Electricity safety tips

We use electricity every day and often take it for granted — but you have to take care when handling it. We've got some useful hints that will help keep you safe around electricity.

Home safety check

When did you last do a home safety check?

Power points and power boards

Running too many appliances off one power point by piggy-backing double adaptors, or connecting power boards together, can overload the circuit and lead to overheating, damage to equipment, or even cause a fire in your home.

 

Image shows correct use: A four-plug power board with four individual plugs connected.
Safe use of power board

Image shows incorrect use: A four-plug power board with a double adapter (with two plugs connected) in one of the plugs - three individual plugs are also being used.
Unsafe use of power board

Follow these safety tips when using power points and power boards.

  • Don't overload individual power points.
  • Don't plug in more than two cords to a double adaptor — use a suitable adaptor board instead.
  • Keep all electrical connections out of areas that may become wet due to watering or extreme weather conditions.
  • If there is no permanently installed safety switch, use a portable type at the power point.
  • Never use an extension cord that has a three-pin or piggy-back plug at each end.
  • Never replace fuse wire or plug-in circuit breakers with larger sizes.
  • Keep combustible material, such as paper, plastic and structural metalwork, 150mm away from bulbs.
  • Never modify lighting outlets, plugs or cords.
  • Check that you have working smoke alarms in your home.

Tingles and shocks

It is believed that many electric shocks go unnoticed and unreported in Australia each year.

Electric shocks and tingles — slight electric shocks — happen for a variety of reasons but can sometimes be an indication that there's an underlying electrical fault that requires urgent attention.

It's important to take note of any tingling feeling you get whenever you touch metal, such as taps, sinks, appliances or fittings — which all act as conductors.

If left unchecked the cause of a tingle or electrical shock could put you and your family at risk.

You need to immediately report all tingles and shocks, no matter how minor, to ActewAGL by calling 13 10 93.

Once a shock is reported, ActewAGL will take immediate action and, if necessary, provide assistance to help ensure you are safe. The cause will then be investigated by the appropriate authority.

Safety switches

Safety switches detect small amounts of constant electrical fault current leaking to earth and quickly switch off the electricity, minimising electric shock and reducing the risk of fire.

Safety switches wired into power and light circuits give reliable protection against serious shock. Other equipment, apparatus and circuits of an electrical installation may not have safety switch protection.

Switchboard safety switches provide protection on electrical circuits connected to it throughout the house, and for those electrical appliances and extension cords connected to earth leakage protected power points.

Power point safety switches that replace an existing power point, protect extension cords and electrical appliances plugged into the outlet, and the electrical wiring and power points downstream from the safety switch on the same circuit.

Portable safety switches protect portable electrical appliances and extension cords plugged into the safety switch. If using power tools or electrical appliances outdoors that are not protected by a switchboard or power point safety switch, these safety switches are essential.

Installing safety switches

From 1991 to 2000 it was mandatory to install safety switches in new homes to protect power points, except those supplying fridges and freezers, and in existing homes to protect new power circuits.

From 2000, it has been mandatory to install safety switches to all electricity and lighting circuits in new homes and in building extensions and alterations to existing homes where new light and power circuits are required.

It is important to seek advice from a licensed electrician regarding the installation of safety switches. Make sure you understand what electricity and lighting circuits will be protected. A licensed electrician must install switchboard and power point safety switches.

Using safety switches

If a safety switch has tripped and shut down the electricity supply, it may be that the fault was temporary, or due to lightning. Resetting the safety switch should restore the electricity supply. If you cannot reset the safety switch, contact a licensed electrician to find and repair the fault.

Check each safety switch by turning off all plug-in appliances before pressing its test button every month.

Portable electric heaters

Portable electric heaters can be a fire hazard if care is not taken. When using portable electric heaters it is important to follow these steps.

