Electricity legislation

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 which all jurisdictions have agreed to implement although some have delayed this to a date yet to be determined, includes Electrical Safety.

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Model Act and Regulations

 
The model Work Health and Safety Act and Work Health and Safety Regulation set out the legal requirements applying to electrical safety in all Australian jurisdictions except Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. Requirements in those three states are broadly similar in terms of basic requirements. 
 
Section 19 of the WHS Act places a duty of care on a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and anyone affected by the activities of the workplace. This includes managing health and safety risks arising from electrical hazards.
 
Part 4.7 of the WHS Regulation addresses general electrical safety in workplaces and energised electrical work.
 
Under the WHS Regulation, electrical work means: 
 
(a) connecting electricity supply wiring to electrical equipment or disconnecting electricity supply wiring from electrical equipment; or
(b) installing, removing, adding, testing, replacing, repairing, altering or maintaining electrical equipment or an electrical installation.
 
Reg 146 also outlines what is not included as electrical work.
 
The meaning of electrical installation is given in reg 145 of the WHS Regulation.

Electrical risk

Electrical risk means ‘risk to a person of death, shock or other injury caused directly or indirectly by electricity’.
 
Division 2, reg 147, General Risk Management, requires a PCBU at a workplace to manage risks to health and safety associated with electrical risks at the workplace, in accordance with Part 3.1, and as required under section 19 of the WHS Act. An example is given in the Regulations:
 
Electrical risks associated with the design, construction, installation, protection, maintenance and testing of electrical equipment and electrical installations at a workplace.

Electrical equipment and electrical installations

Division 3, Electrical Equipment and Electrical Installations, places a responsibility on a person managing or having control over electrical installations or electrical equipment to ensure that unsafe equipment or installations are disconnected and/or isolated and not reconnected until repaired, safe, replaced or removed from the workplace.
 
For the purposes of the Regulation, electrical equipment or a component of electrical equipment is unsafe if there are reasonable grounds for believing it to be unsafe.
 
A PCBU must ensure that electrical equipment is regularly inspected and tested by a competent person if the electrical equipment is:
 
(a) supplied with electricity through an electrical socket outlet, and
(b) used in an environment in which the normal use of electrical equipment exposes the equipment to operating conditions that are likely to result in damage to the equipment or a reduction in its expected life span, including conditions that involve exposure to moisture, heat, vibration, mechanical damage, corrosive chemicals or dust.

Electrical work on energised electrical equipment 

Division 4, Electrical Work on Energised Electrical Equipment, does not apply to work carried out by or on behalf of an electricity supply authority on the electrical equipment, including electric line-associated equipment, controlled or operated by the authority to generate, transform, transmit or supply electricity.
 
The Division applies to a PCBU who is carrying out electrical work. It places obligations where electrical equipment is energised or de-energised. Preliminary steps, unauthorised access, contact with equipment being worked on, how to carry out the work (including safe work method statements), and record keeping are covered.
 
Electrical work on energised electrical equipment is prohibited, unless:
 
(a) it is necessary in the interests of health and safety that the electrical work is carried out on the equipment while the equipment is energised, or
(b) it is necessary that the electrical equipment to be worked on is energised in order for the work to be carried out properly, or
(c) it is necessary for the purposes of testing required, or
(d) there is no reasonable alternative means of carrying out the work.
 
PCBUs have a duty to determine whether equipment is energised, and de-energised equipment must not be inadvertently re-energised.
 
Electrical equipment and installations and construction work — additional duties
 
Division 5, Electrical Equipment and Installations and Construction Work — Additional Duties, places a duty on the PCBU where construction work is done, and references the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 3012:2010 (Electrical installations — Construction and demolition sites).

Residual current devices

Division 6, Residual Current Devices, applies to the use of socket outlets in hostile operating environments and the testing of residual current devices.
Hostile operating environments include:
 
(a) where electrical equipment is used in an environment in which the normal use of electrical equipment exposes the equipment to operating conditions that are likely to result in damage to the equipment or a reduction in its expected life span, including conditions that involve exposure to moisture, heat, vibration, mechanical damage, corrosive chemicals or dust;
(b) where electrical equipment is moved between different locations in circumstances where damage to the equipment or to a flexible electricity supply cord is reasonably likely;
(c) electrical equipment is frequently moved during its normal use;
(d) electrical equipment forms part of, or is used in connection with, an amusement device.
 
Residual Current Devices must be tested regularly and records of testing must be kept.
 
More detail is available in the WHS Regulations.

Overhead and underground electric lines
 
Division 7 of Part 4.7 of the WHS Regulation, Overhead and Underground Electric Lines, outlines the risk control duties of the PCBU when working overhead or underground with electric lines.
 
