Electrical safety in care homes

Published: Thursday, 17 January 2019

Martin Hodgson looks at the legal requirements and potential risks relating to electrical safety.

Summary

  • Proprietors and care managers must ensure that the electrical equipment in their premises is always maintained in a safe condition.
  • Maintenance plans should be based on a system of user checks, formal visual inspection and testing.
  • When an electrician is required to perform work in the care home an appropriately registered contractor should be used.

Legal requirements

Legal requirements relating to the safety of electrical systems and equipment in a workplace can be found in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, or EAW. To aid compliance the Health and Safety Executive has published HSR25 Guidance on the regulations.

The EAW regulations place duties on employers to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from dangers caused by defective or improperly used electrical systems and equipment. They also place a duty on employees to comply with safety arrangements.

The regulations cover the safety of fixed installations, which comprise the wiring circuits and electrical equipment in a premises such as distribution boards and sockets, and portable appliances which are connected to the fixed mains supply or to a locally generated supply. A range of electrical equipment is used in a care home, including lighting, telecare, etc.

Electrical injuries

Electricity can kill or cause severe injuries. The main hazards are electric burns, shock or electrocution caused by faulty installations or equipment. The severity of injury depends upon the magnitude of the shock and its duration and path through the body.

Faulty electrical equipment or bad wiring are also common causes of workplace fires.

Risk assessment

Risks associated with electricity and electrical equipment should be included in health and safety risk assessments. This will help care managers decide upon appropriate measures to ensure the safe use and maintenance of electrical systems and equipment.

Attention should be paid to hazards such as overloaded sockets and damaged cables and appliances. The HSE warn that extension leads and adaptors are particularly liable to damage. Assessors should also review the servicing, maintenance and inspection arrangements for any installed equipment or portable equipment.

Once the assessment has been completed measures should be taken to address any identified risks and ensure that electrical systems in the care home are safe.

Where the care home has less than 5 employees there is no need to have a written record of the assessment. If there are 5 or more employees a written risk assessment is required by law.

The safety of electrical systems

Ensuring the safety of electrical systems and equipment is a key requirement of the EAW regulations.

For example, regulation 4 requires electrical systems at all times to be of such construction as to prevent danger. Regulation 4(2) requires systems to be appropriately maintained while regulation 4(3) requires maintenance work to be completed in a safe manner.

Regulation 5 states that no electrical equipment should be used if its strength and capability may be exceeded and endanger people.

Regulation 8 concerns the need to ensure that electrical systems and equipment are properly earthed or otherwise protected so as to prevent the risk of electric shock.

Further regulations cover the precautions needed for working on equipment or for working on or near live conductors and the need for a means of cutting off the electrical supply if required.

Key measures care managers can put in place to ensure compliance will include:

  • making sure new electrical systems are installed to suitable standards
  • using a registered contractor to carry out electrical work and maintenance
  • putting in place appropriate inspection and, where necessary, testing programmes
  • choosing equipment that is suitable for its working environment
  • providing enough sockets to minimise the use of extensions
  • protecting people by fitting residual current devices or circuit breakers which trip the power in the event of a fault.

All electrical work carried out by contractors must comply with the regulations and with the latest BS7671 IET Wiring Regulations produced by the Institution of Engineering and Technology. When an installation is completed or a premises rewired the contractor should provide a certificate to confirm that their work has been designed, inspected and tested in line with BS7671.

Contractors should operate in accordance with all applicable health and safety standards and legislation.

Inspection and testing

All portable electrical equipment should be given a quick visual check before it is used. No training is required for this. Users should look for any obvious signs of faults, such as scorch marks, broken plugs, bare wires, overheating, etc. Obvious defects should be reported and the equipment withdrawn for inspection and repair. Electrical equipment that may be faulty should never be used.

A formal visual inspection should be conducted as part of the maintenance regime. The HSE also states that this does not have to be done by an electrician. However, it must be completed by a ‘competent’ person who may require basic training and guidance.

In addition to a visual inspection, many portable appliances should also be subject to combined inspection and testing. This is usually referred to as Portable Appliance or PAT Testing.

It is a common misunderstanding that all portable electrical appliances must be PAT tested annually. Some items may require annual checks. However, the EAW regulations do not specify how frequently inspections and tests should be conducted. The HSE advise that such decisions should be based on the type of electrical equipment, the manufacturers recommendations, the conditions of use and the risk of items becoming faulty.

PAT tests must be undertaken by someone with the necessary skills. Again, this does not have to be an electrician. However, additional training will be required if a member of staff takes on the role. Where required a qualified electrical contractor should be contacted for advice. Many companies offer specialist PAT testing services, some specifically for care providers.

The HSE publish guidance, HSG107 Maintaining portable electrical equipment.

Electrical installations inevitably deteriorate and may become unsafe with age and prolonged use. They therefore require periodic inspection and fixed wire testing to ensure they remain safe. This should be carried out by a registered electrician using specialist equipment. At the end of the testing an Electrical Installation Condition (EICR) Report is usually issued which describes the items and circuits tested and makes any recommendations. Guidance on testing intervals is provided in the latest edition of the IET wiring regulations.

Finding an electrician

Where an electrician is required to perform work in the care home a registered contractor should be selected.

For general electrical work, using an electrician registered with an approved certification scheme is the best way of ensuring that they are competent to perform the work. The Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) and the NICEIC both have search facilities on their websites to find registered members as well as a joint search facility at www.electricalsafetyregister.com

Registered contractors should carry a scheme certification card.

Specialist electrical equipment should be maintained and serviced according to manufacturers instructions by a qualified engineer. Major items of equipment will often have a service plan that ensures it can be kept in a working and safe condition.

CQC requirements

In England the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 apply. Regulation 15, Premises and Equipment, includes a requirement for all healthcare premises to be safe, suitable and properly maintained. This includes a requirement for regular risk assessments, for meeting all electrical safety legislation and for putting arrangements in place for the servicing and maintenance of equipment.

The safety of premises and equipment also forms part of the test that Care Quality Commission inspectors apply when establishing quality ratings. Key lines of enquiry, prompts and ratings characteristics for adult social care services contains prompts that inspectors should look for. These include asking if the design, maintenance and use of facilities and premises keep people safe and if the maintenance of equipment keeps them safe.

Further information

INDG23 Electrical safety and you provides a brief guide. It can be found on the HSE website: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg231.pdf

Health and safety in care homes, HSE, 2014: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/hsg220.pdf

About the author

Martin Hodgson MSc, PGCEA has worked in adult education in the NHS for much of his career and has an MSc in primary care. His special interests are training, premises management and health and safety.

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