Eliminating electrical accidents

Every year in NSW people lose their lives from electrical accidents. NSW Fair Trading is trying to prevent electrical accidents among electrical workers and the general public in NSW.

Most accidents can be avoided if you:

  • use care and common sense
  • don’t do it yourself – get a professional to do the job
  • don’t mix water and electricity
  • use a safety switch.

By law you must report any electrical accident where medical treatment is required, either by calling your electricity provider or Fair Trading on 13 32 20. Employers must also report accidents to SafeWork NSW.

Common electrical hazards

  • Switch off all heating appliances if the power fails. Fires have been caused when power returns unexpectedly.
  • Switch off before pulling out a plug. Grasp the plug – not the cord.
  • Don’t spray household cleaners and insecticides on power points or switches. They may cause cracking and an electrical hazard.
  • Combustible material must be kept clear of all heating appliances, such as bedding, clothes, curtains, furniture, newspapers, etc.
  • Wear dry leather gloves when welding. Touching the electrode can be dangerous because of the voltage present.
  • Tie the tapes of the electric blanket to prevent creasing.
  • Teach children that power points and appliances are not toys. Children can touch live pins of plugs. Plastic covers for powerpoints reduce the chance of children inserting objects.
  • Some overseas products may not operate satisfactorily or safely under Australian conditions using 240V 50Hz supply. Such products could be hazardous if used without modification. Have them checked before use.

Read the electric room heaters page for more information.

Cords, cables and plugs

  • Fully unwind extension cords before use as they may overheat.
  • Damaged cords and older style plugs are dangerous. Have them replaced.
  • Never connect a piggyback plug or ordinary plug on the ‘wrong’ flex like this - the live pins could kill you.
  • Don’t stack plugs. It can overload the power point and cause a fire.
  • Home-made extension cords, wrongly wired or without an earth wire are dangerous. Buy ready-made cords, they’re cheaper and safer.

Electric shock first aid

If electric shock occurs:

Rescue

Remember that the person is electrified until released. Take precautions against receiving a shock yourself by immediately switching off the electricity, where possible. If power cannot be disconnected, unless higher than household voltage is involved, free the victim from contact immediately by using a dry stick, board, rope, clothing, plastic pipe or other non-conducting device. DO NOT touch the victim with your bare hands or any metal or moist object. If possible prevent a fall which may cause further injury. Send for the ambulance or a doctor.

Resuscitation

The first three minutes are VITAL. Act immediately! Assess level of consciousness, then if victim is not breathing, commence resuscitation.

Electrical contractor licence check

Check if your electrician is properly licensed by asking to see their electrical contractor’s licence, doing a licence check on our website or call Fair Trading on 13 32 20.

Electricity outdoors

  • Wiring to a caravan must be kept in good condition.
  • Be careful where you dig or drive stakes. There may be buried cables, especially in areas with underground supply.
  • Don’t leave appliances and cords out in the weather – put them away after use.
  • Never use a portable appliance or extension cord where it could be splashed or fall into the pool. Temporary or makeshift wiring arrangements to pool pumps and spas are hazardous.

Electricity in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry

Electric shocks received in wet areas are more likely to be fatal than in other locations as they often involve bare feet, minimum clothing and water. Take extra care near swimming pools.

  • Do not immerse appliances in water to wash them unless instructions clearly allow it.
  • Don’t touch appliances or switches with wet hands.
  • Do not use a portable electric radiator in the bathroom. A permanently installed heater is much safer.
  • Never leave an appliance near the bath or basin. Children have been electrocuted by pulling hairdryers into baths even though the hairdryer switch was off. Unplug the appliance after every use.
  • Dry shoes should be worn when using electrical appliances in laundries, on concrete floors or outdoors. Electric shocks are much more likely to be fatal with bare feet.

Electrical installation safety

Doing electrical work yourself can be dangerous. People have been killed doing electrical work unsafely. By law any electrical installation work must be done by a licensed electrician. They must test the work and give you a uniquely numbered Certificate of Compliance Electrical Work to show it has been tested and ensure it complies with the regulations. Your electrician may be required to provide a copy of the certificate to the electricity network operator.

