Electricity surrounds us and we are heavily dependent upon it. But do we take electrical safety for granted? A recent BBC investigation has discovered that millions of metres of cable used to wire people’s homes may be dangerous.
A now-defunct Turkish company sold 11 million metres of cable in the UK, and in 2010 the British Approvals Service for Cables (Basec) found it had not enough copper content, making it more likely to overheat.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) decided against a compulsory recall, and while Basec recovered some seven million metres, another four is still out there – enough to fully rewire 8,000 houses.
As a specialist electrical contractor, we know the risks, and our work in providing industrial and domestic electrical services means safety is our top priority. Here we look at the whole issue of cabling and electrical safety, in the home and the workplace.
What are the Dangers?
Most electricians do not keep records of where they have used specific cable as there is no statutory requirement to do so. This means that the 40,000 reels of potentially dangerous cable could be in homes and other premises throughout the UK.
While Basec discovered the cable in 2010, as late as 2013 it was still on sale in branches of Homebase.
The problem with it is that its lack of copper content means that if it overheats it will ignite anything that it touches, such as plasterboard.
The HSE has carried out a separate, three-year sampling programme, and the results suggest that 5% of cable on the market is not up to safety standards.
The Risks from Electricity
Electricity can injure, or kill, people. And it can cause damage to property. If someone is exposed to live electricity – touching something live either directly or indirectly – it can harm them. Hazardous voltages are those over 50 volts AC, or 120 volts DC.
The HSE gets reports of around 1,000 accidents at work involving electric shocks or burns. Approximately 30 of these accidents will result in death, usually due to contact with overhead or underground power cables.
There is the risk of a direct injury from this kind of contact, but also indirect, where someone falls from a ladder or scaffolding having suffered a shock. There can also be fire hazards from faulty appliances, with a risk to human life, and damage to property and equipment.
Who is most at risk? Obviously, people working with electrical equipment, or near cabling, but really, anyone can be at risk from dangers of electricity at work and in the home.
Accidents often occur either because someone is working on or near equipment that is live, when they thought it was dead; or they are working with live equipment without adequate safety training. People also have accidents due to the misuse of faulty electrical equipment.
Is Your Home Safe?
Electricity is the main cause of accidental fires in homes, causing more than 20,000 fires a year, according to government statistics. Some of this is down to the fact that we routinely use more and more electrical appliances, but it can also be because of faulty electrical installation work.
You should only have people with the right knowledge and experience, who are professionally competent, installing cables and wiring in the home.
There are certain legal requirements for electrical installations, and electricians carrying out installation work must make sure it complies with building regulations. These legal requirements are different in England and Wales than those for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
One of the main causes of electrical fires in homes is faulty or aging wiring. If your cables are coated in black rubber, lead or fabric, they are clearly old and out of date. Black rubber coating was phased out in the 1960s, and lead or fabric coatings date to before the 1950s.
You should ensure that the condition of your cables meets safety standards, and have your wiring regularly tested.
If you have damaged cables, you must replace them immediately – you could risk a severe electric shock, or death, from touching live wires. There should be no joints in your cable, or repairs with insulating tape.
Be very careful when drilling or fixing nails in walls. You must always know what’s behind the wall, so that you can avoid damaging your electrical cables.
Electrical Safety in the Workplace
There is general health and safety legislation designed to protect employees and members of the public in the workplace, but there are also specific regulations covering electricity.
These place a duty on employers, and anyone self-employed, to ensure that they construct and maintain their electrical systems in a way that prevents danger. This also means how people work on, or use, these systems.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require the reporting of electrical incidents and related injuries.
As part of assessing the risks from electricity in the workplace, it’s vital that employers, or the self-employed, take basic safety steps around electrical equipment and ensure that any electrical installations meet BS 7671 requirements.
When it comes to cables, all ends should be firmly clamped to avoid loose wires, and there should be a full replacement of any damaged cables, rather than repairing them with insulation tape. There should also be proper connectors joining lengths of cable.
How to Be Sure, and Be Safe
As a provider of industrial and domestic electrical services, IDES UK can test all your electrical equipment, whether this is in your home, or your workplace. Regular testing and inspection are essential for electrical safety, to comply with regulations, and to give you peace of mind.
People can get too comfortable with the electricity they depend upon, taking its safety for granted. As the story of the faulty cables shows, this is one of the biggest risks of all. Be sure about your safety by being sure about your cables.
Get In Touch
We specialise in domestic and industrial electrical services, in commercial lighting solutions and in specialist automotive electrical services.
Whatever your electrical needs or issues, email email@example.com or call 08432 894645.