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Electrical safety: the buck stops with the employer
Electrical safety: the buck stops with the employerKeywords: Health and safety, Maintenance, Government legislation
A new report from the Electrical Contractors' Association underlines how the ultimate responsibility for the safe operation and maintenance of electrical installations, plant and machinery, fire alarm and emergency lighting, lies with the employer. Failure to ensure the required level of safety can result in significant fines or even imprisonment, warns David Pollock, Director of the ECA. Where electrical safety is concerned, the buck really does stop with the employer.
It is essential that companies undertake regular, planned electrical maintenance in order to demonstrate their efforts to meet the requirements of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. By doing so they are avoiding unnecessary risks in terms of business disruption and employee safety. In the six years from 1990 to 1995, serious electrically-related fires caused over £320 million of damage whilst 95 people were killed and 3,352 were injured at work in accidents involving electricity (source: HSE, Electrical Incidents in Great Britain, 1997).
The legal obligation of the employer to ensure the safety of electrical installations and equipment in workplaces is further underlined by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Employers need to ensure that fire alarms and emergency lighting meet the approved requirements of relevant legislation and fire officers. This is applicable for the both original installation and any subsequent addition or modification. Yet, despite the legal requirements and the potential risks to both lives and business operations, many managers fail to appreciate the need for regular maintenance of both electrical installations and equipment.
The new report from the ECA, A Client Guide to the Certification and Procurement of Electrical Installations, details how employers responsible for plant and property should ensure that they maintain a formal record of installation certificates together with inspection and test results. This will show that their electrical installations comply with the relevant standards. For electrical installation work, the main standard is BS 7671:1992 Requirements for Electrical Installations. This specifies that an installation certificate for all electrical installation work is issued by a competent body. Such bodies may be distinguished by membership of a recognised trade association such as the ECA. To ensure competence, potential members of the ECA have to meet stringent financial, commercial and technical prequalification and evaluation procedures. In addition, all members undertake regular periodic assessment to ensure that work carried out complies with the relevant standards.
ECA members employ only electricians properly qualified for work they undertake together with a formally qualified technical supervisor to certify the standard of work and issue the appropriate certificate. These range from the completion and inspection certificate, which should be issued for every major new, rewired or altered installation, through to certificates dealing specifically with fire alarms, security systems or emergency lighting. In addition to these is the periodic report form which under BS 7671 requires that the results of a periodic inspection of an electrical installation be formally recorded. BS 7671 provides the generic models of certificates and reports suitable for the industry.
The benefits from better management and regular maintenance are significant. In recognition of this, many companies and organisations are placing new emphasis on regular inspection and maintenance as part of their ongoing facilities management. In this way potential risks are controlled. Risk management is not the only benefit. As part of the regular inspection, the electrician would be able to suggest possible system improvements, such as energy-saving lighting.
Electricity is a powerful but potentially dangerous energy source. As such its use must be controlled via correctly installed and maintained systems and equipment. Failure to do so could result in a disastrous fire and possible imprisonment for those whose responsibility it is to ensure the safe operation of installation or plant but who are unable to prove regular inspection and maintenance.
For copies of A Client Guide to the Certification and Procurement of Electrical Installations contact the ECA. Tel: +44 (0) 20 7229 1266.