Electrical safety in and around your Hertfordshire home

I & B Electrical can carry out any electrical work in your Hertfordshire property to keep you safe

The majority of incidents where people are electrocuted in the home are caused by faulty appliances rather that the electrical installation itself. Having said that, an incorrectly installed appliance that has no faults per se, is potentially lethal. Therefore it is vital and sometimes a legal requirement, to have your appliances correctly installed by a professional electrician and it could significantly reduce the possibility of an accident or injury from happening.

A qualified electrician like I & B Electrical will have the knowledge, skills and experience required to avoid all the dangers to themselves and others that often go hand in hand with electricity..

Electrical safety in your Hertfordshire home is of the utmost importance, this is why we strongly recommend that you call us to carry out any electrical installation work, rather than attempting it yourself.

I & B Electrical are registered electricians and work to the United Kingdom safety standard BS 7671, this is the standard requirement for electrical installations, and will issue a safety certificate for all electrical work to confirm that the installation has been designed, built, inspected and tested in line with that standard. Often when people sell their property, potential buyers will want to see evidence of the integrity of electrical installations, so the certification issued will put their minds at rest.

Staying safe with electricity in your Hertfordshire home

Statistics have shown that electricity causes more than 20,000 fires a year. This figure accounts for almost half of all accidental house fires in the United Kingdom. Each year, approximately 70 people are killed and 350,000 are seriously injured owing to an electrical accident in or around the home.

Often fires can happen even when the appliance has no fault and the installation is sound. For example, a build up of lint in a tumble dryer can ignite if not cleared regularly. Some people even place tumble dryers under their stairs and any fire can quickly burn through and render any escape from upstairs difficult. We will always advise our clients as to the safest location for there appliances.

It is hard to imagine our daily lives without electricity, as it is used for so many things we do. From the moment our alarm goes off we are making use of this energy. We switch on lights and make a cuppa, listen to the radio, watch TV, surf the internet on our computer or vacuum the house. Even when we go to bed, some may even use an electric blanket. We see electricity as our friend because it is so useful, but we sometimes forget just how powerful and dangerous it can be.

Even though the cost of this vital source of power has gone through the roof, we are using more and more electrical appliances in the home. For example, if we wind the clock back just 25 years or so, the average home in Hertfordshire had a record player with a tape deck and one TV, some may have even had a video recorder. Fast forward to the present day and it is more likely that there will be a TV, a DVD player, a digi box receiver, games console and computer in the main living room and in each bedroom. So the risk of electrical accidents in the home is much higher than it ever was before as there are frequently not enough electrical sockets in a room to deal with all the appliances and people start to make use of gang sockets and adapters.

So what are the dangers of a faulty electrical installation?

Contact with live parts at 230 volts can cause a serious electric shock or burns and if these are severe, they can even cause death. Faults in appliances and installations can cause fires very easily, so it's important to get to know where your consumer unit is in case you need to isolate certain appliances that you suspect are faulty and disconnect them from the mains electrical supply.

The consumer unit and how it works

The main switch in the consumer unit, or as some people call it, the fuse box, allows you to turn off the supply to your electrical equipment quickly and safely. The consumer unit should be very easy to access, so find out where it is so you can turn the electricity off in an emergency. The consumer unit is often under the stairs or in a cupboard elsewhere, occasionally it is in plain view on the wall of the entrance hall. If in doubt, flick the big red switch to off as this turns everything off, but be aware that fridges, freezers and fish tank pumps and heaters will also be turned off. If you are not sure where the problem is or how to tackle it, call a professional electrician straight away.

Electrical fuses or RCB

Some older homes may still have re-wireable fuses which automatically disconnect the circuit to prevent any danger to the occupants. When a fault or overload current flows through the fuse wire, it will become hot, and melt when the current goes above a safe level. The melted fuse breaks the faulty circuit so protecting it against overloading.

The old fuse wire systems have now been pretty much replaced and newer homes are likely to have circuit breakers in the consumer unit which switch off a circuit if there is a fault. Circuit breakers are similar in size to fuse holders, but give more precise protection than fuses. When they trip, you can simply reset the switch. However, you first need to check with a qualified electrician to find and correct the fault, or the problem will keep on happening.

An RCD (Residual Current Devise) is a life saving device which is designed to prevent you from getting a fatal electric shock if you touch something live, such as a bare wire. It provides a level of protection that ordinary fuses or circuit breakers cannot.

Under the United Kingdom safety standard, almost all sockets in new electrical installations and any new sockets added to an existing installation must have RCD protection.

