Under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) , the employer has a legal obligation to ensure that the workplace and the plant at the workplace is safe and without risks to health (Section 21). This means identifying whether there are any hazards associated with electrical equipment, assessing the associated risks and taking measures to eliminate or control those risks.
While there is nothing more specific under the Victorian OHS legislation,there is a Safe Work Australia model Code of Practice – Managing Electrical Risks in the Workplace which provides practical guidance for persons conducting a business or undertaking on managing electrical risks in the workplace. It applies to all workplaces where a person conducting a business or undertaking:
- has management or control of electrical equipment, including electrical installations, or
- carries out electrical work on or near energised electrical equipment, including electrical installations.
To have legal effect in a jurisdiction, the model Code of Practice must be approved as a code of practice in that jurisdiction. While this Code has not been picked up in Victoria, it can provide very useful advice and information on electrical risks in workplaces to both employers and HSRs/workers - and forms part of the 'state of knowledge'. The Code can be downloaded from this page on the SWA website. SWA also has a page which provides an overview of electrical safety.
WorkSafe Victoria has advised that electrical safety testing and tagging for all plug-in equipment falls under the general obligations of Section 21(2)(a)of the Act and, in the past, advised all employers to introduce a safety testing protocol. In some workplaces (for example all government departments) it is now more or less mandatory that all electrical equipment be checked and "tagged" regularly. What does 'regularly' mean?
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. This Standard specifies procedures for the safety inspection and testing of low voltage single phase and polyphase electrical equipment, connected to the electrical supply by a flexible cord or connecting device, and that
- Is new equipment placed into service for the first time;
- Is already in-service;
- Has been serviced or repaired;
- Is returning to service from a second-hand sale; or
- Is available for hire.
The VTHC has been advised that WorkSafe Victoria is now "actively enforcing the standard and inspecting all types of premises to confirm introduction of minimum safety testing programs consistent with AS/NZS 3760." The standard applies to all types of electrical equipment in offices, factories and so on (ie tools, machines, computers, even jugs and cooling fans).
How often should equipment be 'tested and tagged'?
The frequency of inspections that are outlined in Section 2 of the Standard, AS/NZS 3760:2010 are recommended but can be varied subject to a risk assessment that has been carried out in accordance with an appropriate risk assessment checklist or program. The Australian standard includes a table that sets out testing and inspection intervals for various types of equipment from 3 months (for equipment that is high use, high risk, or hire equipment) to up to 5 years (for equipment that is not open to abuse, flexing of cords, etc).
In addition to the regular testing and inspection, the standard specified that electrical equipment SHALL be inspected and tested:
- Before return to service after a repair or servicing, which could have affected the electrical safety of the equipment, and
- Before return to service from a second-hand sale, to ensure equipment is safe.
Generally the following should be followed:
- equipment, including tools and leads, on building sites: at least every quarter
- Safety Switches: monthly
- Factories, etc, equipment/machinery/tools on 'the floor': six monthly.
- Offices (including offices in factories): every 3 to 5 years
The Standard states that in Australia when the equipment is new, the supplier is deemed responsible for its initial electrical safety. New equipment need not be tested but must be examined for obvious damage. However, to ensure that new items are included in the system, and get tested eventually, there are easily obtained 'New To Service' tag specifically for this purpose. Without one of these tags attached, it is difficult to determine if the appliance is under 12 months old or is an untested appliance. New items should be tagged and dated, in-house, when purchased and recorded as such in audits.
The checking and tagging of equipment as per AS/NZS 3760 must be done by a 'competent person' - this means someone who "has the necessary practical and theoretical skills, acquired through training, qualification, experience or a combination of these, to correctly undertake the required tasks". The person does not need to be a qualified electrician, but an electrician or someone who has successfully completed an approved course at a TAFE college would be deemed to be competent. However, if you have concerns about the competency of the person undertaking the testing and tagging, then it would be safer to use a qualified electrician with expertise in this area. There are a number of electrical contractors who specialise in the checking and tagging equipment - check the Yellow Pages.
The UK's HSE has also produced a publication: Maintaining portable electric equipment in low-risk environments which can be downloaded from this page. The HSE says: 'It's a myth that all portable electrical appliances in a low-risk environment, such as an office, need to have a portable appliance test (PAT) every year. The law simply requires employers to ensure electrical equipment is maintained in order to prevent danger - it doesn't state what needs to be done or how often.' (the PAT is equivalent to 'testing and tagging')
Lockout of plant
There are times when it is necessary to lockout or tagout electrical plant to ensure that it is not used. While the regulations do not specifically state what should be done in terms of lockout, WorkSafe has a Guidance Note Lock out and tagging of plant [pdf] .
In addition, EnergySafe Victoria, the safety regulator responsible for electrical and gas safety in Victoria, Australia, has issued and recently revised, useful information:
- Electrical safety at home
- Electrical appliances and equipment - Advice for consumers
- Sale and supply of second-hand equipment
ESV can be contacted on 03) 9203 9700 (electricity section) or you can go to its website.
Advice to health and safety reps
Tagging and checking of all electrical equipment in accordance with AS3760 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. For more advice, contact your union.
- From WorkSafe Victoria:
- Comcare has a number of resources, developed as part of a "Stay Safe and the Workplace" campaign specifically on Electrical Safety:
- Electricity you can switch off - on this page there is a poster, designed to increase awareness of the dangers involved in working with electricity, and a checklist [pdf] to be used by employees to check whether there are any electrical hazards in their workplace. If there are, employees should be encouraged to rectify them.
- Video - Stay Safe in the Workplace video gallery - scroll down to the ones on electrical safety. Comcare recommends watching this series of videos to see how electricity affects the body, what to look for when inspecting equipment, the safe use of cables and cords and bringing private equipment into the workplace.
- From SafeWorkNSW: Electrical Inspection and Testing
- Go to the UK Health and Safety Executive's page on Electrical Safety at Work to download more information, including a range of leaflets and guidance material.
Last amended March 2019