Almost every modern household relies on electrical circuits and appliances within the home. Without them, we’d all be pretty lost, but with electricity comes certain dangers and while most home equipment will operate safely, it’s important to do your bit to ensure the safety of you, your home and your family.
In this guide, we will be looking at various aspects of electrical safety within the home including helpful advice as to your electrical systems and appliances. Adhering to these guidelines will ensure that you have as few electrical problems, if any, as possible.
The Importance Of Buying UK Conforming Appliances
Different countries around the world have different criteria for what complies as a safe electrical product. Moreover, not all appliances and devices are designed to be compatible with UK electrical systems and using them puts you and your home at serious risk. For this reason, you should only ever purchase appliances that are fully certified and tested for use in the United Kingdom.
Of course, the average homeowner may not be aware of what to look for but it’s a pretty simple concept to understand and our tips below will help you determine whether your chosen appliance is suitable for use in the UK.
The UK And The EU
When the United Kingdom left the EU, there were plenty of things that changed and one such thing was the safety marks you see on electrical products. Previously, there would have been a CE mark that let consumers know of the product’s suitability for use with UK circuits. However, this was replaced at the beginning of 2021 with what is known as the United Kingdom Conformity Assessed mark (UKCA) and this tells you that the product complies with UK safety regulations.
While products sold in Northern Ireland will still usually display the CE mark, some may now show a UK(NI) mark which lets you know that the product complies with regulations from both countries.
Now, of course, it goes without saying that manufacturers of electrical appliances will need some time to replace all of the old CE marks so you may still see these up until the end of 2022. This doesn’t mean that the products aren’t suitable for use, it simply means that the manufacturer hasn’t yet changed its marking. Provided it has either the CE or UKCA mark, it should be considered safe. After the beginning of 2023, you would only expect to see the UKCA mark.
Recognising Fake Products
Any electrical items that are sold in the UK should have a safety mark printed both on the packaging and on the item itself. If this is not the case, then we would urge you to err on the side of caution as the chances are that this product was not made by a reputable manufacturer and may be unsafe for use.
It’s also a very wise idea to research manufacturers and retailers before purchasing any electrical product. We would always advise using only those that you already know have a good reputation for making safe products that follow UK regulations. Any brands that you would regularly see on the high street would normally be considered safe.
Registering Your Appliances
So many of us are guilty of buying an electrical item, giving the registration document a quick scan and putting it in a drawer, telling ourselves I’ll do that later. But later never comes and the number of unregistered electrical products in the UK is in excess of 260 million!
You might think that going online or making that phone call to register your product is nothing but a waste of time. But manufacturers ask you to do this for your own protection.
If you’ve ever watched TV shows like Watchdog, The One Show, This Morning and many others, you’ll have likely seen announcements about electrical product recalls. This is just one way that manufacturers are able to let customers know that there is a fault with their product, but of course, that’s based on the assumption that customers are actually seeing these TV announcements.
What makes life far easier for both the manufacturer and the customer is when products are registered. The manufacturer will have your contact details and can get in touch with you directly to let you know if there is a problem.
Some years ago, there was an outbreak of household fires as a result of faulty washing machines. Many homes were devastated by the damage, but if these appliances had been registered, consumers would have known not to use them. Those few minutes it takes to register your goods could save a life!
Avoiding Electric Shocks
We all know that an electric shock can be fatal but many of us are guilty of underestimating just how little electricity it can take to kill. Moreover, a lot of people don’t realise that their regular household appliances could be posing a life-threatening risk and so continue using them, completely oblivious.
For this reason, it is essential to regularly check your appliances and keep an eye out for any signs that something is wrong. If you do happen to notice anything, then we would strongly urge you to stop using the appliance and seek professional assistance.
Some of the most obvious signs that an electrical appliance is faulty and potentially dangerous include the following:
- Sparks coming from the appliance.
- Appliances becoming overly hot or glowing
- Exposed or worn wires
- Circuit breakers are regularly tripped, particularly by one appliance.