If your electrical installation includes one or more RCDs, you should check that they are working properly by pushing the test button every three months. When you test the RCD it should switch off the power to the areas of the home it protects.

If when you press the test button, your RCD does not switch off the electricity supply to the protected circuits, or if the button does not reset, give us a call and we will be happy to help you resolve what could be a life threatening situation.

Electrical dangers around the home

A lot of electrical hazards around the home can easily be avoided, but the most common one is caused by overloading your electrical sockets. Above it was mentioned how the number of sockets available didn't match the number of appliances used, so extra care must be taken. You should never ignore any burning smells, sounds of arcing such as a buzzing or crackling, fuses blowing or circuit-breakers tripping out. Electrical accidents are most likely to happen when equipment has been damaged. Failure to correct the problem could result in an electric shock.

Damaged plugs, sockets and flexible cables can cause electric shocks, burns and fires. This is why you should always ensure you check the plug and socket for burn marks, sounds of buzzing or crackling from any electrical appliance, fuses blowing, circuit-breakers tripping or if it feels hot to the touch. The transformers on electrically operated reclining chairs do get very hot and sometimes buzz, particularly if standing on a hard floor surface. While this is perfectly normal, it makes sense to unplug them before retiring for the evening as it will save you money as well as prevent a potential fire.

Always remove plugs from sockets carefully, as pulling out the plug by the cable puts an excess strain on it, and could damage the contact between the plug and the socket. This could result in the plug overheating, its wires becoming loose or an electric shock should the the earth wire become disconnected. Many plugs become damaged because when they are unplugged from the mains supply they are dropped on the floor. Always ensure plugs are not subjected to any undue impact or other forms of misuse.

It may sound pretty obvious but there are so many unsafe practices that people carry out on a daily basis that can result in injury or even death from electrocution. Something as simple as changing a belt or freeing the brushes on a vacuum cleaner while it is still plugged in can expose you to danger. Always unplug any appliance before you try to perform any degree of cleaning or servicing of the appliance. You risk injury from electric shock, or the entrapment of fingers in moving parts if you don't.

Trailing an electrical cable under the carpet or rug to keep it out of the way is not only a major tripping hazard, but it is also a fire risk. Drying clothes on an electric heater is a genuine danger as it is very easy for water to drip onto live parts and could cause an electric shock or fire. As well as the dangerous mixture of water and electricity, there is the problem with blocking ventilation holes in certain appliances that are present to prevent them from overheating. If these holes are covered up, the appliance could overheat and catch fire.

How old the wiring is in your Hertfordshire home is another factor to consider

Pipes that carry water are easily visible and any leaks can soon be seen or detected. Electricity on the other hand is usually out of sight because cables are hidden inside the walls and switches and sockets. Faulty and old wiring is one of the major causes of electrical fires in the home. You can avoid these by having regular checks carried out on the condition of your cables, switches and sockets. There are clear signs that can help you tell the age of electrical installation in your home. It should also be mentioned that a lot of new lighting fixtures are made from metal and a lot of houses don't have an earth cable fitted. This is a disaster just waiting to happen so if you are in any doubt, call I & B Electrical before attempting to wire these lights up yourself. Your life is far more important than a few pounds you could save from doing the job on a DIY basis.

  • Cables that are coated in black rubber were phased out in the 1960s
  • Cables that are coated in lead or a fabric material were fitted before the1960s
  • Fuseboxes with a wooden back, cast iron switches, or a mixture of fuse boxes were installed before the 1960s
  • Older round pin sockets and round light switches, braided flex hanging from ceiling roses, brown and black switches and sockets mounted in skirting boards were often used before the 1960s
  • Wall mounted light switches in bathrooms were the norm before the 1960s. Today a chord hanging from the ceiling switch housing.

Lights as a fire hazard

Choosing the wrong type of lights, installing them incorrectly or fitting the wrong replacement lamp can pose a very serious fire risk in your home. It is always best to use a registered electrician like I & B Electrical to install your lights and it's always worth keeping the product instruction leaflet for future reference, so when you need to replace a bulb or fuse, you'll know exactly what one to buy.

Another major electrical hazard are adaptors and extensions around your Hertfordshire home

On average, there are approximately four sockets per room in a modern house. This is thought to be quite sufficient for most purposes, but as more and more people begin to run computers, games consoles and other appliances around the home, the number of required sockets per room can very quickly multiply. Extension leads and adaptors often provide a quick and easy solution but, in reality, these leads and adaptors are often misused, and can present dangererous means of powering all those extra appliances. In extreme cases they can overheat, which will cause a fire.

