Electricity at work - health and safety

Electricity is a major hazard as not only can it cause direct injury through shocks, it also can be the source of indirect injury through causing explosions etc. Consequently it poses a major health and safety risk for anyone involved with electricity during the course of their employment.

Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

The aim of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 is to prevent death or personal injury to any person from electrical causes in connection with work activities.

The following people are subject to the regulations:

  • employers and the self employed;
  • employees.

Every employer, self-employed person and employee has a duty to comply with these regulations in so far as they relate to matters within their control. Employees must also co-operate with their employer as much as is necessary to enable any duty placed on the employer by the regulations to be complied with.

Electrical equipment under the regulations 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.

General duties

Part II of the Electricity at Work Regulations (regs 4 – 16) places general duties on those individuals who the regulations apply to in relation to the following matters:

  • general safety of electrical systems;
  • strength and capability of electrical equipment;
  • adverse or hazardous environments;
  • insulation, protection and placing of conductors;
  • earthing or suitable precautions;
  • integrity of referenced conductors;
  • connections;
  • means for protecting from excess current;
  • means for cutting off the supply and for isolation;
  • precautions for work on equipment made dead;
  • work on or near live conductors;
  • working space access and lighting;
  • competent people.

General safety of electrical systems

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

Work carried out on or near a system, including both the operation of the system and the maintenance of the system, shall be carried out in such a manner as not to give rise, so far is reasonably practicable to danger.

Any equipment which is provided to protect those at work on or near electrical equipment shall be suitable for this purpose and maintained in a condition to ensure it is properly used.

Strength and capability of electrical equipment

Under reg 5, no electrical equipment shall be put into use where its strength and capability may be exceeded in such a way as may give rise to danger.

Adverse or hazardous environments

Regulation 6 states that electrical equipment that may reasonably be foreseeable to be exposed to the following dangers must be constructed in such a way to protect or prevent so far as is reasonably practicable danger arising from such exposure:

  • mechanical danger;
  • the effects of weather, natural hazards, temperatures or pressure;
  • the effects or wet, dirty, dusty or corrosive conditions;
  • any flammable or explosive substance including dusts, vapours or gases.

Insulation, protection and placing of conductors

Regulation 7 requires that all conductors in a system that may give rise to danger shall either:

  • be suitably covered with insulating material;
  • have such precautions taken in respect of them as will prevent danger so far is reasonably practicable.

Earthing, integrity and connections

  • Regulation 8 specifies a requirement for suitable methods of earthing.
  • Regulation 9 requires that earthing conductors must not have their electrical continuity broken by anything that could give rise to danger.
  • Regulation 10 specifies a requirement that all joints and connections must be suitable for safe use.
  • Regulation 11 requires that efficient means shall be provided for protecting from excess of current every part of a system as may be necessary to prevent danger.

Isolation and cutting of supply

Regulation 12 states that where necessary to prevent danger, the supply must be cut off or isolated. Isolation means the disconnection and separation of electrical equipment from every source of electrical energy in such a way that disconnection and separation is secure.

Precautions for work on equipment made dead

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 while the work is being carried out on it.

An example of this is disconnecting a fuse box to enable work to be done on the electrical cabling. In these circumstances, adequate precautions will not be taken if the fuse is simply disconnected and left hanging next to the box – someone could easily re-insert the fuse not knowing the reason for the disconnection, thus making the system live again.

Work on or near live conductors

Regulation 14 states that no-one shall be work on or so near any live conductor that danger may arise unless:

  • it is unreasonable in all the circumstances for it to be dead; and
  • it is reasonable in the circumstances for work to be done on it or near it when it was live; and
  • suitable precautions are taken to prevent injury.

Access, space and light

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

Competent persons

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


In any proceedings for an offence consisting of a contravention of regs 4(4), 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16, it shall be a defence for any person to prove that he took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of that offence.

Exemption certificates

The Health and Safety Executive may by a certificate in writing exempt any person, premises, electrical equipment, system, process or any activity from any requirement or prohibition stated in the Electricity at Work Regulations.

About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

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