Safety switches and electrical equipment

Electricity makes our lives easier. But, unless you’re careful, this convenience can also be dangerous. Electrical accidents at home and at work can cause power outages, fires, and life-threatening electric shocks.

So, it’s important to take care. Find out about safety switches, maintaining your electrical equipment and how to use appliances safely. Remember, it’s never safe to do your own electrical work.

Download our electricity safety guide (PDF 2.2 mb) as a handy electrical safety reference.

What is electric shock?

Electric shocks happen when electricity passes through your body after you make contact with a live electrical circuit. They can cause serious injuries and death — and they can happen in an instant.

If you touch something that gives you a shock or tingle, the next thing you touch should be your phone.

If you ever feel a shock or tingle from a cord, powerpoint, appliance or water tap, follow these steps:

  • Prevent anyone from touching it
  • Call us immediately to report it on 13 16 70, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Call your licensed electrical contractor to check your wiring immediately.

IMPORTANT: Don’t touch or attempt to rescue someone who is being shocked - you could end up receiving a shock yourself. Turn off the power if you can. Then, stay well clear and call triple zero (000).

Find out more about electric shocks and tingles.

Protect yourself from electric shock

Every year, too many Queenslanders are injured or killed by electric shock. Sadly, in most cases, these accidents could have been prevented.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from electric shock by taking the following precautions:

  1. Install and maintain safety switches
  2. Use your electrical appliances and fittings safely
  3. Take care when you DIY ('do it yourself')
  4. Never do your own electrical work.

How to install and maintain safety switches

An easy way to prevent electrical accidents is to make sure your home or business has a safety switch installed. This is a device that can shut off the power within milliseconds of detecting a fault, potentially preventing a life-threatening shock.

A safety switch is different to a circuit breaker. While they are both found on your switchboard, fuses and circuit breakers protect your wiring and appliances, while safety switches protect people.

If your home or business doesn’t have a safety switch, arrange to have one installed by a licensed electrical contractor right away.

How do I know if I have a safety switch?

To check your switchboard for safety switches, look for one or more buttons marked ‘T’, ‘test’ or ‘reset’. You may see several safety switches in different colours, shapes or sizes.

How often should I test my safety switch?

To make sure you’re protected, test your safety switches every three months. To do this, open your switch board and locate the safety switch. Then, press the 'test' button once. The switch should automatically trip, cutting power to that circuit.

To restore your power, reset the switch by turning it back 'on'.

Remember to turn off any important appliances before you test your safety switch and reset your clocks afterwards.

If the safety switch doesn’t work, or you’re unsure, ask a licensed electrical contractor for help.

Using electrical appliances and fittings safely

Whether you’re plugging in a hairdryer or charging your laptop, remember that all electrical appliances can be dangerous if you don’t use them as intended.

General electrical appliance safety tips

Are you using your everyday appliances safely? Check off the general safety tips below and see how you rate.

  • Switch off the power before you plug in or unplug an appliance
  • Hold the plug, not the cord, when disconnecting from a powerpoint
  • Switch off your appliances before you clean them
  • Only use your appliances for their intended purpose
  • Keep all electrical leads and cables tidy and out of the way
  • Replace damaged power points and frayed, perished, or damaged cords
  • Never run extension cords under carpets or rugs. Heat build-up and friction could cause a fire
  • Never piggyback double adapters. Use a powerboard instead or arrange to have additional power points installed
  • Always have repairs and safety checks carried out by a licensed electrical contractor
  • Check for concealed cables any time you drill into walls, floors or ceilings, especially around power points and light switches
  • Store emergency numbers in your phone, in case you need them in a hurry. You can reach us on 13 16 70.

To keep your electrical appliances and fittings safely maintained, remember to do regular electrical safety checks at your property. This could include:

  • inspecting your appliances and fittings regularly to make sure they’re in good condition. If you notice anything unusual, have it checked by a licensed electrical contractor
  • installing smoke detectors and testing them regularly
  • changing your smoke detector batteries on the same date each year, like 1 April or Christmas Day
  • testing your safety switch every three months.

Wet area safety tips

Water and electricity are a bad mix. Because water is an electrical conductor, wet areas like your bathroom, laundry and pool surrounds can be dangerous places to use electricity. Electric shocks can also be more serious if you have bare feet and wet skin. So, always remember:

  • Don’t touch electrical appliances or switches with wet hands
  • Keep your appliances a safe distance from water
  • Never leave bathroom appliances plugged in – they could fall into the bath or basin.