Earth wires are usually colored green/yellow or green although older installations may contain bare earth wires. Unless an appliance is ‘double insulated’ (marked), the earth wire performs a vital safety function in the event of equipment failure. In cords and plugs the earth wire must be correctly connected only to the earth terminal marked E or  .

The installation earth is usually connected to a metal stake and water pipe. Check occasionally to see that it is not loose or damaged. If water pipes are being altered or plastic pipes are being installed, have your electrician check the earth system.

Wiring can fail from age, overload or damage. Care is needed when working near wiring, eg. sawing, nailing, or drilling into walls. Older types of wiring can become brittle and should not be handled.

If you are renting, report electrical problems to your landlord or managing agent immediately. These should be repaired as a priority as landlords have a legal obligation to ensure all electrical installations and fittings on their property are kept in safe order.

Equipment use and maintenance

Always follow the instructions that come with appliances.

Before working on an appliance, switch off and pull out the plug. Parts of the appliance are energised even though the appliance switch is off. Please remember all electrical repairs should be carried out by an approved repairer.

Always treat a ‘tingle’ or slight shock as a warning. Never touch an appliance which causes a ‘tingle’ or shock until it is repaired by an approved repairer.

If liquid spills onto an appliance, unplug it and have it checked before using again.

Broken switches and power points should be replaced. Cover them up while waiting for an electrician.

If misused, a generator can be just as dangerous as mains supply. The connection of a portable generator to a house with mains supply must be done correctly.

Only use hand lamps which are fitted with guards to protect the globe. A broken globe gives easy access to the live filament and its live internal parts.

It’s vital to keep your appliances, electrical wiring, fittings, switchboard and earthing connections (particularly in properties over 25 years old) in good working order. If you suspect a problem, always contact a licensed electrician.

Read the electrical power tools page for more information.

Fair Trading's inspections of electrical equipment

Suppliers of electrical equipment are responsible for the safety of the products they sell. NSW Fair Trading removes unsafe equipment from the marketplace from shop inspections or complaints of equipment failure. Sellers of unsatisfactory goods may also be instructed to suspend sales, recall previously sold goods or face prosecution.

Power lines

Voltages of up to 500,000V can exist on overhead lines or in substations. Electricity can spark across a gap, so even approaching lines or substation equipment can be dangerous. Climbing towers or poles or entering substations may cause electrocution or very severe burns.

Keep trees clear of power lines. Plant only suitable species. Trimming trees near power lines can be very dangerous. If a cut branch hits a line DON’T TOUCH IT – keep well clear. If in doubt – contact your electricity distributor for help.

Keep clear of overhead wires attached to buildings eg. when painting, clearing gutters or using ladders.

Don’t fly kites or model aeroplanes anywhere near overhead wires.

Irrigation pipes, tip trucks, boat masts, cranes, grain augers, concrete pump/booms, radio aerials should not be stored or operated close to power lines.

Important – Fallen lines should not be touched. If you see a fallen power line keep clear, stand guard and contact the electricity distributor or police.

If you are having any electrical work done around your home, make sure that you use a licensed electrician. The electrician must provide you with a Compliance Certificate to show that the work is complete, has been tested and is safe.

Safety switches

Safety switches are also known as Residual current devices or RCDs. They help to protect you and your family against the most frequent cause of electrocution where electricity passes through the body to earth. You need to remember that their use can enhance electrical safety but they do NOT remove the need to observe safe electrical practices and properly maintain equipment. Tips for added safety:

  • Fixed safety switches offer the best protection but portable safety switches are also useful when working away from home.
  • Before using portable safety switches check that the power point is safe with a plug type tester.
  • Push the safety switch TEST button every three months eg. when daylight saving changes your electric clocks. If it fails, have a licensed electrician check it.
  • If your house was built before 1977 it is unlikely to have an earth rod and you should seriously consider having a safety switch installed.
Prev Electrical power tools
Next Safety labels for electrical goods