How to reduce the risk of electric shocks at home

Australia has high electrical safety standards, but there's a lot more that can be done. Here’s how to reduce risk at home.

Electricity is part of our lives every day and brings countless benefits, from cooling our homes on a hot day to powering the X-Box for a friendly family battle in Fortnite.

So it’s easy to forget that electricity can pose a danger if it’s not treated with respect – or if any electrical equipment is faulty.

According to the National Coronial Information System, there are approximately 20 deaths in Australia every year from electrocution, with more than half occurring in the home. Most of these tragedies are preventable, with electrical appliances the second-most common cause of electrocution.

Electrocution causes approximately 20 deaths in Australia every year, with more than half occurring in the home.

In one case, a man was repairing a secondhand microwave purchased from an op-shop when he was electrocuted. In another, a man stepped into his decorative pond to remove weeds, unaware that an electrical pump had fallen into the water.

The overwhelming majority – 96% – of victims are men, and men in their 30s are at greatest risk.

Stick to Australia’s high safety standards

These deaths are despite Australia’s strict electrical safety standards. There are many sets of standards to adhere to from regulators in each state, and they continue to improve with the new Electrical Wiring Standards of Australia launched in late 2018. They feature plenty of practical changes that will make more homes safer.

International electrical appliances

Electrical appliances sold in Australia are required to work with our standard voltage, which is 230 volts, 50 Hz. But many countries have different standard voltage and if an appliance purchased from one of those countries is plugged in without voltage conversion, it could deliver a nasty shock or even a fatal injury. The best approach is to purchase a voltage converter or not use the appliance and dispose of it.

Kids and electricity

We all know little ones love to explore their environments. According to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, injury to children from electricity is rare but that doesn’t mean that parents and carers shouldn’t take precautions. This includes installing safety switches at points children can reach, and not overloading power points. Also, talking to your child early about electricity safety is important, like letting them know not to touch power points or appliances with wet hands.

Husband and wife bathing their baby

You get what you pay for

It’s a cliche, but it’s true. While the price of many electrical products has reduced in recent years, the downside has been a surge in the number of cheap, low-quality items that can cause a real safety risk. In 2014, a young woman died after being electrocuted by a cheap USB charger that was plugged into her mobile phone. Energy Safe Victoria recommends only buying appliances from reputable businesses and with the Regulatory Compliance Mark and Australian safety approval number. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so if it seems too good – or cheap – to be true, then it may well be.

Unplug for repairs

It sounds simple, but opening up any appliance while it’s connected to power exposes you to live electrical wiring inside. Unless you know what you’re doing, don’t try to repair at home. Even if you do know what you’re doing, disconnect the appliance from power.

Know a few safety basics

When someone suffers an electric shock, those around them will often spring into action to help. But remember, electric-based injuries must be approached in a very specific way so that those trying to help aren’t injured as well. St John Ambulance recommends that helpers follow nine rules, including the first check for any risk to themselves or others; switch off the power before attempting to help the person; and if the person is in contact with high voltage lines, not to touch them and to wait until power is turned off by authorised electrical personnel.

‘Electrician’ is a trade, not a hobby

Australians are well known for a love of renovating and making home improvements. While there are lots of things that we can do ourselves, making any changes to electrical appliances or points must be done by a licensed electrician. Check with your state authority for a directory of licensed professionals.

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