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HEALTH & SAFEETY Better To Be Safe

There are hundreds of nuts and bolts that fit together to provide safe care services – electricity is one of them. Jim Wallace, Associate Director Products and Technology at the Seaward Group, looks at maintaining electrical safety to prevent fire risks in care homes.

All those responsible for operating nursing homes and residential care homes have a responsibility for ensuring the electrical safety of equipment and appliances used on their premises.

These responsibilities are included in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAWR), which this year hit a 25 year milestone. Introduced to raise the standards of electrical safety in UK workplaces, including care homes, the regulations have become firmly acknowledged as the starting point for what is now known as portable appliance testing (PAT).

Although nowhere in the regulation is there a specific requirement for the testing of electrical equipment, there is an onus on the dutyholder to ensure that equipment in the workplace is maintained so as to prevent danger. It is this requirement that has introduced the implied need for periodic inspection and testing. Without such actions, the inference is that the dutyholder will be unable to establish the potential dangers exposed by faulty or unsafe equipment.

As a result, in the event of electrical accidents, property damage or personal injuries, formal inspection and testing demonstrates a responsible and diligent approach towards safety that may subsequently be required by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), local authorities, insurance companies and other interested parties.

Electrical Faults:

The Consequences In terms of avoiding danger, there is indisputable evidence that the periodic in-service testing of

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electrical equipment prevents injuries and saves lives.

Alongside the EAWR 1989, supporting advice is provided by HSE guidance notes and the IET Code of Practice for the in-service inspection and testing of electrical equipment, with both now emphasising the importance of a risk-based assessment of inspection and test intervals.

Although the HSE is unable to provide detailed data on electricity-related fatalities, accidents and injuries going back 25 years, it seems clear that since the introduction of the EAWR 1989, the incidence of workplace accidents linked to electricity have shown a gradual decline.

For example, in figures extracted from RIDDOR from 2001/2002 to 2012/13 (provisional), the total number of fatalities, major injuries and over 3 day injuries has fallen from 549 incidents to less than 300.

However, potential electrocution and electric shock represents only part of the problem associated with faulty electrical items. Consideration also needs to be taken of the contributory role of faulty electrical appliances in commercial and industrial property fires, which are a major cause of deaths, injuries and considerable costs to businesses.

In this respect it is often overlooked that formal electrical inspection and testing programmes also play an important role in avoiding workplace fires that would otherwise be devastating for those involved.

In particular, successive annual Fire Statistics show that faulty appliances and leads continue to be the main cause of accidental fires in ‘other

dwellings’ – i.e. non residential properties. Over the 25 year period of the EAWR 1989 the following overall comparison can be made:

In the 1989 UK Fire Statistics, among 45,600 fires in ‘other occupied buildings’ (non domestic), 32,400 (71%) were regarded as accidental. Of these accidental fires, the main causes were faulty appliances and leads with 6,800 incidents (21%) and misuse of equipment or appliances with 6,400 fires (20%).

More recently, in the 2011/12 Fire Statistics Great Britain report, there were 24,100 fires in ‘other buildings’ of which 16,800 (70%) were regarded as accidental. The main cause of accidental fires in other buildings was faulty appliances and leads (24%). This represented around 4,000 fires during the year. The misuse of equipment and appliances was responsible for 2,600 accidental fires in 2011/12 (15%).

Over this 25 year period these figures would appear to show that the incidence of accidental electrical fires in commercial and industrial buildings has reduced significantly. Interestingly, the 24,100 fires recorded in ‘other buildings’ during 2011/12 was the lowest for more than a decade.

Between 2000/2001 and 2011/12, each year faulty appliances and leads were identified as the cause of between 24% and 32% of accidental fires in non dwelling type buildings.

In terms of the financial costs of these incidents, according to published statistics collated by the Fire Protection Association (FPA), between 2000 and 2005, in 346

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