Electrical hazards in regional and rural communities

Electrical hazards on rural properties often involve contact between machinery or irrigation pipes with overhead powerlines. Other causes of electrical incidents include a general lack of electrical equipment maintenance, not having safety switches installed on all circuits and DIY electrical work.

Switchboards and safety switches

Your electrical switchboard, also known as a meter box or power box, is where the main electricity supply comes into your home or workshop. It splits electricity across different circuits, providing power to lights, power points and hardwired equipment. It can be found inside or outside your home.

Get to know your switchboard

 

View transcript

 

Electricity is invisible, so you can’t see the danger… but it can kill.

First up, let’s get to know your electrical switchboard.

A switchboard splits electricity across different circuits, providing power to lights, power points, and hard-wired equipment like air-conditioning, refrigerators, hot water systems, ovens and cooktops.

Switchboards can be installed indoors or outdoors. They may look different, but the main parts are similar.

There’s the meter to measure energy use. And main switches, to turn the power on and off to the different circuits.

Older style switchboards most likely still have old style rewireable fuses which do not protect you from electric shock.

And then there’s the circuit breakers - these protect your electrical wiring from being overloaded, reducing the risk of fire and damage.

However, the real stars of your switchboard are the safety switches – these help protect you and your family from electrical shock or worse.

Safety switches look similar to circuit breakers but have a ‘TEST or a ‘T’ button on them. Your safety switch can even be combined with your circuit breaker in the one device with a ‘TEST’ button.

Circuit breakers have NO test button.

Safety switches should be installed on all circuits to provide maximum protection for you and your family.

Safety switches work by continuously monitoring the flow of electricity. They turn off the power instantly when they detect an unsafe situation, saving you in a split second.

If the switches in your switchboard have no test buttons, that means you have no safety switches and no protection from electric shocks.

To make your property as safe as possible, give your licensed electrician a call to get safety switches installed right away.

Electricity is invisible, so you can’t see the danger… but it can kill.

Find out more at electricalsafety.qld.gov.au

 

More on safety switches.

 

Exclusion zones

People, machinery and vehicles must always keep a safe distance from overhead powerlines. The exclusion zones under Queensland's electrical safety laws are effectively the minimum safe distances to be maintained from powerlines in all directions.

Farmsafe Queensland has prepared a range of material specifically for rural industry, including an electrical hazard checklist which provides practical advice and a template to help carry out a risk assessment. The Managing farm safety – Risk management – Electrical hazard checklist is available from Farmsafe Queensland by phoning 1300 737 470.

More on exclusion zones.

 

Electrical equipment

Follow these tips to keep your electrical equipment such as power tools, motors and pumps safe and in good working order.

  • Examine all electrical equipment regularly and arrange for any defects to be fixed.
  • Determine whether there is electrical risk.
  • Manage the electrical risk by:
    • assessing the risks and implementing measures to control them
    • using safety switch protection or regular testing and inspection
    • visually checking all electrical equipment prior to use or connection
    • continuing to monitor electrical equipment on a regular basis.

 

Electrical equipment safety 

 

View transcript
 

Electricity is invisible, so you can’t see the danger… but it can kill.

Here are some simple steps to make sure your electrical equipment is safe to use. First up, it’s important to make sure all electrical equipment you buy has the Regulatory Compliance Mark on it or its packaging. This symbol means the products meet Australian Safety Requirements.

When you shop in-store or online check for this RCM symbol before you buy.You can also double check your purchase at electrical safety.qld.gov.au or eess.gov.au

Buying electrical equipment that is safe is the first step. Next, you need to keep it safe by following the manufacturer’s instructions for use, maintenance and service. Don’t forget to check to see if it’s marked ‘indoor use only’ or ‘for outdoor use’.

For household electrical equipment, make sure power leads are fully uncoiled before you use them. When you’ve finished, roll up the power leads in a natural coiling motion.

If you need to detangle power leads make sure you switch them off, unplug and then coil the lead from the connection end, NOT the plug end.

Over time, all electrical equipment can become unsafe. Signs to look out for are:

  • Cracked, broken or warped casings
  • Damaged safety guards
  • Colour changes from overheating or moisture
  • Water damage
  • Lead fraying, abrasions and cuts.

If you suspect your electrical equipment is broken or faulty, don’t use it. Get it repaired or dispose of it.

Recycling is the safest way to dispose of electrical equipment. Contact your local council or product retailer for safe disposal options. Cut the plug from the power lead and then break the pins on the plug so it cannot be plugged into a powerpoint again.

Make sure your electrical appliances are safe and in good working order. Electricity is invisible, so you can’t see the danger… but it can kill.

Find out more at electricalsafety.qld.gov.au
 

 

 

Visual examination

You should visually examine electrical equipment to see whether power points, light fittings, switchboards, wiring and other electrical equipment are undamaged and in good working order. You should carry out this visual examination once every 12 months.

If you find any problems, or suspect something is not electrically safe, get a licensed electrician to fix it.

Pay particular attention to the following to see if there is any damage, or if the equipment has any other problems:

  • switchboards
  • electrical cables and conduits
  • overhead powerlines and power poles
  • electrical accessories (e.g. power points)
  • other electrical equipment (e.g. light fittings, pumps or electrical cabinets)
  • handheld electrical equipment (e.g. electric drills or circular saws) – these devices must be visually examined prior to connection to electricity.

More on electrical equipment.

 

Electric welding

Inspect electric welding equipment before you use it and follow these safety tips:

  • Electrode holders should be fully insulated – they should also be maintained to ensure a good electrical connection between the electrode and the holder.
  • Personal protective equipment including protective clothing, gloves, footwear and eye protection must be used.
  • In high-risk situations such as in an enclosed space, use a safe system of work. This would use safety measures such as a voltage reduction unit to lower the open circuit voltage of the welder to a safe level or a safety observer to watch over you and turn off the power when you change an electrode.

For more information refer to the Welding processes code of practice 2021.

 

Hazardous areas

An area is considered hazardous if an explosive atmosphere is or may be present. Examples of hazardous areas are:

  • petrol dispensing or decanting areas
  • liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage and decanting areas
  • areas in or adjacent to gas storage facilities
  • ripening rooms
  • grain silos (flammable dusts)
  • those where flammable products are stored, used, or decanted.

The best and simplest way to make sure a hazardous area is electrically safe is not to have any electrical equipment in it.

Never run an extension lead to a hazardous area to use plug-in electrical equipment. Even extra low voltage equipment such as battery drills should not be used in a hazardous area, because they can create electrical sparks and arcs which may cause an explosion.

If you must have electrical equipment in a hazardous area, you must ensure:

  • the hazardous area is classified by an expert person, establishing the type of hazardous atmosphere and its risk level, in accordance with recognised standards
  • a licensed electrician ensures the electrical installation and equipment are suitable for the classification.