Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

Electricity is a major hazard - not only can it kill directly, through shocks (and the majority of electric shock fatalities occur at voltages up to 240V), it can also cause fires and explosions.

These regulations aim to impose duties to limit the risks involved in using electricity at work.

Definitions

Electrical equipment includes anything used, intended to be used or installed for use, to generate, provide, transmit, transform, rectify, convert, conduct, distribute, control, store, measure or use electrical energy.

This definition is extremely wide and includes everything from very high voltage overhead supply cables to battery-powered equipment.

System covers all and any electrical equipment which is, or may be, connected to an electrical energy source, and includes that source.

Danger means risk of injury.

Injury covers death or personal injury from electric shock, electric burn, electrical explosion or arcing, or from fire or explosion initiated by electrical energy, where any such death or injury is associated with the generation, provision, transmission, transformation, rectification, conversion, conduction, distribution, control, storage, measurement or use of electrical energy.

Who has responsibilities?

Regulation 3 places duties on:

  • Employers, employees and the self-employed - to comply with the regulations as far as matters are under their control
  • Employees -to co-operate with their employer

Many employees in the electrical trades and professions have responsibilities, as part of their duties, related to the safety of electrical installations and systems.

The regulations quantify these responsibilities, by putting them under a legal duty to work in accordance with the requirements of the regulations.

General safety of electrical systems

Regulation 4 requires that all electrical systems should, so far as reasonably practicable, be of safe construction and maintained in that state.

Work being carried out on or near systems must be carried out in such a manner as to avoid danger.

Any protective equipment provided must be suitable and properly maintained and used.

Use of suitable equipment

Regulations 5 to 11, in effect, place a duty to ensure that electrical equipment is suitable for where and how it is to be used, and is adequately protected.

Regulation 5 states that no electrical equipment should be connected into a system if there is a chance that it's strength and capability may be exceeded in such a way as to cause danger.

Regulation 6 requires all electrical equipment that may be exposed to:

  • mechanical damage
  • the effects of the weather, natural hazards (animals, trees & plants etc)
  • the effects of wet, dirty, dusty or corrosive conditions
  • flammable or explosive substances
  • must be constructed or protected so that danger doesn't arise.

Regulation 7 states that any conductor in a system (ie anything that conducts electricity) should either be insulated or protected in some other way from giving rise to danger.

Regulation 8 requires suitable methods of earthing, regulation 9 requires earthing conductors not to have their electrical continuity broken by anything that could give rise to danger and, under regulation 10, all joints and connections must be suitable for safe use.

Systems must be protected from excess current (regulation 11).

Isolation and 'live' or 'dead' working

All electrical equipment (except power sources themselves) must have secure and safe means of isolation from all sources of electrical energy (regulation 12).

Regulation 13 requires suitable precautions to be taken to ensure that, once equipment is isolated so that work can be carried out on it, it cannot become electrically charged again whilst the work is in progress.

A simple example is where a fuse is removed from the main fuse box to allow work on the electrical cabling - it is insufficient just to leave the fuse lying next to the fuse box - someone could, unknowingly, re-insert the fuse, so making the system 'live' again.

In certain circumstances, it may be impossible to isolate a conductor from the electrical supply.

Regulation 14 requires that such 'live' working only occurs when it is unavoidable, and after suitable protective equipment has been provided.

Access, space and light

Regulation 15 requires the provision of adequate working space, safe access and adequate lighting to enable work on electrical equipment to be carried out safely.

Competence

Regulation 16 requires that anyone working on electrical systems where technical knowledge or experience is necessary, must have the required knowledge and/or experience or be under suitable supervision.

Defence

Any person who has a duty under regulations 4(4), 5 and 8-16 can, in any criminal proceedings, use the defence that they had taken all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the offence.

These phrases have particular meanings in relation to health and safety law.

Find out more about electricity at work on the Health and Safety Executive website.

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