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SPARKS Blog: Keeping electrical equipment safely maintained

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It is important to regularly check that any electrical equipment which you use is safely maintained. The UK’s electrical safety experts, Electrical Safety First, found that there were 1,665 fatalities and injuries caused as a result of electrical fires during 2015/16 across England and Wales. The organisation also found that there were another 598 casualties and nine fatalities caused by electrical fires throughout Scotland in just 2016.

Acorn Stairlifts covers the laws in place when it comes to maintaining electrical equipment, the checks you can carry out to ensure devices are safe to use, and the steps you must take if you have concerns about any gadgets.

The laws surrounding the maintenance of electrical equipment

As a requirement found within the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, all electrical equipment should be maintained (so far as reasonably practicable) to prevent danger. Both portable equipment and installations are covered here, while the phrase ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ means that you are not required to remove every risk, but do everything expected to protect people from harm.

Be aware: this law does not detail how you must go about maintaining electrical equipment or how frequently. However, you can determine the level of maintenance which is needed by considering the risk which will be attached to the gadget becoming faulty. For instance, will the level of risk increase if an item that becomes faulty, meaning that it’s no longer suitable for the job? Or, is it being operated in a harsh environment?

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How frequently you maintain electrical equipment will also change from one item to the next. Stairlifts manufacturer Acorn Stairlifts states in its guide on caring for a stairlift that stairlift servicing should be performed at least once a year, for example, as this will help to prevent any serious problems from developing and also prolong the life of the equipment.

In general though, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states: “Electrical installations should be tested often enough that there is little chance of deterioration leading to danger. Any part of an installation that has become obviously defective between tests should be de-energised until the fault can be fixed.”

The checks you can carry out

You’ll receive the most reassurance that electrical equipment is safe to use if you have it inspected and tested by an individual who has the competence to carry out the work. Electrical Safety First has a great resource for finding a registered electrician in your area who is part of a government-approved scheme.

There are a few suitable checks that you can carry out on the devices yourself though, such as a simple visual inspection. Here’s how to go about undertaking this particular check:

  1. Ensure the electrical equipment has been switched off and unplugged before carrying out any checks.
  2. Begin the checks by looking to see if the plug is correctly wired. The HSE has a handy visual of a correctly wired plug in its guide to maintaining portable electrical equipment in low-risk environments, though seek out assistance if you don’t feel competent doing this check.
  3. Consult either the equipment rating plate or the device’s instruction book to make sure that the fuse is correctly rated.
  4. Look to see if the plug is damaged in any way, as well as if the cable is not properly secured. No internal wires should be visible either.
  5. Ensure the electrical cable isn’t damaged. Take note that cables should not have been repaired using an unsuitable connector or insulating tape, while any damaged cable needs to be replaced with a new cable — the work of which must be performed by a competent person.
  6. Determine if the outer cover of the electrical equipment has been damaged in a manner that gives rise to either electrical or mechanical hazards.
  7. See if there are any burn marks or staining on the device. If so, these could indicate that the gadget is prone to overheating.
  8. As well as analysing the actual equipment as part of the visual inspection, also check that any trailing wires from the device aren’t causing a trip hazard. By eliminating this hazard, you’ll reduce the risk of the gadget becoming damaged.

On the topic of checking electrical equipment, the HSE has also pointed out: “Checks should be carried out often enough to ensure there is little chance the equipment will become unsafe between checks.

“It is good practice to make a decision on how often each piece of equipment should be checked, write this down, make sure checks are carried out accordingly and write down the results. You should change how often you carry out checks, according to the number and severity of faults found.”

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What to do when coming across unsafe electrical equipment

If you have concerns about the safety of any electrical equipment, it’s important that you instantly act to prevent the device from being used by anyone. Aim to switch off the gadget as well, but only if it’s safe to do so.

From there, seek out help from a competent person so that they can carry out a more thorough check. Approved contractors are available from ECA, NAPIT, NICEIC or SELECT.

If the electrical equipment that you’re concerned about isn’t owned by you or under your control, you should take the necessary steps to discover who actually owns the device and then contact them about the issues encountered. A contact telephone number is often attached to electrical distribution poles, pylons and equipment, for instance, though you can also get in touch with the HSE or a local authority for assistance.

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