While all of these things could indicate a faulty appliance, there is also a risk that your entire home circuit may be faulty. If you notice severe or persistent problems then these may be signs that you need to have your home electrics checked.
The Importance Of An EICR
UK homeowners should ensure that they have regular assessments of their electrical circuits to ensure correct and safe function. These checks should only ever be carried out by a licensed and qualified electrician. Attempting to do these checks yourself simply to save money is incredibly dangerous.
An Electrical Installation Condition Report is an official inspection carried out by an electrician detailing the function and safety of an electrical installation. UK landlords are now legally required to have these inspections carried out at least once every five years.
While UK homeowners who live in their own properties are not legally required to have these checks, it is strongly recommended that you do. Usually, if you are selling a property, the potential buyer would expect an up to date EICR, as you would expect one if you were purchasing a property. Many people are put off of the idea as they think it will cost them time and money but the cost of not having a check could be far worse including expensive repairs or even injury and death from faulty electrics!
What’s more, what a lot of people don’t realise is that an EICR isn’t as invasive to your home as you might first think. Typically speaking, these checks take no more than three or four hours to carry out. Of course, this does depend on the size of the property and how many circuits are installed. You will need to have the power switched off during the tests which can be a little disruptive but in the scheme of things, a few hours without power is worth it.
Preventing And Dealing With Problems
There are a lot of things you can do in and around your home to ensure that your electrical systems are working as safely as possible. We have already talked about the importance of monitoring your appliances and regularly checking for problems but this is just one of the things we would advise doing.
Using Extension Leads
Many of us use extension cables to boost the number of appliances we can plug in at any one power point. But just because these extensions have the physical capacity to plug in four, five or even six plugs, that doesn’t mean it’s always safe to do this.
All extension leads come with a current rating which tells you how much power they are safely able to take. Most UK extensions are 13 amp but there are some that are as low as 10 amps and it’s essential to check this to avoid overloading the plug and potentially causing overheating which could lead to a fire.
Water And Electricity
We’re all familiar with the notion that water and electricity do not mix so it’s common sense to avoid bringing these two elements together in the home. In the UK, it isn’t standard practice to have plug sockets in the bathroom but there are certainly many in the kitchen where you’ll also have a whole host of electrical appliances. In these rooms, it is vital to take extra care to keep moisture and water away from your appliances and sockets to avoid electric shocks. It might sound as though we are teaching you to suck eggs but you’d be amazed at the number of accidents that occur this way.
Know Your Limits
It can be incredibly tempting to take on electrical repairs and work within the home as a DIY job. A lot of people do this in order to save money and avoid the often costly work that an electrician would carry out.
However, while you might save a pretty penny, you are putting your family at risk because unless you are fully certified with relevant training, electrical work is not something you should be attempting.
It’s fair to say that some small, simple jobs such as rewiring a plug might be suitable for homeowners to complete. However, not everyone will have the relevant knowledge to do these tasks and there is no shame in asking for help.
If you are ever in any doubt as to what you are doing, it is vital that you contact a qualified electrician who will undertake the work safely and correctly.
What To Do If Someone Gets An Electric Shock
Even with the most well-maintained and functioning electrical systems, there is always a small risk of things going wrong. In the event that someone sustains an electric shock, it is essential that you know what to do.
The good news is that, for the most part, electric shocks sustained in the home are rarely fatal but that isn’t always the case so you should act quickly and appropriately. We have a detailed guide on what to do if someone receives an electric shock but let’s have a brief rundown of the most important things to do.
- If the person is still in contact with the electricity source, do not touch them as the electricity may transfer to you.
- You should never move a person who has been shocked. The only time you can do this is if they are in danger of receiving a further shock.
- Switch off the electricity at the source.
- If you are able to, check the person’s heart rate and breathing. Once again, we must reiterate that you should not touch the person if they are still in contact with the electricity.