To get around the the lack of available sockets, many resort to using extension leads and adapters. Whatever you do, don't use adaptors plugged into other adaptors; or overload them, particularly with high current appliances such as kettles or toasters. If you must use extension leads and adapters, only use them for low current appliances such as music playing equipment, televisions, radios and computers. If you must use these, always try to buy good quality adaptors, they may be more expensive, but the cheap ones could be dangerous. Avoid the cheap ones down the local market that are only a couple of pounds each. The best and safest course of action would be to call a registered electrician like I & B Electrical to install extra sockets in the house.

Electrical safety in the kitchen in your Hertfordshire home

Water and electricity don't mix and ther's plenty of both in a kitchen. So to avoid water coming into contact with any electrical source, ensure that your sockets or switches are fitted at a safe distance from the sink or anywhere else that liquids are likely to be used. Large appliances such as dishwashers, fridges and washing machines are often fitted under worktops, making getting to sockets rather difficult. Appliances such as these should be controlled by a switched fuse connection unit mounted above the worktop where you can reach it easily in case of emergencies. Also be aware of damaging the electrical cables when pushing these appliances under work surfaces as you won't see the damage, but you're more likely to feel it at some point!

Bathroom electrical safety

Water carries electricity and when you mix the two together, the result can be lethal. Because of this, from an electrical safety point of view, the bathroom is possibly the most dangerous room in the home. The consequences of an electric shock are far more severe in a bathroom or shower room as wet skin reduces the body's resistance. There are special requirements for electrical installations in bathrooms and we can advise you accordingly on the safest way forward.

Electrical sockets in bathrooms

Sockets are simply not to be put in bathrooms, with the exception of shaver sockets, unless they can be fitted at least three metres from the bath or shower and in modern houses, this is probably a greater distance than the bathroom would allow anyway. Shaver units must be a safe distance from the bath or shower to avoid any water splashes.

Lights in bathrooms

Enclosed ceiling lights are preferable to hanging pendant light fittings. All light fittings that are not enclosed should be out of reach of someone who may be wet from the bath or shower. A ceiling mounted pull cord switch with the cord made of insulating material is the safest option for a bathroom. Standard wall mounted light switches are a possible danger because of dampness and wet hands.

Heaters and towel rails in bathrooms

Central heating is a great way of keeping a bathroom warm. But, if you do have an electric room heater, it must be fixed at a safe distance from the bath or shower and never over the bath. Electric and gas water heaters in a bathroom must be fixed and permanently wired, unless they are powered by a socket fitted three metres from a bath or shower. Electric heaters should preferably be controlled by a pull cord or a switch outside the bathroom itself. Remember, electricity and water just do not mix!

Electric showers

An electric shower must be supplied on its own circuit direct from the consumer unit. On no account should you bring mains powered portable appliances such as hairdryers, heaters or radios into a bathroom. You could be severely injured or killed. You can get a fixed hairdryer with hot air delivered through a flexible plastic pipe installed in bathrooms. These are the same as you often find in Travel Lodges and other hotels around the country.

Electrical appliances outdoors

If any socket in the house is going to be used to supply portable equipment outdoors, it should be protected by an RCD. Under the national safety standard, almost all sockets in new electrical installations and any new sockets added to an existing installation must have RCD protection.

Apart from ensuring the use of RCD's, always ensure you never use any electrical equipment or switches when you have water on your hands. Never clean an appliance such as a kettle while it is still plugged in to the wall socket. Never fill a kettle while it is plugged in, remember, some modern kettles sit on a base that is plugged in but leaves the kettle itself with the appearance of being cordless. If the kettle is on its base, it is, to all intents and purposes plugged in and a potential hazard. Never wrap flexible cables around any equipment when it is still hot or even warm as it can damage the cable. The number one hazard that a lot of people do is to try to dig out bread or buns from their toaster if it fails to pop up with a metal fork or knife. If anything gets stuck in the toaster, unplug it and use a wooden spatula or something similar to remove the obstruction. Remember that metal conducts electricity but wood does not!

Take special care when using electrical appliances in the kitchen. The mixture of water, hot surfaces, flexible cables and electricity can be very dangerous indeed. Check that flexible leads and appliances such as kettles and toasters are in good condition and safe to use.

What about electricity outdoors and what are the dangers of using electrical equipment in the garden?

