Electricity is a part of our daily lives; we use it for almost everything we do. From turning on the lights or boiling the kettle in the morning, to washing our clothes or watching TV in the evening, electricity is everywhere. But despite its familiarity, electricity can be dangerous if you don't take proper safety precautions. We've put together this handy guide to help you stay safe around electricity.
What is electrical safety?
Electrical safety is all about being aware of the potential dangers around the home, and knowing what to look out for, avoid and change. Around 30 deaths, and thousands of injuries every year are caused by domestic electrical accidents. Make sure your home is safe.
By the way, if you're a landlord, it's your job to get your properties checked, to make sure they're safe. Check out our guide to electrical safety certificates and obligations for landlords.
What causes electrical fires or problems in homes?
About a quarter of the nation’s electrical fires are caused by faulty or damaged wiring in domestic appliances. But other causes include common mistakes like overloading plug sockets or misuse of appliances.
12 electrical safety tips for around the home:
1. Look out for damaged electrical cables – all power cables and extension leads should be checked regularly, and repaired or replaced as required. As a rule of thumb, don’t run cables under rugs and furniture, as they can cause a trip hazard, overheat or get crushed and damaged.
2. Don’t overload sockets – overloading plug sockets are a common cause of electrical fires. Always make sure the sockets are cool to the touch. And only plug one heat-producing appliance into a multi-way socket at a time.
3. Keep electrical devices away from water – water and electricity together are a deadly combination. To follow electrical safety rules, keep all electrical equipment well away from water. There’s a high risk of electrocution if you use an electrical appliance with damp hands. And always unplug your kettle before filling it!
4. Keep unused cables tidy and secure – electrical safety doesn’t only apply when cables are in use. Make sure they’re stored away safely when you’re not using them. It’s best not to wrap cables around objects (like your hairdryer or laptop plug), as it can stretch them, and cause overheating. And never put an electricity cable on a hot surface, as it can damage the insulation and wiring inside.
5. Unplug all unused appliances – an unplugged appliance is safer than one that’s left plugged in. Not only does it save you money – as plugged-in appliances still use power when on standby mode – but it protects them from overheating or power surges. If your sockets are a bit hard to reach, like behind bookcases or sofas, invest in a smart plug or energy-saving extension bar if you can.
6. Allow space for air circulation – electrical equipment needs room for the air to circulate, to keep it cool while it’s working. Without this, it can overheat and be a fire hazard. Don’t put anything on top of electrical appliances like microwaves, and don’t run electrical equipment in cupboards. And if you’re using a standalone heater, make sure it’s at least a foot from the wall.
7. Make sure all exhaust fans are clean – some appliances, like hobs, have exhaust fans. These can get dirty and clogged. Keeping them clean will not only keep them energy-efficient but also helps to stop them from becoming a fire hazard.
8. Be safe with heaters – it might sound like common sense but keep combustible items away from heaters. Portable heaters shouldn't be used near curtains, and should always be on a level, stable surface.
9. Check the fuse – it’s easy to replace a fuse on plugs – but make sure you use the right one for the appliance. Using the wrong fuse can cause a cable to overheat, and means the appliance isn’t protected against electrical faults.
10. Avoid knock-off goods – be wary of items purchased outside or imported into the UK, as these don’t always meet national safety standards. And definitely avoid counterfeit electrical goods (such as fake-brand hair straighteners), which are a leading cause of electrical shocks and fires. This goes for batteries and chargers too. Try to only buy the official branded chargers for your laptop or phone, ideally straight from the manufacturer
11. Check you’re using the correct wattage – with the advent of energy-saving LED bulbs, this is less of a worry – as they’re less likely to overheat than the old incandescent. But using the right wattage of bulb can also prevent electrical problems – so always check first.
12. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions – possibly the best piece of advice when using any electrical appliance is “read the instructions”. Using your devices correctly improves performance and keeps you safe.