Technical Information on Electrical Safety

This page is intended to help you to understand electrical safety in and around the household and avoid electrical accidents. The risk of an electric shock causing serious injury or death, is greater outdoors than indoors, due to possible wet conditions and physical contact with the ground.

Electrical Safety & Hazards in the Garden

  • Residual Current Devices

    An RCD is a safety device that switches off the electricity automatically when it detects an earth fault. Any socket-outlet that may be used for plugging in portable electrical equipment that is to be used outdoors, should have RCD protection.

    Check that you are protected by an RCD with a maximum rated residual operating current of 30 milliamperes (mA). If your socket- outlet is not protected by an RCD, purchase a good quality plug-in RCD adaptor from a reputable dealer, as a temporary measure. The safest option is to get an NICEIC Approved Contractor to install permanent RCD protection to all socket-outlets that may be used for pluqqinq in 230 V outdoor portable electrical equipment.

    RCDs need to be tested quarterly by the users of the electrical installation, in accordance with the notice that should be fixed near them. This normally involves pressing the test button and checking that the RCD switches off the supply immediately. Regular testing is important, to ensure correct operation of the RCD mechanism in the event of a fault.

  • Lawn Mowing

    Electric lawn mowers can cut through electric cables causing a real risk of electric shock. There is also a risk of injury from contact with rotating parts.

    For Electrical Safety:

    • buy a good quality lawn mower from a reputable retailer
    • follow manufacturers’ instructions closely
    • keep the lawn mower, cables, connections and plug, free from damage
    • check that the socket-outlet has RCD protection
    • do not cut grass in wet conditions
    • check that the RCD has been tested by means of the integral test buttons within the last 3 months
    • wear shoes that give foot protection (not sandals)
    • keep children well away from the lawn mower
    • do not pull a lawn mower close to your feet or the flexible cable
    • unplug the lawn mower and wait until the blades have stopped rotating, before carrying out any activities such as cleaning grass blockages.

    Following manufacturers’ instructions, checking the lawn mower is in good order, and being careful when cutting the grass, will reduce the risk of an accident.

  • Hedge Trimming

    Electric hedge trimmers can cut through electric cables, causing the risk of electric shock. They may also injure anyone making contact with the blades.

    For Electrical Safety:

    • buy a good quality hedge trimmer from a reputable retailer
    • follow manufacturers’ Instructions closely
    • wear gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eyes
    • keep children well away from the hedge trimmer
    • do not cut hedges in wet conditions
    • check that the socket-outlet has RCD protection
    • check the RCD has been tested by means of the integral test buttons within the last 3 months
    • keep the hedge trimmer cable, connections and plug free from damage
    • keep both hands on the handles provided.

    Unplug the hedge trimmer before carrying out any activities such as removing jammed hedge trimmings.

  • Water Pumps for Garden Ponds

    Incorrectly installed or damaged 230 V electrical water pumps in garden ponds, may create a serious electric shock risk in and around the pond, resulting in injury or death. This is because the risk of electric shock is higher in the presence of water.

    A 230 V electric water pump in the garden should be:

    • good quality and be purchased from a reputable retailer
    • protected by an RCD, that is tested by means of the integral test buttons at least every 3 months
    • installed in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions
    • provided with cables that are protected against accidental damage
    • maintained in good working order, including cables and any connections
    • switched off when carrying out pond cleaning

    If any defects are found, switch off the water pump’s electrical supply immediately and have the pump repaired by a competent electrician.

  • Damaged Flexible Cables and Connectors

    Poor quality or damaged flexible cables and connections for use in the garden may pose an electric shock risk, resulting in serious injury or even death.

    Cables and connections should be:

    • good quality and be purchased from a reputable retailer
    • suitable for use outdoors
    • suitable for the equipment used
    • free from damage and kept clean
    • used in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions
    • located to prevent anyone tripping over the cable
    • routed to prevent them being damaged e.g. stepped on or cut
    • kept as dry as possible

    If any damage is found, unplug from the electrical supply immediately, and have the damaged items replaced. Always take care not to damage flexible cables and connectors.

  • Unwinding extension cables from the reel

    When in use, extension cables that are coiled up on a reel can overheat, causing damage to the cable, which may in extreme cases result in fire. Such extreme damage may also introduce a risk of electric shock, which could cause injury or prove to be fatal.

    A fully unwound cable reduces the risk of it overheating, thereby minimizing the risks of fire or electric shock.

