Electrical cords and extension leads

The independent technical regulator responsible for electrical and gas safety and equipment efficiency, Energy Safe Victoria, has not placed any specific regulatory requirements on electrical cords or extension leads. It has provided advice: "Avoid ‘piggybacking’ adaptors, instead use a power board with a built-in safety device" in once of its publications (Using Electricity Safely).

Also, general industry advice is that extension leads should not be joined together. This is because when plugging two or more leads together there is a potential for voltage drop, which draws too much power for the lead resulting in fires or overloading of appliances.

It has pointed out, however, that under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) employers have a legal duty to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes ensuring that plant and systems of work at the workplace are healthy and safe.

In the publication Managing Safety in Your Workplace designed for small to medium businesses, WorkSafe Victoria advises that electrical safety testing and tagging for all plug-in equipment (including power boards and cords) falls under the general obligations of Section 21(2)(a)of the Act. The employer is advised to introduce a safety testing protocol. (A CDROM and booklet were produced at the time, both free from WorkSafe. Contact the regulator on 03 9641 1333 or email on [email protected] to check if still available)

The Australian New Zealand Standard AS/NZS3760 In-Service Safety Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment is nationally accepted as the minimum safety protocol for the workplace, and applies to plug-in or non-fixed equipment. The VTHC has been advised that WorkSafe Victoria is 'actively enforcing the standard and inspecting all types of premises to confirm introduction of minimum safety testing programs consistent with AS3760.' The standard applies to all types of electrical equipment in offices, factories and so on (ie tools, machines, computers, even jugs and cooling fans).

Also from WorkSafe:

Further, due to a serious electrocution, several government departments (for example the Department of Education and Training) have issued instructions regarding all electrical equipment. Electrical equipment, which includes power cords and boards, computers, cleaning equipment, equipment in craft rooms and so on, must be checked and tagged in accordance with AS 3760.

The checking and tagging of equipment as per AS 3760 can be done either by a qualified electrician or by someone who has successfully completed an approved course at a TAFE college. There are also a number of electrical contractors who specialise in the checking and tagging equipment - check the Yellow Pages.

Advice to health and safety reps

Tagging and checking of all "in-service" electrical plug-in equipment in accordance with AS/NZS 3760 should now be the norm in all workplaces. If this is not the case in your workplace, as an OHS rep, you should approach your employer and request that this be done as soon as possible. If it is not done, then the employer is breaching his/her duty under Section 21.

If the workplace is a construction site, then the Industry Standard for Electrical Installations on Construction Sites must apply. WorkSafe has also developed a checklist document answering a number of questions on the standard.

Both the Electrical Safety Act, 1998 and the Electrical Safety (Installations) Regulations apply (see this page on the ESV website), as well the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004. In addition, number of Australian Standards, including AS/NZS 3760, are referenced in the Industry Standard, and so are mandatory.

For more information, contact your union.

Last amended February 2020