Preventing electric shocks to electricians

This guidance is for employers, electricians and electrical contractors. It provides information to help eliminate or reduce the risks of electric shock when doing electrical installation or repair work on smaller electrical installations, including houses, shops and small commercial premises.


Legal requirements

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to eliminate any risk to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate all or part of the risk, you must reduce risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

Requirements under the OHS Act also require employers and persons who manage or control a workplace to ensure risks to others, other than employees, are eliminated or reduced.

Where electrical work is also construction work, employers and self-employed persons have additional duties, including:

  • preparing and following Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), for work that is high risk construction work (HRCW)
  • construction induction training
  • site specific inductions

Employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and also the health and safety of persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions at the work place. Employees must cooperate with their employer and carry out the employer's obligations to comply with their OHS duties.

Electricity safety law, which is regulated by Energy Safe Victoria (ESV), requires all electrical circuits or electrical equipment handled during electrical work to be disconnected from the electricity supply, unless adequate precautions are taken to prevent electric shock or other injury.

Controlling electric shock risk

De-energise the installation, or part of the installation

Electricians can eliminate the risk of electric shock in many situations by de-energising the installation. This can be done by removing the electricity service fuse. Removal and replacement of the service fuse should be done in accordance with ESV guidelines.

If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk by removing the service fuse, the risk can be reduced by de-energising part of the installation by turning off and locking out the main switch/es, or circuit isolation devices.

With a broad range of battery power tools, such as drills, impact drives, various types of saws and battery powered LED lights now available, access to mains electricity is not necessary for these tools.

It is usually not necessary to have the electricity on for tracing and locating faults in basic electrical installation wiring. For example, the insulation resistance, earthing continuity, polarity and circuit connection tests that an electrician is required by the electrical safety law to perform before energising or after alteration to an electrical installation are also suitable for circuit fault finding. It may be necessary to have electricity on to locate a fault on complex electrical plant.

Use appropriate signage

Once the service fuse is removed and the main switch/es or isolation devices are locked off, a sign should be placed at the main switchboard or device location warning against turning the power on.

Ensure the signage is easy to read. Use a danger tag, or if this can't be attached at the isolation point, use printed or clear hand written lettering. For example:

  • "Danger. Working on electrical installation. Do not turn power on."
  • "Electricians at work. Do not turn power on."

Note: Do not rely solely on a tag or sign. To be an effective control, the main switch/es or isolation device/s must also be locked out so that the installation cannot be re-energised while working.

Verify the installation is de-energised

The electrical installation should be treated as energised until testing confirms that de-energisation has been achieved.

If the de-energised installation is left unattended, it is recommended that it be re-tested to ensure it is still de-energised before recommencing work.

The electrical switchboard or part of the switchboard that contains the main or isolating switch that is locked and tagged out, should be considered energised. Any work on the switchboard itself should be treated as working live.

Guidance on appropriate safety measures and protective equipment when working live can be found in Safe working on or near low-voltage electrical installations and equipment (AS/NZS 4836).

Use safe systems of work

Safe systems of work should be developed and followed along with risk controls, to reduce the risk to people undertaking:

  • removal and replacement of the service fuse
  • lock and tag out of the main switch/es and isolation points
  • verification of de-energisation process (testing for live)

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

Electrical installation work is HRCW when on or near energised electrical installations or services.

A SWMS must be prepared for HRCW before the work commences and followed during the time the work is undertaken. An employer or self-employed person must review and, if necessary, revise any measures implemented to control risks associated with construction work.

AS/NZS 4836 requires that an assessment must be carried out at the work site before starting work to identify and assess all risks that have the potential to cause harm or damage. The preparation of an SWMS will meet this requirement.

If the work site assessment shows that identified risks cannot be controlled to ensure that works can be done safely, then the work/s cannot proceed.

The SWMS must describe:

  • what controls will be implemented to eliminate or reduce the various risks, including the risk of electric shock
  • how the controls will be implemented
  • how the controls will be maintained during the works, including reviewing and revising if necessary.

The SWMS should include the process that will be used to verify de-energisation prior to working on the electrical installation.

Other types of HRCW may be relevant to electrical work and would also need to be addressed in the SWMS.

Other risks

Electrical work may involve other risks that must also be controlled, so far as is reasonably practical, such as:

  • falls from height
  • excessive heat
  • dust
  • biological hazards (vermin, insects, moulds)

More information