- You should always seek medical assistance after an electric shock but if the person is unable to breathe, has seizures, muscle pain, heart problems or loses consciousness then you should call 999 immediately.
- If necessary and possible, perform CPR while you wait for medical assistance to arrive.
- Make sure that the person is kept warm.
If the person has sustained any burns, these can be covered using a sterile gauze. Avoid using anything that might stick to the burn and cause further damage.
What Is An RCD?
A residual current device, often simply referred to as an RCD, is a device that vastly improves the safe operation of your electrical circuits and could potentially save a life! They’re essentially designed to stop you from sustaining an electric shock in the event that you touch something that is live. Moreover, they will offer a degree of protection from electrical fires.
A regular circuit breaker or fuse is a good safety feature but they are not a patch on an RCD so when ensuring effective electrical safety in the home, it’s vital that you consider an RCD. They are much more sensitive and will switch off the electricity automatically at the first indication of a fault.
The most common type of fault that an RCD is designed to protect against is an earth fault. A good example of this is if you were to cut through your lawnmower cable and then touch it. Without an RCD, the wire would be live and you would get a potentially fatal shock.
Installing electrical systems can be a costly venture and so many people wrongly assume that adding an RCD will massively boost the cost, but the opposite is true. While there are different types of RCD, which we will explore shortly, the cheapest plug-in devices can cost as little as £10. It’s worth getting a few quotes when looking at installing an RCD before you commit as some devices may not be as effective as others.
How Does An RCD Work?
RCDs are used to monitor the electric current that flows through the circuit. They can also monitor several circuits at once. In the event that the device detects electricity moving down a path that it shouldn’t, then it will switch off the supply automatically.
This would happen in the case of a human touching a live wire. While you still might receive a small shock, it would be vastly less than if an RCD were not installed. This is incredibly important in preventing fatalities or serious injuries from electric shock.
How Do I Know If I Already Have An RCD?
If you weren’t aware that RCDs exist, then you may not know whether or not you have one, and you wouldn’t be the first person to wonder this. But checking whether you do is incredibly simple. Just take a look at your consumer unit. Those that are fitted with a residual current device will have a button marked ‘test’ or in some cases with just the letter ‘t’. This is a feature of an RCD and it’s important to regularly test this. You may also notice a sticker advising you to test the unit on a quarterly basis.
Types Of RCD
Now that you understand the importance of having an RCD for electrical safety in the home, you are likely considering installing one. However, it’s important to be aware that there are several different types so you’ll need to make sure that you choose the right one for your home.
A fixed RCD is installed in your fuse box, also known as a consumer unit. These are great for offering protection to either a single electrical circuit or several across the home. Moreover, these fixed devices offer the highest level of protection as they will monitor all wires and sockets as well as the appliances that you connect.
A portable RCD is a convenient device that can be plugged into any of your sockets. You then plug your appliance into the RCD and make a great choice in situations where it isn’t possible to install a fixed RCD. However, it’s important to keep in mind that they will not protect the entire electrical system and would only protect a person touching anything live on the appliance the RCD is connected to.
Socket Outlet RCD
The final type of residual current device is the socket-outlet RCD. This is a socket that has a built-in RCD and would be used instead of a standard socket. Much like the previous type, this would only provide protection to anyone coming into contact with live electricity at the socket point and not across the entire circuit.
Electrical safety in the home is of the utmost importance. When it isn’t correctly adhered to, there is a serious risk of electrical fires, damage to equipment and most importantly a risk to the health and safety of you and your loved ones.
There are several things you can do to ensure proper electrical safety and drastically reduce the chances of accidents. Making sure that you regularly check your appliances and register them with the manufacturer is a good place to start but you should also schedule an EICR at least once every five years. If you’re a landlord, this is a legal requirement.
Common sense comes into play as well when thinking about electrical safety in the home. While it might sound obvious, things, like not mixing electricity and water and avoiding the use of faulty or damaged cables, are very important.
By ensuring all of these things, you and your family can safely use your electrical systems and appliances without concern.