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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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Electrical wiring in older homes

There are more than 300 electrical fires 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.

Safety switches

If your house doesn't have an earth rod or it was built before 2000, you should seriously consider having a safety switch installed if you don't have one already.

Residual Current Devices (RCDs) are also known as safety switches. They help to protect against the most frequent cause of fatal electric shocks, where electricity passes through the body to earth. 

Safety switches monitor the flow of electricity through a circuit and turn off the power in a fraction of a second if a leakage of current is detected. Safety switches provide personal protection against severe electric shock. 

Even if your home has a safety switch installed, one may not be enough to protect your family from electric shock. A safety switch only protects you if it's on that circuit. You should consider having safety switches installed on all circuits in your home. 

Safety switches look slightly different on each switchboard, but they have a test button and might be labelled 'safety switch’. 

If you are unsure if a safety switch is installed at your property, contact a licensed electrician.

Follow these steps to check your safety switch.

  • Let everyone in your home know you’re about to test the safety switch 
  • Press in the test buttons on each safety switch which will cut the power and turn the 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 you are 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. 
  • If lights or appliances do not lose power then your safety switch may have failed. You should call a licensed electrician immediately to investigate. 
  • If your safety switch does not reset, contact a licensed electrician to replace it. 

Physically the only difference you will notice between a circuit breaker and a safety switch is that a safety switch has a test button with a label such as 30mA.

The major difference between a circuit breaker and a safety switch is what they protect. 

A circuit breaker is designed to protect the circuitry and wiring of your home.

A safety switch is designed to protect people from electric severe shocks. 

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.

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 licenced 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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