Safety switches and electrical equipment

Electricity makes our lives easier in so many ways. But, if you’re not careful, this convenience can come at a dangerous price. Electrical accidents at home and at work can cause power outages, fires and life-threatening electric shocks.

So, it’s important to take care. Find out about safety switches, maintaining your electrical equipment and how to use appliances safely. And never do your own electrical work.

Download our electricity safety guide (PDF 8.7 mb) as a handy, printable electrical safety reference.

What is an electric shock?

If you make contact with a live electrical circuit, electricity may pass through your body to return to earth, causing an electric shock. Electric shocks can cause serious injuries and death — and they can happen in an instant.

If you ever receive a shock or feel tingles from a cord, powerpoint, appliance, or water tap, follow these steps:

  • Prevent anyone from touching it
  • Call us immediately on 13 19 62, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Call your licensed electrical contractor to check your wiring immediately.

IMPORTANT: Never touch or attempt to rescue someone who is receiving an electric shock - you could end up receiving a shock yourself. If possible, turn off the power. Then, stay well clear and call triple zero (000).

Find out more about shocks and tingles.

How to protect yourself from electric shock

Every year, too many people are killed and injured by electric shock. Sadly, in most cases, these types of accidents are completely preventable.

Fortunately, there are a few important steps you can take to protect yourself from electric shock.

  1. Install and maintain safety switches
  2. Use your electrical appliances and fittings safely
  3. Take care when you DIY ('do it yourself')
  4. Never do your own electrical work.

How to install and maintain your safety switches

An easy way to protect against electrical accidents is to make sure your home or business has a safety switch. This is a device that can shut off the power within milliseconds of detecting a fault, potentially preventing a life-threatening electric shock.

A safety switch is not the same as a circuit breaker. While they are both found on your switchboard, fuses, and circuit breakers will protect your wiring and appliances. Only safety switches protect people.

If your home or business doesn’t have a safety switch, arrange to have one installed by a licensed electrical contractor right away.

How do I know if I have a safety switch?

To check if you already have a safety switch installed, look for one or more buttons marked ‘T’, ‘test’ or ‘reset’ on your switchboard. There may be more than one, and they can be different colours, shapes or sizes.

How often should I test my safety switch?

If you have safety switches, you should test them every three months. To do this, locate each switch on the switch board and press the 'test' button once. The switch should automatically trip, cutting power to that circuit.

To restore your power, reset the switch by turning it back 'on'.

NOTE: Testing the safety switch will cut your power. So, remember to turn off any important appliances before you test and reset your clocks afterwards.

If you’re not sure if your safety switch is working correctly, seek advice from a licensed electrical contractor.

How to use electrical appliances and fittings safely

Whether you’re plugging in a heater or charging your phone, remember that any electrical appliance can be dangerous if you don’t use it correctly.

General electrical appliance safety tips

Are you using your everyday appliances safely? You might be surprised. Check off the general safety tips below and see how you rate.

  • Switch off the power before you plug in or unplug an appliance
  • Hold the plug, not the cord, when disconnecting from a powerpoint
  • Switch off your appliances before you clean them
  • Only use your appliances for their intended purpose
  • Keep all electrical leads and cables tidy and out of the way
  • Replace damaged power points and frayed, perished or damaged cords
  • Never run extension cords under carpets or rugs. Heat build-up and friction could cause a fire
  • Never piggyback double adapters. Use a powerboard instead, or arrange to have additional power points installed
  • Always have repairs and safety checks carried out by a licensed electrical contractor
  • Check for concealed cables any time you need drill into walls, floors or ceilings, especially around power points and light switches
  • Store emergency numbers in your phone, in case you need them in a hurry. You can reach us on 13 19 62.

To keep your electrical appliances and fittings safely maintained, make regular safety checks a part of your routine. This includes:

  • regularly inspecting your appliances and electrical fittings to make sure they’re in a safe condition. If in doubt, have it checked by a licensed electrical contractor
  • installing smoke detectors and remembering to test them regularly
  • changing your smoke detector batteries on the same date each year, like 1 April or Christmas Day
  • testing your safety switch every three months.

Safety tips for using appliances in wet areas

Water and electricity are a bad mix. Water is a good electrical conductor, which makes wet areas like your bathroom, laundry and pool surround dangerous places to use electricity. An electric shock can be more serious if you have bare feet and wet skin. So, always remember:

  • Never touch electrical appliances or switches with wet hands
  • Keep your appliances a safe distance from water
  • Never leave a hair dryer or shaver plugged into a powerpoint – it could fall into the bath or basin.