  • Always keep heaters at least 1.5 metres away from materials that can burn.
  • Don't operate portable heaters in confined places where flammable liquids are stored or kept in open containers.
  • Don't use portable heaters on damp floors such as bathrooms and laundries.
  • Keep heater grilles and vents or reflectors angled upwards from floor coverings and free from dust to improve efficiency and reduce overheating. Vacuum your portable heater's intakes and vents before and after each winter.
  • Check that the heater cord and plug are not damaged. If you have any doubts, have them checked by an appliance repair centre or an electrician.
  • Connect portable heaters directly to a power point. Do not use a double adaptor or long extension cord.
  • If using a short extension cord to connect a portable heater ensure the cord is fully unwound to avoid excessive heat build-up in the cord. Do not use light duty extension cords.
  • Always supervise children near electric heaters.

Using electricity outdoors

Using electrical appliances outdoors can be dangerous, so make sure you take appropriate precautions.

  • Pay attention to the manufacturer's safety instructions when using electrical appliances outdoors
  • Walking in bare feet or thongs increases your chance of receiving an electric shock
  • Only use earthed power points and an extension cord to supply electricity to electric lawn mowers, trimmers and power tools — preferably protected by a fixed or portable safety switch
  • Never touch an electric trimmer or mower that has a damaged power cord. Switch it off immediately at the power point, disconnect the appliance and have the cord repaired
  • Never leave electrical appliances and cords outdoors where they are exposed to rain and sprinklers
  • Never use makeshift wiring for pool pumps and spas to operate gardening power tools
  • Never handle wiring that is showing signs of damage or wear. Contact a licensed electrician to have the wiring replaced
  • Never place metal ladders or other metal objects on power or extension cords as they may cut through the cord's electrical insulation
  • Be careful when changing light globes — never use a metal ladder or steps. If you touch a live conductor while standing on a metal ladder you may be in electrical contact with the ground, and could get an electric shock. Ensure that the electricity supply for the lights is switched off at the switchboard
  • Ensure that supply cords to caravans are in good condition — 3 to 15 metres in length, rated at 15 amps, and plugged into an earthed, safety-switch protected socket outlet

Christmas lighting

ActewAGL and the ACT Fire Brigade would like to remind the community to put safety first when installing and operating Christmas lighting this holiday season.

To help our community stay safe when installing and operating decorative lights, ActewAGL and the ACT Fire Brigade have created a number of easy-to-follow electrical safety tips.

Installing

Always read the manufacturer's instructions before setting up and operating lights, as well as before replacing lamps and globes. When setting up fairy lights and other electrical displays don't overload power boards or piggy back double adaptors.

Never join one set of lights onto the end of another set of lights. Don't run leads or extension cords through doorways and windows and ensure they don't create a trip hazard.

Never modify lighting outfits, plugs or cords and never replace fuse wire or plug-in circuit breakers with larger sizes.

Also, take care when working at heights, such as roofs or large trees. Always use an appropriate, safe and secure ladder or stepladder to hang items higher than you can reach.

Safe operating

Only buy and use decorative lights that have an Australian Standards label and approval mark.

Decorative lights may become very hot so keep them away from children and flammable materials, such as wrapping paper, and always switch off all electrical displays and decorative lights before going to bed.

Check all of your lights before use and if the wiring, lamps, cords or plugs appear damaged don't use them. Turn off the power and unplug the power cord before replacing bulbs with the same type and wattage.

Always switch off and unplug lights before watering or pruning your Christmas tree.

Outdoor lighting

Ensure the lighting system is weatherproof and suitable for outdoor use. Safer outdoor lights use an approved transformer that converts 240 volts to an extra-low voltage supply. To prevent overheating ensure transformers are well ventilated.

Always have approved outdoor 240-volt lights installed by a licensed electrician if they are to be a permanent or long-term festive lighting system. This includes festoon lighting and exterior power points for lighting transformers. Never use 240-volt lighting on tinsel Christmas trees.

