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Electrical safety in the home

Property owners are responsible for ensuring electrical wiring work is done by a licensed electrician. 

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Safety switches

40% of house fires in NSW each year are caused by electrical faults and electrical appliances. This means up to 1800 house fires each year could have been prevented by getting the wiring checked by a licensed electrician and having safety switches installed. 

Usually, properties built during or after the year 2000 will have safety switches installed. For properties built before the year 2000, it’s strongly recommended that you ask a licensed electrician to check. 

Test safety switches twice a year to make sure they’re working properly to prevent the deadly risks of electric shock and fire.

Safety switches protect you when an electrical fault is detected. They monitor the flow of electricity through a circuit. If there is a leakage of current, they turn off the electricity in a fraction of a second and protect you from serious electric shock.

Also known as Residual Current Devices (RCDs), safety switches also protect against the most common cause of deadly electric shock – where electricity passes through the body to earth.

The test button on an electrical switchboard

 

One safety switch may not be enough to protect your household from electric shock or fire. A safety switch only protects you if it's on that circuit. Each circuit should have its own safety switch, for example, one safety switch for your lights and a separate one for your electrical appliances. Older houses and apartments may only have a single safety switch protecting several circuits.

Check with a licensed electrician to make sure you have the right number of switches to prevent the risk of electric shock or electrical fires that may cause injury or death. Safety switches look slightly different on each switchboard but always have a ‘T’ or ‘Test’ button.

If your home isn’t covered by safety switches or you are unsure if you have them installed, contact a licensed electrician for help. A simple installation can cost a few hundred dollars but can vary depending on the work that’s needed, specific to your home. A licensed electrician can tell you more.

Make sure that the electrician has a current licence and is the same person as the licence holder who comes to do the work at your home. Following any electrical work, your electrician will need to provide you with a uniquely numbered Certificate of Compliance Electrical Work.

Like smoke alarms, safety switches need to be tested to make sure they are working properly. Set aside some time today to do a check. It takes a few minutes to follow these simple steps and it could save a life:

  • Let everyone in your home know you’re about to test safety switches. 
  • Press the ‘T’ or ‘Test’ buttons on each safety switch. The power will be cut and switch to the ‘off’ position. This must occur without undue delay. You may hear a clunking sound. 

  • Check inside the home – there should be no power to lights, appliances and power switches on the circuit(s) you’re testing.

  • Once you’re confident that the power is off, reset your safety switches by lifting or turning the switch back to the on position. Hint: Some switches will need to be pressed right down to the ‘off’ position before you can flick them back on.

  • If lights or appliances don’t lose power then your safety switches may have failed. Contact a licensed electrician as soon as possible to investigate. 

  • If your safety switch doesn’t reset, contact a licensed electrician to replace it. 

  • Put a reminder in your calendar to test your safety switches again in 6 months (eg. when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings).

Tenants can ask their agent/landlord if there are safety switches, where they are located and permission to test them.

The only difference you will see is that a safety switch has a test button with a label such as 30mA. The major difference is what they protect: 

  • A safety switch is designed to protect people from severe electric shocks. 
  • A circuit breaker is designed to protect the circuitry and wiring of your home.

At the start of every tenancy a condition report must be completed by both the agent/landlord and the tenant. The security/safety section of the condition report includes whether there is a working safety switch for the property, and both parties need to indicate whether or not it is working. Agents and landlords are reminded that testing the safety switch is the only way to confirm whether it is working at the start of a tenancy. 

If a safety switch is found to be faulty or if it is detecting an electrical fault before or during a tenancy, this would be considered an urgent repair. Fair Trading can provide assistance to both tenants and landlords on how to deal with urgent repairs

Strata schemes can be quite different to other properties as the location of safety switches can vary in each property. Common places where a safety switch can be found in an individual lot include hallway entry, kitchen or linen cupboards.  If you have a safety switch in your property you can check them yourself. 

If the safety switch is located on common property like a power room, garage or another shared area, then tenants should contact the landlord or property manager to arrange a test. Property owners will need to contact the strata manager or owners corporation and ask for this to be included in the scheme’s regular safety checks.

From November 2020, NSW Government agencies have joined with industries, other government and non-government partners to raise awareness in NSW about the importance of having safety switches installed at home and checking them twice a year to ensure they are working. Visit our social media channels to spread the word to your networks.

Organisations in this campaign include: 

  • NSW Fair Trading
  • SafeWork NSW 
  • Fire and Rescue NSW

Electrical wiring in older homes

40% of house fires are caused by electrical faults and electrical appliances in NSW homes each year

Many of these fires are caused by old wiring that is worn out or is unable to cope with the demands of modern electrical equipment.

In addition to the risk of fire, making contact with aged or faulty wiring can be fatal.

If your home was built more than 10 or 20 years ago, your wiring may start to become a significant risk.

If you come across any old electrical wiring in your home, do not touch any part of it as live parts of the wires may be exposed, especially at power outlet or light switch connections – call a licensed electrician.