Using electrical appliances like hedge trimmers and lawn mowers will make gardening much easier, wet conditions and contact with the ground means that the risk of injury or death from electric shock is greatly increased compared to using electrical equipment indoors. Lots of garden accidents are the result of handling equipment carelessly, lack of concentration and failure to follow the operating instructions. By following simple safety guidelines every time you work in a garden, you can easily avoid a serious accident.

Why do I need a residual current device (RCD) when using electrical equipment outdoors?

When using electrical equipment outdoors, RCD protection can literally be a lifesaver. Without it, if you cut through an electrical lead, mowing the lawn or cutting the hedge could easily be the last mistake you ever make! An RCD provides a level of protection against electric shock that normal fuses and circuit breakers don't provide. All equipment such as lawnmowers, hedge trimmers and other power tools, when used outdoors, should only be plugged into a socket protected by an RCD.

If you haven't got modern sockets that are RCD protected, buy a good quality portable RCD from a local DIY store. You should test portable RCDs every single time you use them.

Extension leads, cables and connections

If you do not check the condition of extension leads, cable and connections and use them correctly, you could get an electric shock. Never store these items in a garden shed as rodents often live there too and will love to nibble away the insulating material on leads, leaving the bare wires exposed and dangerous to touch.

For safety make sure extension leads and cables are:

  • Replaced immediately if damage is found
  • Uncoiled fully before use to prevent any overheating
  • Positioned appropriately to prevent them being damaged. Often screwing cheap cup hooks into wooden sheds and fences can help keep cables visible and out of harms way.
  • Kept dry at all times
  • Rated correctly to suit the equipment they are supplying electricity to
  • Suitable for outdoor use. Some are not designed for outdoor use at all. They should be weather resistant with moulded connections that prevent moisture getting in
  • Kept clean and free from damage.

The plug must be unplugged from the mains socket before any work is carried out on the electrical equipment. The plug must not be plugged back in until work carried out on the electrical equipment has been correctly completed.

Mowing the lawn and cutting the hedge

Lawnmowers and hedge trimmers have very sharp blades and quickly moving parts, which can damage or cut through electrical cables as easily as grass. The risk of electric shock from a damaged cable is extremely high and should be discarded as soon as the damage is detected. This is also the main reason to use a quality RCD.

To remain as safe as possible, you should not cut the grass or hedge in wet conditions; wear sensible footwear to protect your feet; check the cables, connections and plugs before use; keep the cable clear of the cutting area; and before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance, unplug the lawnmower or hedge trimmer and wait for the blades to stop moving.

Stay safe by checking all your plugs regularly

  • Check that the cable is firmly clamped in the plug and that no coloured wires are showing
  • Check that the plug is marked British Standard BS 1363
  • Ensure all the plug screws are firmly in place and none are missing
  • Look for signs of overheating, such as discoloured casing or cable
  • Make certain that the plug is fitted with the correct fuse for the appliance it is to supply
  • Remove the plug from the socket and check the plug is not damaged.

All modern appliances in the United Kingdom use a square pin 13amp plug. These plugs are used for handheld appliances such as hairdryers, steam mops and vacuum cleaners. They also supply kitchen equipment such as microwave ovens, kettles and toasters. The plug and cable can suffer damage, particularly if they connect to handheld appliances. Checking a plug and its cable does not need a lot of detailed electrical knowledge and these tips should help. With the plug removed from the socket, check the cable from end to end.

If the cable worn or damaged in any way? If so, discard it and buy a new appliance, unless it is easy to buy a replacement chord. TheDon't try to make joints in the cable, and never repair it with insulating tape.

If for any reason, you need to check that a cable is correctly wired and fused, remove the plug from the socket, and remove the cover. Run through the following checklist to be certain.

  • The brown wire goes to live (L);
  • The blue wire goes to neutral (N); and
  • The green and yellowwire goes to the earth (E).
  • Check that the cord clamp holds the cables securely and that both of the screws are tight.
  • Check that the screws holding the three wires are tight.
  • Check that the fuse is the correct size and meets British Standard BS 1362. The fuse should clip securely into its holder. It should not be loose and there should be no signs of overheating.
  • Replace the cover securely.

Get the right fuse in your plug!

Most lamps, televisions, computers, domestic food mixers and power tools will use 700W or less. Larger appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and toasters, will use more than 700W. Keeping it simple, as a rule of thumb there are just two standard plug fuse ratings, 3A and 13A. For appliances up to 700W, you use a 3A fuse. For those over 700W, you use a 13A fuse.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to send us an enquiry form or give us a call.

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I&B Electrical - Based in Essendon, Hertfordshire

t: 01707 262 771      e: info@ib-electrical.co.uk

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