Electrical safety

Electricity is used across the entire institution and can represent a serious hazard if the risk is not managed correctly.  There is an absolute legal requirement for all electrical equipment to be maintained in a safe condition and all units must have suitable arrangements in place to achieve this.

Responsibility for mains installation

As a general principle, Estates are responsible for the mains electrical installation up to mains outlet points and arrange regular electrical installation inspection and testing to manage this.  Individual management units should report any defects or damage to the mains installation to Estates.  Reporting should be by telephone to the Helpdesk (x6000) if there is an immediate risk of injury e.g. exposed live parts. Security can be contacted as an alternative outside of normal working hours.

Requests should be submitted via the Helpdesk Request system if the defect is less urgent.

Responsibility for connected equipment

As a general principle, Estates maintain the electrical installation only up to the point where equipment is connected to the supply - the socket outlet or wall isolator. 

Beyond the connection point, Colleges, Schools and Services are responsible for ensuring that the electrical equipment under their ownership or control is kept in a safe condition.  This requirement applies to equipment connected by a plug and socket and to equipment that is connected to the building installation by fixed wiring and an electical isolator, such as cookers or workshop machinery, irrespective of whether they are 230V or 415V. 

Inspection and test requirements

User checks and formal visual check

At its most basic, a system of periodic visual inspection of all items to identify obvious visual faults and damage is required.  For low risk items such as computers that are replaced regularly that may be all that is needed.  Note that many faults are easily identifiable without any special electrical skills or qualification by a simple visual inspection (e.g. cable damage, broken plugs) and all staff should be encouraged to regularly visually check items that they use for obvious faults or damage, both within the University and in any home work space. Beyond user checks, a periodic formal visual inspection may also be arranged and recorded.

To avoid the risk of electic shock, equipment should always be unplugged before handling cables.

Combined formal inspection and test

Beyond basic user checks, most higher risk equipment will require systems of periodic combined inspection and basic electrical testing (see guidance documents below for further information on this.) Individual Schools and Services are responsible for establishing suitable arrangements for this work. However, Estates can arrange for a specialist contractor to undertake this work on behalf of any department.  This can be initiated by a Helpdesk request. Where a contractor is arranged via Estates, local staff should expect to manage access to rooms and equipment in conjunction with the contractor. 

As well as the Estates option, a national Framework Contract is in place for portable appliance testing. Contractors on this framework may be asked to conduct inspection and testing via the normal University ordering process.  When placing an order it is important to make it explicit that you are ordering under the Higher Education Framework Contract in order to receive the contracted pricing rates.

Units who have suitably trained and competent staff may conduct inspection and testing in-house for simpler items if equipment.  In this case, the University would expect evidence of training to be available. City and Guilds 2377-77 is one example of a potentially suitable qualification, although this does not preclude other qualifications also being acceptable.

Electrical contractor inspection and test

Inspection and testing of equipment that is connected by fixed isolator, and 415V equipment, will normally require the services of a specialist electrical contractor.  This can be arranged via Estates.

Frequency of checks

The frequency of checks required is not set by law but is a risk-based judgement. The IET Code of Practice on In-service inspection and testing of electrical equipment provides guidance and should be consulted when setting up an inspection regime.  The HSE publication Maintaining portable electrical equipment in low-risk environments (free pdf download) also provides advice.

However, the following broad principles apply:

  • Typically, items of fixed wiring and fixed equipment require inspection and testing at 5 yearly intervals although this is reduced to 3 years in more hostile or wet environments such as agriculture. 
  • Low risk IT equipment that is not moved around can be tested at up to 5 yearly intervals but should generally have a visual check at 2-3 yearly intervals.
  • Other office equipment such a portable heaters and kitchen items should normally be tested at 2 yearly intervals.‌ If they are subject to heavy wear and tear an annual inspection may be appropriate.  Items such a vacuum cleaners, 240V power tools and extension leads may also need an annual check.