In older homes most of the electrical wiring used had a rubber protective coating for the wires, over time it deteriorates and crumbles away, leaving the wire exposed and increasing the chance of fire.

Wires used now are coated in PVC, which has a much smaller risk of deteriorating and leaving exposed wires.

If your home was built before the 1980s, you really should consider having it inspected to see if you have any aged or faulty wiring.

The only way to be sure that the electrical wiring in your home is not a risk to you and your family is to have a qualified electrician inspect the wiring in your home.

DIY electrical – why you should think twice

DIY (do it yourself) electrical work is dangerous and illegal.

You may think you can save money by installing an electrical appliance yourself.

But, doing electrical work yourself can: 

  • put you, your household or tenants at risk of injury or death 
  • result in your property being destroyed by fire if the work is faulty
  • void your insurance policy.

Unless you are a qualified electrician you should never attempt to:

  • wire any part of your property 
  • install, replace or move power points 
  • install, replace or move lights and switches 
  • install or replace ceiling fans 
  • carry out any electrical maintenance other than changing a light globe. 

Getting electrical work done 

Electrical installation work must be done by a licensed electrician

Electricians are required to provide you with a uniquely numbered Certificate of Compliance Electrical Work (CCEW) to show that the work has been tested and complies with the regulations. 

They may also need to provide a copy of the CCEW to the electricity network operator or NSW Fair Trading.

Often a CCEW is required for warranty purposes for the electrical article that has been installed. If you are a tenant, you must supply a copy of the CCEW to the property owner or owner’s agent. 

You should:

  • always check the electrician has a current licence before agreeing to any work
  • check their licence number on the public register
  • ask the electrician to check the condition of your switchboard and whether a safety switch is fitted
  • ask the electrician to install a safety switch if you don't have one.

Electrical safety in rental properties

It is the responsibility of a landlord to ensure their rental property is safe and secure. When a property is rented, the landlord or agent must take steps such as making repairs so the property is fit to live in.

Before a tenant moves in a landlord or agent must fill out a condition report and give two paper copies, or one electronic copy, to the tenant prior to or at the time of the tenancy agreement being signed. 

The condition report includes whether there are;

  • visible hazards relating to electricity (e.g. a loose or damaged electricity outlet socket, loose wiring or sparking power points)
  • smoke alarms installed (as required by legislation) and the dates that they were last checked and had battery replacement
  • safety switches and confirmation that they are working, which can only be known if a test has been done 

Any electrical fault in a rental property either before or during a tenancy would be considered an urgent repair and tenants need to notify the landlord or agent right away so arrangements can be made to for repairs to be done as soon as possible. You can find more information on NSW Fair Trading's repairs and maintenance in rented properties page.

It is always best for a tenant and landlord or agent to try to resolve repair requests together. If the issue can’t be resolved this way, a tenant or landlord can contact NSW Fair Trading’s tenancy complaints and disputes service.

In some situations, Fair Trading may issue a rectification order to landlords to undertake repairs, or to tenants to fix damage. Visit the Resolving rental problems page for more information.
 

Solar power safety

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems can pose a risk to you or emergency crews in times of severe weather events such as storms and floods.

Solar PV systems are connected to the normal power supply for use in your home or business, as they are powered by a source of light, they can continue to generate even if the mains power has been disconnected.

It is critical to remember solar modules and their cables should be treated as if they are live sources of electricity.

You should be familiar with the shutdown procedure for your Solar PV System if you are unsure of what to do contact the manufacturer or installer.

3 simple steps that could save your life 

  • Do not turn off a solar PV system if any of the components are covered in water or if parts of the system are still wet. This could result in a fatal electric shock.
  • Do not reconnect your solar PV systems if your roof has been damaged. Your roof may be a live source of electricity.
  • Never assume your Solar PV System is safe if your home is affected by a storm or flood. Take a thorough look at your system and if at all concerned, call a licensed electrician.

Portable electricity generators

Portable electricity generators connect directly to an appliance or piece of equipment through its plug and supply cord. There is no path back to the electrical switchboard. Changeover switches are available to safely connect portable generators to building electrical systems.

Permanent electricity generators are isolated from the electrical system with a changeover switch installed between the generator and the electrical panel. The changeover switch allows power to feed from only one source at a time. A licensed electrical contractor must conduct the installation of a changeover switch.

Safety tips when using a generator

  • Keep the generator outside. Never use it indoors.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm.
  • Keep the generator dry. Do not use in rain or wet conditions. Protect from moisture by operating on a dry surface and under shelter
  • Make sure your hands are dry before touching the generator.
  • Plug appliances directly into the generator.
  • Use a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord that
    • is rated in watts or amps at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads
    • is free of cuts or tears 
    • has all three prongs, especially an earthing pin.
  • Never power your house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. This is extremely dangerous and is an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbours served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses built-in household circuit protection devices.
  • If you must connect the generator to the house wiring to power appliances, get a licensed electrical contractor to do it.

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