Keep extension cords off the ground to avoid damage or trip hazards. Attach cords and lighting strings to existing fixtures with appropriate tape, electrical cable ties, clips or clamps — never use nails. Cords should be suspended at 2.5 metres above ground using approved plugs and cord extension sockets.

Keep all electrical connections and transformers out of areas that may become wet due to watering or extreme weather conditions. Where there is no permanently installed safety switch, use a portable one at the supply.

Never trim outdoor trees containing lighting and be aware of the location of powerlines at all times.

For more electrical safety advice call 13 10 93.

For technical issues contact the regulator, ACT Planning and Land Authority, on 13 22 81.

Outdoor lighting

To install lights safely you should read the manufacturer's instructions to check if lights are weatherproof and suitable for outdoor use.

Safer outdoor lights have an approved transformer that converts 240 volts to an extra-low voltage supply. There are four types of extra low-voltage lighting systems available: light sculptures, rope, fairy and bud lighting.

Always have approved outdoor 240-volt lights, including festoon lights, and exterior power points for lighting transformers installed by a licensed electrician if they are to be a permanent or long-term festive lighting system.

Check bulbs and tubing

  • Before hanging lights, lay them on the floor to check for damaged and loose or missing bulbs.
  • Turn off the power and unplug the power cord before replacing bulbs with new ones of the same type and wattage.
  • To avoid the risk of overheating, never turn on lamps that are still packaged or stored in a box.

Installing outdoor lighting

  • Keep extension cords off the ground to avoid damage or a trip hazard.
  • Attach cords and lighting strings or sets to existing fixtures with appropriate tape, electrical cable ties, clips or clamps. Never use nails.
  • Cords should be suspended at 2.5 metres above the ground. Cord lengths greater than 10 metres should be avoided.
  • Use approved plugs and cord extension sockets.
  • Do not pass cords through door openings.

Prevent danger

  • Ensure individual power points are not overloaded. For more than 2 cord plugs use a suitable adaptor board instead of a double adaptor.
  • Keep all electrical connections out of areas that may become wet due to watering or extreme weather conditions.
  • Where there is not a permanently installed safety switch, use a portable type at the power point.

To avoid an electric shock

  • Never modify lighting outlets, plugs or cords.
  • Never use an extension cord that has a 3-pin or piggy-back plug at each end.
  • Never replace fuse wire or plug-in circuit breakers with larger sizes.
  • Keep combustible material such as paper, plastic and structural metalwork 150mm away from bulbs.

Overhead powerlines

Electrical fatalities can be caused by accidental contact with overhead powerlines, so make sure you take the following precautions.

  • Never climb electrical towers or poles or enter electrical substations, as it is dangerous and can lead to severe burns or an electrical fatality.
  • Never park, store, transport or operate irrigation pipes, tip trucks, boat masts, radio aerials and cranes near or under powerlines.
  • Never fly kites or model aeroplanes near powerlines. If one does become entangled don't try to retrieve it, call ActewAGL on 13 10 93.
  • Teach children not to climb trees near powerlines.
  • Street trees and trees on private property should be kept clear of powerlines. Only ActewAGL-accredited tree surgeons can clear vegetation near powerlines that encroach within the safe approach distance. If a cut branch hits a powerline don't touch it, call ActewAGL for help.
  • New trees should be planted at a distance from the powerline that is at least the expected height of the tree.
  • Fallen or sagging powerlines are dangerous, so stay clear, warn others and call ActewAGL on 13 10 93 or Emergency Services on 000. Never try to rescue an accident victim from a vehicle surrounded by fallen powerlines.

If you have a private power pole, make sure that you understand your responsibilities in maintaining it or risk its disconnection from the electricity network.

Source — sa.gov.au

For more advice call ActewAGL on 13 14 93 or for technical issues call the regulator, ACT Planning and Land Authority on 6207 1923.

In case of emergency

Please refer to our electricity emergencies page for information on what to do in an emergency.