Understanding electrical safety for your commercial property

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), there are around 1,000 electrical accidents at work and about 25 people die from their injuries each year. Employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees, but accidents do still happen. We’ve put this guide together to help you understand the risks and, ultimately, avoid costly insurance repairs to your commercial property caused by electrical accidents.

Why do I need to be concerned about electrical accidents?

While the numbers may seem small for electrical accidents at work, electricity is still a major cause of accidental fires in the UK. And, with the rise in technology in recent years, we are increasingly reliant on electrical appliances, both in the workplace and at home.

We’ve covered homeowners’ responsibilities in this guide [link to homeowner blog]. If you own or rent commercial property, there are additional legal obligations you must abide by to ensure your property is safe for those in it.

What electrical legislation applies to commercial property?

If you own or rent a commercial property, you have a duty of care to protect those who use your building. Your specific responsibilities will depend on what is written in your lease.

As an employer, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSAW) will apply. This includes electrical safety and covers your employees and any members of the public at your premises, if they are at risk from your work activities.

The HSAW includes the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAW), which cover the design of electrical systems and equipment, their construction, operation, use and maintenance. They require that any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury must be maintained in a safe condition, and that the person doing the testing needs to be competent to do it.

The IET Wiring Regulations (also known as British Standard BS 7671:2008 17th Edition) also apply in some cases. Your electrician or electrical contractor will know what applies and when.

How do I protect against electrical accidents?

By far the best way to protect your property is to have regular electrical inspections and testing carried out by a qualified electrical contractor. These inspections will accurately identify any faults with your electrical equipment and wiring and recommend solutions for rectifying them.

Indeed, your insurer may require regular inspections are carried out as part of your commercial insurance policy terms. If you have not had regular inspections and carried out regular maintenance, you may be in breach of your policy in the event of a claim, meaning you won’t be able to get insurance repairs done.

Suitably qualified and accredited electrical contractors will comply with the EAW and the Wiring Regulations and will advise you on good working practices, helping you adapt to technical changes in legislation, as they become law.

To find a suitably qualified electrician or electrical contractor to deal with electrical work and inspections in your commercial property, visit Electrical Safety First’s database.

How often should I get electrical installations tested?

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) recommends that electrical installations are carried out every five years for commercial properties and every three years for industrial properties.

Test portable appliances

Additionally, your portable appliances – such as kettles, toasters, laptops, computers and any other devices that can be plugged in – need to be tested regularly. This is known as PAT testing (Portable Appliance Testing).

How often you should have PAT tests depends on the equipment itself and how often it’s used. High risk items that are involved in heavy, frequent machinery work, are more likely to develop faults quicker than low risk office equipment.

Similarly, if equipment hasn’t been used for a while or is used infrequently, it’s a good idea to check it and get it tested.

Carry out visual checks

You can usually assess for visible damage yourself, to ensure electrical installations and equipment are safe. Look out for:

  • damaged plug tops
  • faulty cords and fractured casings
  • worn or frayed wires and cables
  • signs of blackness or scorching around a socket, which could indicate overloading
  • broken electrical accessories, such as sockets and light switches
  • a smell of hot plastic or burning near a socket
  • signs of sparks or smoke coming from a plug or appliance

Always ensure any damage is repaired by a qualified electrician or that the appliance or plugs are replaced.

Find out more

The NICEIC has produced a range of guides for anyone specifying electrical work in commercial property – click on the section most appropriate to your business.

If you have any queries about electrical work in your commercial property or need to make a property insurance repairs claim, contact Sarrani at info@sarrani.com or call us on 020 3006 3126.