Safety tips for higher risk appliances

Certain appliances are more commonly involved in electrical accidents in the home or workplace. Always pay careful attention when using these appliances and use the following tips to stay safe.

Air conditioners

  • Maintain your air conditioners regularly, particularly before the summer cooling and winter heating periods
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning the air filters and coils
  • Have a professional clean and inspect your air conditioning unit if you have concerns about its condition.

Clothes dryers

  • Clean the filter after every use. Built up lint can catch fire.

Electric blankets

  • Always store electric blankets flat. They can be easily damaged when stored incorrectly
  • Check your blankets carefully for damage before use
  • If there are signs of misuse or damage, have your blanket checked by a licensed electrical contractor.

Heaters

  • Keep a safe distance from heaters, especially those with naked flames or exposed heat coils
  • Place portable heaters away from flammable items like clothes and children's toys
  • Supervise your children around heaters
  • Check the power cord and reflectors before using. Rust and frayed cords can cause a fire
  • Never dry your clothes on an electric heater. Water and electricity don't mix
  • Place heaters where they can’t be knocked over by people, children or pets
  • Turn off heaters before you go to bed or when you leave a room or the house.

Toasters

  • Never stick a knife into a toaster to release stuck toast.

Taking care when you DIY

If you’re handy around the house, you’ll need to be careful around electricity. Many common DIY jobs will have you working closely with electricity, like using power tools, trimming trees, or climbing inside your roof. Remember, electric shocks are always unexpected. Take care and take the following precautions to stay safe.

Don’t DIY electrical work

Always hire a licensed electrical contractor to do electrical work in your home or business.

No matter how accomplished you feel with a toolbox, doing your own electrical work is not only dangerous, it’s illegal. You could damage or destroy your equipment or receive a deadly electric shock. Incorrectly installed wiring could also cause a serious fire.

Work carefully around electrical fittings

Electrical fittings like light switches and powerpoints are usually connected to concealed wiring. If a metal drill comes into contact with concealed wiring, you could get a life-threatening shock. So, take time to work out where the wires run before you start any DIY project. Take these steps to stay safe:

  • Check for wires before drilling into walls, floors, and ceilings. Be particularly careful when drilling around power points and light switches
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the job being done e.g. safety glasses, rubber soled shoes
  • When painting around light fittings, don't remove the light plate. This exposes live wires even when the light is switched off
  • When tiling around light fittings, switches, or power points, have a licensed electrician remove the light plates and deactivate any exposed wires before you begin.

‘Take care stay line aware’ when working outdoors

When you’re lost in your DIY project, don’t miss the lines that matter most. Contact with overhead powerlines can cause serious injury or death. So, always remember to check for overhead and underground powerlines any time you work in the great outdoors.

To stay safe, take the following precautions.

  • Familiarise yourself with the location of all overhead and underground power cables on your property
  • Look up before extending or climbing a ladder or using long-handled equipment
  • When using a ladder outdoors, take extra care and remember to always ‘Look up and Live’ around powerlines
  • If you are digging, use the Dial Before You Dig service to locate underground powerlines by calling 1100
  • Before trimming trees or shrubs, look out for powerlines that could be hidden by foliage
  • Plant new trees well away from powerlines. See the best species to plant on our Plant Smart
  • Look up for overhead powerlines when carrying long metal objects such as ladders or pool skimmers
  • Don't let the kids play with airborne toys near powerlines
  • Keep vegetation away from the large, green boxes that house underground electrical equipment. Don't allow children to play on the boxes
  • Ensure you are aware of the required exclusion zones when you’re working near powerlines.

Take extra precautions in your ceiling space

Hidden wiring and reduced visibility can make working in your ceiling space particularly dangerous.

Before you go up into the ceiling space, remember to:

  • tell someone you are going into the ceiling space
  • turn off all main power switches at the switchboard
  • make sure all other generating sources are turned off (e.g. generator, battery system in off-grid mode)
  • secure the main switches in the ‘off’ position and label them so no one turns them back on while you’re up there.

While you’re in the ceiling space:

  • avoid contact with electrical cables as some may still be ‘live’, such as the service line or a solar PV system cable
  • take care not to damage any cables or electrical equipment
  • take care not to move ceiling insulation or debris near downlights – it may cause a fire.

Need more information?

For more on electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Office website.