted by suspiciously cheap options, but instead always buy from a trustworthy retailer.
Ensure that you have RCD (residual current device) protection in your fuse box, which protects you from potentially fatal electric shocks by detecting electricity travelling in an unexpected path and cutting off the power. These are 97% reliable according to Electrical Safety First. To check if you have an RCD fitted, look for a device with a pushbutton marked ‘T’ or ‘Test’ in your consumer unit. You should test them regularly (tri-monthly) to confirm their reliability.
Please note that having an installed RCD should not lead you to be complacent. It is true that they highly minimise the risk of electrocution, but they cannot eliminate it - be sure to exercise as much caution around electricity as you would otherwise.
Make sure that all your sockets are fitted at least 30cm (horizontally) from water fixtures, such as sinks. In bathrooms, sockets are not allowed at all unless they are at least 3 metres away from the bath or shower
You should have a working smoke detector in case something were to go wrong, which you should check monthly by pressing the test button until the alarm goes off.
Make sure that you know how to take individual care of any electrical appliances. For example, fridges and freezers should be defrosted annually, and you should clean your oven and grill thoroughly to prevent the build up of fats, which can cause fires. If you are unsure of how to maintain any given appliance, seek instructions from the manufacturer.
Ensure that your fuse box and electricity meter are never surrounded by combustible materials.
You should never bring portable, plugged-in appliances such as a hairdryer, into a bathroom.
Always stay alert and never touch sockets or wires or use any appliance when your hands are wet - water and electricity are a high-risk combination, and can prove fatal.
How to stay safe while undertaking electrical DIY
Though you may feel pressure to at least attempt to fix any electrical issues yourself, you should always use a registered electrician for maintenance wherever possible. However, if you do undertake electrical DIY, here’s how you can stay safe.
Accidentally drilling into a cable will result in an electric shock, so it is crucial that you identify the location of cables within your walls. Buying a good cable detector is a reliable method of doing so.
Having an RCD installed in your fuse box is another essential, and consider using plug-in RCDs for insurance.
However, you should always shut off the power in your fuse box and use battery powered tools. Before getting started, carefully inspect your tools for damage and if they are faulty, replace them or get them repaired immediately before undertaking any DIY.
Always stay aware of the position of your power lead as you work to prevent yourself tripping or cutting through it.
Even if you believe you are qualified to try DIY, always seek professional advice if you are unsure of something. Electricity is too powerful for you to experiment or ‘trial-and-error’ your way through - it is never worth the risk. The best option is always to hire a professional electrician.
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Electrical safety for children - extra steps and precautions
If you have young children, you should be exceptionally alert. You should use safety caps on any electrical outlets when not in use to prevent an infant inserting their fingers into sockets, and never leave electrical appliances on the floor.
Of course, electrical devices are not the only appliances around your home that can pose a danger to you and your family. Gas appliances can also cause serious hazards such as gas leaks and fires if they're not maintained properly. For more information, head over to our gas safety