Safety tips for higher risk appliances

Certain types of appliances tend to be the main offenders when it comes to electrical accidents in the home or workplace. Always pay careful attention when using these appliances and use the following tips to stay safe.

Air conditioners

  • Maintain your air conditioning regularly, particularly before the summer cooling and winter heating periods
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning the air filters and coils
  • Consider whether you need a professional to clean and inspect your air conditioning units if you're worried about their condition.

Clothes dryers

  • Clean the filter after every use. Built up lint can catch fire.

Electric blankets

  • Always store electric blankets flat. They can be easily damaged if stored incorrectly
  • Check your blankets carefully for damage before you use them
  • If there are signs of misuse or damage, have your blanket checked by a licensed electrical contractor.

Heaters

  • Keep a safe distance around heaters, especially those with naked flames or exposed heat coils like radiators
  • Place portable heaters away from flammable items like clothes and children's toys
  • Supervise children around heaters
  • Check the power cord and reflectors before using. Rust and frayed cords can cause a fire
  • Never dry your clothes on an electric heater. Water and electricity don't mix
  • Place heaters where they can’t be knocked over by people, children or pets
  • Turn off heaters before you go to bed or when you leave a room or the house.

Toasters

  • Never stick a knife into a toaster to release stuck toast.

How to take care when you DIY

If you’re handy and 'do it yourself' (DIY) around the house, you’ll also need to be especially careful around electricity. Most odd jobs will have you working closely with electricity, whether it’s using power tools, trimming trees or climbing inside your roof. Remember, electric shocks are always unexpected. Take care and take the following precautions to stay safe.

Don’t DIY electrical work

No matter how accomplished you feel with a toolbox, never do your own electrical work. It’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal. You could receive a deadly electric shock, damage or destroy your equipment or start a fire with faulty wiring. Always hire a licensed electrical contractor for any electrical jobs in your home or business.

Work carefully around electrical fittings

Wherever you find electrical fittings, you’ll also find concealed wiring. When a metal drill comes into contact with live wires, it could spell disaster. So, take time to work out where the wires run before you start any DIY project.

  • Check for wires before drilling into walls, floors and ceilings. Be particularly careful when drilling around power points and light switches
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the job being done e.g. safety glasses, rubber soled shoes
  • When painting around light fittings, don't remove the light plate. This exposes live wires even when the light is switched off
  • When tiling around light fittings, switches or power points, get a licensed electrician to remove the light plates and deactivate any exposed wires before you begin.

‘Take care stay line aware’ when working outdoors

When you’re busy doing DIY, sometimes the lines you miss are the ones that matter most. Contact with overhead powerlines can cause serious injury or death. So, always remember to check for overhead and underground powerlines when working in the great outdoors.

  • Familiarise yourself with the location of all overhead and underground power cables on your property
  • Look up before extending or climbing a ladder or using long-handled equipment
  • When using a ladder outdoors, take extra care and remember to always ‘Look up and Live’ around powerlines
  • If you are digging, use the Dial Before You Dig service to locate underground powerlines by calling 1100
  • Before trimming trees or shrubs, look out for powerlines that could be hidden by foliage
  • Plant new trees well away from powerlines. See our Safe Tree page for the best species to plant
  • Look up for overhead powerlines when carrying long metal objects such as ladders or pool skimmers
  • Don't’ let the kids play with airborne toys near powerlines
  • Keep vegetation away from green pillar boxes that house underground electrical equipment. Don't allow children to play on the boxes
  • Ensure you are aware of the required exclusion zones when you’re working near powerlines.

Take extra precautions in your ceiling space

Hidden wiring and reduced visibility can make doing DIY in your ceiling space particularly dangerous.

Before you go up into the ceiling space, remember to:

  • tell someone you are going into the ceiling space
  • turn off all main power switches at the switchboard
  • make sure all other generating sources (generator, battery system in off-grid mode) are off
  • secure the main switches in the ‘off’ position and label them so no one turns them back on while you’re up there.

While you’re in the ceiling space:

  • avoid contact with electrical cables as some may still be ‘live’, such as the service line or a solar PV system cable
  • take care not to damage any cables or electrical equipment
  • take care not to move ceiling insulation or debris near downlights – it may cause a fire.

Want more information?

For more on electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Office website.