If it is not reasonably practicable to ensure the safe distance of a person, plant or thing from an overhead or underground electric line, the PCBU must ensure that:
 
(a)  a risk assessment is conducted in relation to the proposed work, and
(b) control measures implemented are consistent with the risk assessment and any requirements of an electricity supply authority that is responsible for the electric line. 
 
The following Australia Standards may also apply:
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Jurisdictions still using previous legislation

Queensland
 
In Queensland, the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 apply to the electricity industry. Four Electrical Safety Codes of Practice support the Regulation. 
 
The purposes of the Regulation include the following:
 
(a) ensuring the electrical safety of licensed electrical workers, other workers, licensed electrical contractors, consumers and the general public
(b) enhancing consumer protection in relation to electrical work
(c) stopping cathodic protection systems from damaging or interfering with the property of others
(d) ensuring a safe supply of electricity, and
(e) ensuring electrical equipment hired or sold is electrically safe.

Australian Capital Territory

In the ACT, the Electrical Safety Act 1971, the Electrical Safety Regulation 2004 and Australian Standard AS/NZ 3000 apply. The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 also apply.

Victoria

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and the OHS Regulations 2017 along with the Electricity Safety Act 1998 apply. The Energy Safe Victoria website provides guidance.

Western Australia

In Western Australia, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1984 and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 1996 apply. The regulations include electrical safety in Division 6 – Electricity. The government regulator EnergySafety is responsible for the technical and safety regulation of all the electrical industry in Western Australia. 
 
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Code of Practice

The Managing Electrical Risks in the Workplace Code of Practice has been adopted in all states and territories except Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland. 
 
The Code applies as follows:
 
‘The Code provides practical guidance for persons conducting a business or undertaking on managing electrical risks in the workplace. It applies to all workplaces where a person conducting a business or undertaking:
  • has management or control of electrical equipment, including electrical installations
  • carries out electrical work on or near energised electrical equipment, including electrical installations.
This Code also applies to construction and demolition sites, except if a requirement of the Code is dealt with in AS/NZS 3012:2010 Electrical installations — Construction and demolition sites. In that case you must comply with AS/NZS 3012:2010. 
 
The Code does not apply to:
  • electrical work on extra-low voltage electrical equipment, including extra-low voltage electrical installations
  • electrical work on high voltage equipment after switching, isolation, short circuiting and earthing, subject to summary guidance in Chapter 10 of this Code
  • the manufacture of electrical equipment
  • automotive electrical work
  • work that is not electrical work carried out on telephone, communication and data systems
  • work carried out by or on behalf of an electricity supply authority on the electrical equipment controlled or operated by the authority to generate, transform, transmit or supply electricity
  • repair of consumer electrical equipment when unplugged from any electrical socket outlet
‘Extra-low voltage’ means voltage that does not exceed 50 volts alternating current (50 V AC) or 120 volts ripple-free direct current (120 V ripple-free DC).
 
This Code is divided into two parts dealing with:
 
Part A (Chapters 2-3): general electrical safety at the workplace, including electrical installations, requirements for inspecting and testing electrical equipment, and requirements for residual current devices in certain high-risk environments
 
Part B (Chapters 4-10): electrical work.’
 
Guides and fact sheets are available from the regulatory authorities’ websites and Safe Work Australia to assist with electrical safety.
 
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Australian/New Zealand Standards

 
The following Australian/New Zealand Standards provide other relevant information applicable to electricity safety:
  • AS 2467:2008 Maintenance of electrical switchgear  
  • AS/NZS 2978:1995 Insulating mats for electrical purposes  
  • AS/NZS 3000:2007 Electrical installations (known as the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules)  (Note that this Standard is expected to be replaced by a revised version during 2018)
  • AS/NZS 3003:2018 Electrical Installations – Patient areas   
  • AS/NZS 3012:2010 Electrical installations – Construction and demolition sites  
  • AS/NZS 3017:2007 Electrical installations – Verification guidelines  
  • AS/NZS 3190:2016 Approval and test specification – Residual current devices (current operated earth-leakage devices) 
  • AS/NZS 3551:2012 Management programs for medical equipment 
  • AS/NZS 3760:2010 In-service safety inspection and testing of electrical equipment as appropriate
  • AS/NZS 4836:2011 Safe working on or near low-voltage electrical installations and equipment 
  • AS 61010.1:2003 Safety requirements for electrical equipment for measurement, control and laboratory use – Part 1: General requirements. 
The Code of Practice also notes National Electricity Network Safety Guidelines NENS 03-2006 – National Guidelines for Safe Access to Electrical and Mechanical Apparatus as other relevant information. 
 
[Last updated 1 May 2018]

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