  • Wet Conditions

    Do not use electrical equipment when it is raining or in areas that are being watered. The risk of serious injury and even death from electric shock, are far higher in wet conditions, than in the dry. Ground conditions may also be slippery in the wet, which increases the risk of an accident. Electrical equipment may also suffer damage in wet conditions.

    Using electrical equipment in the garden in dry conditions reduces the risk of an accident.

  • Garden Lighting

    Incorrectly selected, installed or damaged 230 V outdoor lighting installations may create a risk of electric shock, resulting in serious injury or even death.

    For 230 V lighting in the garden:

    • buy good quality electrical outdoor lighting equipment from a reputable retailer
    • make sure outdoor lighting fittings (luminaires) are weatherproof
    • ensure lighting fittings used for water features are waterproof
    • have it installed by a competent electrician in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and BS 7671 – Requirements for Electrical Installations (IEE Wiring Regulations), which is the national safety standard for electrical installation work
    • check for damaged lighting fittings, cables and connections
    • remove leaves and dirt from lighting fittings

    If any faults are found, switch off the electrical supply immediately, and have them repaired by an NICEIC electrician.

Home Electrical Safety

  • Prevent Fire, Rewire!

    Electricity – we all take it for granted, it’s there, at the flick of a switch, giving us light, warmth, power and generally making our lives easier. But because we can’t see it it’s easy to forget to get it checked.

    Did you know that all houses should have their electrical systems checked at least every ten years? Cables, switches, socket-outlets and other accessories deteriorate with use and there are several signs to look out for that could indicate your electrical system is getting on a bit and your property may need rewiring.

    If your property has lead sheathed cables (pre 1948) they will almost certainly have reached the end of their useful life.

    If your property has rubber sheathed (TRS) cables (1945-62) they can become brittle and crack, particularly if they have, at some time, got too hot.

    If your home has lighting circuits wired in PVC cables but without a circuit protective (or earth) conductor (1955-66), any metallic parts in the lighting circuits e.g. switches or fittings will not be earthed and this could mean risk of electric shock.

    If you can see green slime or goo (di-octyl phthalate). Around 1973, cables were improved to include an anti-oxidant but the side effect was that this produced green slime around electrical fittings. It’s not dangerous but unsightly and most householders want this resolved. Make sure your consumer unit (fuse board) doesn’t have combustible material stored against or near it.

    If you have any of these signs in your house, your wiring system needs upgrading and you should call an electrician. Safety in your home is vital and the NICEIC strongly recommends that you choose an Approved Contractor to carry out your electrical Installation work.

    If you do need to rewire, it’s a great chance to have a think about the kind of features that you want in your home that you don’t have at the moment.

    You might want: 

    • Lighting and socket-outlets in the garage
    • More socket-outlets in your kitchen, sitting room or bedrooms
    • Wall lights instead of, or as well as, ceiling lights
    • External lights, under cupboard lights, energy saving lighting
    • A mains-powered door bell
    • Smoke alarms

    Choose a suitable electrician, one who will do the job safely and to the requirements of the national safety standards.

    Make sure that:

    • You get a full quote and do agree a specification from your electrician
    • Your electrician chases cables into the walls so they become ‘invisible’ – unless you prefer surface mounted trunking
    • Your electrician doesn’t run cables into the cavity of external walls
    • When the job is done your electrician must test his work and issue you with a certificate. (All NICEIC Approved Contractors will do this as a matter of course)
  • Keep Your Home Safe

    Outbreaks of fire in the home can have tragic results, and many householders have wisely installed smoke alarms as a safety measure. However, most don’t realise that failure to maintain their electrical installation in good condition could lead to fire.

    Checklist to minimise the risk of electrical fire:

    • Visually inspect sockets for signs of damage and deterioration and especially for signs of overheating
    • Test residual current devices (RCDs) – if your installation has these special safety devices, there should be a notice on or near your consumer unit (fuse board) advising you to test the device(s) quarterly, simply by pressing a button.
    • Don’t leave electrical appliances on unnecessarily – switch them off before going out or going to bed.
    • Don’t leave electric blankets on unnecessarily, and follow the user instructions.
    • Make sure your consumer unit (fuse board) doesn’t have combustible material stored against or near it.

    For the protection of you and your family, make sure you have at least one smoke alarm in your home and that it’s working properly.

    Mike Clark, Technical Director of the NICEIC said, “Our advice is that householders should follow these guidelines, not in an effort to alarm but as a common-sense approach, especially in light of the firefighters’ strike where only a skeletal service might be in place. If you are in any way concerned about your electrical system then you should get it checked by a competent electrician, preferably an NICEIC Approved Contractor. For domestic properties, such checks should be made at least every 10 years.”