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You probably already know that it is a bad idea to perform electrical work yourself unless you are a trained and qualified electrician. Two of the main hazards when working with electricity are electrical shock or the potential of creating a situation that causes a fire hazard. These hazards can cause serious injury or death, regardless of whether the repair involves a small appliance or a part of the grid. When you hire an electrician, it is important to make sure that they follow the guidelines set by Workplace Health and Safety (WHS), not only for their safety but for yours, too.
Workplace Health and Safety
WHS, formerly known as Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is a set of guidelines and laws that explain the proper methods to ensure that employees have in a safe environment to execute their job properly. In this case, WHS for electricians involves guidelines on working with electricity in different types of environments and situations. Electricians can take WHS Awareness Courses to ensure they’re up to date with their safety knowledge.
These laws and guidelines are geared towards workers and professionals, but they also help to keep you safe. They assure that when you hire a licensed professional, they know how to do the job right and work safely.
High-Risk Areas and Workplaces
Electricians can face working in dangerous situations that may be unavoidable. Here are common situations of where the risk can increase for electricians and examples of ‘hostile operating environments’:
- Outdoors or damp areas that can cause equipment to get wet or damaged
- Cramped spaces which can be challenging to reach, especially if there are electrical faults
- Portable equipment such as sockets and plugs are vulnerable to damage
- Workplaces that are very dusty, contain corrosive areas, commercial kitchens, and manufacturing
- Working on overhead or underground electricity lines
- Safety switches or RCDs that electricians will plug their equipment into
Though some of these situations are inevitable, electricians can take steps to decrease their risk, for example:
- Assess all the possible risks before starting your job
- Disconnect unsafe electrical equipment
- Regularly inspect, test and tag their equipment
- De-energise equipment by testing every circuit and conductor
- Electricians can take on courses such as working in confined spaces to ensure the can minimise as much risk as possible
Examples of Laws
Many of the guidelines and laws would seem like common sense, but they had to be made into a law for a reason. For instance, it is illegal to work on any electrical system while it is live. It must be disconnected before attempting any repair. In addition, there are special requirements for working on systems that might be exposed to water or the climate. There are different types of licences, depending on the type of work that will be undertaken. For instance, you need a different licence to work on single-phase, as opposed to three-phase electrical systems.
Another reason to be vigilant about checking the licencing of any electrician that you intend to hire is that codes and regulations change from time to time. As technology changes, the rules and laws must be updated. Licencing programs have requirements that electricians must upgrade their education at certain intervals to keep their licence. The reason for this continuing education requirement is so that they are up to date on the current laws and regulations.
One of the most important things to ask about is whether the professional that you intend to hire is insured. If something should go wrong, either due to their fault or random event, you want to make sure that your homeowner’s insurance is not responsible for damages or injury. For instance, if a system is installed improperly and catches your neighbour’s property on fire, you would not want to be responsible.
Licenced electricians must be certified in order to obtain insurance. This means that they must know and agree to follow safe practices while working and regarding the quality of the work that they perform. If they do not carry insurance, it should raise a red flag as to why. Any professional that you hire should be licenced and insured if they are going to do any electrical work at all, even if the task seems minor.
One of the essential points of advice is not to take anything for granted. This is where many homeowners and businesses get in trouble. They assume that just because someone says they can do electrical work, that means they are licenced. Perhaps they were at one time but have not kept up with current requirements and have a lapsed certification. Some people say they do electrical work but learned it informally from a friend or family member. Accidentally hiring someone like this because you did not follow through and ask for proof of licence and insurance can be disastrous.
The most important point to know is that when you hire an electrician, they must meet certain legal requirements, regardless of the size or nature of the job. The most important consideration should be how qualified and experienced the person is and if they have the required licences and insurance.
If you ask for quotes and a contractor comes in extremely low on their bid, you need to ask about licencing and insurance. Even if the contractor is more affordable, if they do not follow current safety practices set forth by the WHS, they could end up costing you more in the end. Any electrical work is serious business and should never be attempted by anyone who is not properly trained and licenced. Making sure that your professional has the proper licences and that they follow safe work practices on the job is the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your property.
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