Electrical safety is important in every place that involves power circuits including at home, at work and at your commercial space. Safety switches are a simple and effective measure to protect you from electric shock, so it’s important you understand the real importance of safety switches and have them installed in all your electrical circuits.

Have a read below about safety switches and why they are so necessary for electrical safety.

What are safety switches and what do they do?

Safety switches (otherwise known as residual current devices, or RCDs) monitor the flow of electricity through a circuit, ready to detect any potential imbalances that may cause harm or injury to a person. Safety switch devices quickly turn off the electricity supply if an electrical fault is detected. Differing from a circuit breaker which is designed to protect your electrical circuits from overload, safety switches are designed primarily to protect people from electric shock.

Safety switches detect the leakage of electrical current and halt the supply of power very quickly – about 0.03 seconds, faster than a heartbeat. RCD’s can be fitted into the main switch board to provide protection to group or individual circuits, but can also be installed in power points or power point extension boards.

How many safety switches do you need?

It may go without saying, but safety switches can only protect you on the circuits in which they are installed. So even if you have nearly all of your circuits protected by RCDs but one circuit isn’t, if you experience an electrical fault on that circuit, you may suffer from an electrical fire or electrical shock resulting in injury or, worse-case scenario, death.

It’s generally recommended you have one safety switch on each circuit. This would typically include one for lighting, one for power points, and one for hardwired appliances such as ovens – but it largely depends on the size of the circuit as to if more safety switches are required.

In Australia, there are laws regarding how many safety switches are needed in a home or building containing electrical circuits. In WA, all new homes require at least two safety switches to be installed, and fines may apply if a property is sold without this requirement being met.

There are also compulsory requirements in regards to safety switches in commercial and office spaces. These requirements cover the need to have RCDs for lighting circuits, directly connected handheld equipment, and others. To make sure your commercial space complies with the requirements around RCD installation and to ensure you are protected from electrical shocks, get in a commercial electrician to give your space a thorough electrical health check.

Different types of safety switches

There are several main types of safety switches:

  • Switchboard safety switch: As the name suggests, these are installed in the main switchboard or fuse box. These protect the selected circuits in the building, and the related power points. Switchboard safety switches should be installed by a commercial electrical contractor.
  • Power point safety switch: A power point safety switch replaces an existing power point, and protects appliances plugged into that port. They also may protect other electrical wiring on the same circuit.
  • Portable safety switch: These are ideal for people working with portable equipment, such as handheld tools, where safety switches aren’t installed in the circuit. The portable safety switch plugs into the power point, and then the appliance is plugged into it. They only protect people from the equipment plugged directly into them.

Electrical safety for your commercial space

Safety switches are highly effective at reducing electrical shocks, but they should be tested about twice a year to ensure they’re working properly and aren’t faulty. Switchboard safety switches have a ‘test’ function which should trip the power off so you know it’s working. If, during testing, the power doesn’t switch off, call an electrician who can come and fix or replace the faulty safety switch.

While safety switches are a vital part of your electrical safety, vigilance is most important of all. Don’t touch anything you’re unsure of, and if in doubt, call out an electrician. The best way to avoid injury, electrical fires or worse is to trust your intuition and get in a qualified electrician for all things related to electricity and electrical appliances.

The best course of action to ensure safety in your home, office or commercial space before problems arise is to have a safety check conducted by a qualified commercial electrician, and follow their recommendations for installing further safety switches if needed. Fully qualified commercial electricians in Perth will be able to examine your entire property and electrical set-up and give advice on how to improve your electrical safety to protect you and visitors from harm relating to electrical shocks or faults. Your electrician will be able to recommend the best practice for other electrical safety devices too, such as surge protectors and circuit breakers.