Ensuring safety of plug-in electrical appliances

The Electricity (Safety) Regulations 2010 apply to in-service appliances and leads including drills and other hand-held tools that are connected to electricity. The Regulations stipulate that these appliances must be protected by a residual current device (RCD) in certain circumstances when necessary, such as when conditions are damp.

Connecting electrical equipment to an RCD-protected supply should be sufficient protection against significant harm in the event of a failure – such as electric shock. Equipment users should also look for signs of damage – e.g.to cords - and regularly check that safety equipment and guards function (where applicable every day).

The AS/NZS 3760 standard is an option for businesses to ensure compliance via testing and tagging, which the Regulations deem safe.  The frequency of testing depends on the conditions.

There is no legal requirement for testing and tagging of in-service appliances and leads connected to electricity – either in a work or home setting.

While testing and tagging can detect defects that may not be easy to see and confirms equipment safety at time of testing, it should not be relied on for electrical equipment safety.  Tested and tagged equipment must still be RCD-protected in certain circumstances and checked for visible signs of damage or faults.

It is up to businesses to determine whether to test and tag (and they train staff to do it), or engage a third-party to carry out the testing. If a business employs a third party they must ensure that whoever does the work has the necessary training to undertake the assessments.

While test and tagging operators may be able to identify a problem, no formal qualifications or licence is required to test and tag. This means if a tester is not a qualified electrician, they will not be able to resolve any problems test results reveal.

The extent of checking equipment for electrical safety is proportionate to the business’s risk profile. For example, stationary office appliances may only need electrical supply via RCD and periodic visual checks of cords and equipment to ensure safety.

On a building site with multiple businesses operating, testing and tagging gives confidence equipment is regularly checked.  However, additional safety monitoring may be needed to manage risks on these and other busy sites.

This may include visual examinations of cords and tools for wear and tear such as missing guards, missing bolts and nuts, checking cables are out of the way, and damage to enclosure etc. The standard AS/NZS 3012 provides guidance for the safety use of electricity on construction and demolition sites.

Worksafe also has a guide specifically for ensuring electrical safety on small construction sites. It provides information for small site managers about electrical supply on small construction sites and includes guidance around other electrical supply safety standards – for example, temporary supply switchboards and portable socket-outlet assemblies.

Because of differences between New Zealand and Australia (and state and federal) regulatory regimes the approach in relation to the standards varies.