Electrical safety

  • Working with electricity can be dangerous. It can cause shock, serious injury or death via direct or indirect contact. You must ensure that only licensed or registered electricians should carry out electrical work.

There are many electrical hazards in the construction industry. For example, plugs, sockets, electrical cables and extension leads that can be damaged easily.

The main ways electricity hurts people in the workplace are:  

  • Contact with exposed live parts causing electric shock and burns – this could be indirect, like exposed leads touching a metal floor or roof.  
  • Faults causing fires. 
  • Electricity igniting a flammable or explosive atmosphere – for example in a spray paint booth.

Electrical risks are increased when the working environment is wet or dusty, is in an outdoor environment or a workplace that uses corrosive substances.


PCBU duties


Worker duties

Ensure that licensed or registered electricians should carry out electrical work.

Provide safe and suitable electrical equipment, even if you don’t own or didn’t supply the electrical equipment e.g. 

  • Ensuring workers are not using leads and tools in damp or wet conditions unless they are made for those conditions.
  • Leads are checked for damage before use and remove any damaged leads. 

Work out why a residual current device (RCD), circuit breaker or other over-current protective device disconnected the electricity before you switch it back on. 

If you work in a higher-risk workplace, you must also:

  • Regularly inspect, test and tag certain electrical equipment. For more information, click here.
  • Not use such equipment until tested, unless it’s new, unused and has no obvious damage.
  • Use residual current devices (RCD).

Your PCBU has a duty to keep you and your workplace safe from risks associated with electrical safety.

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your safety and that of others in the workplace.

Comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by your PCBU at the workplace.

Inspecting and testing

You must ensure a competent person regularly inspects and tests electrical equipment if it’s: 

  • Powered through an electrical socket outlet.  
  • Normally used in a higher-risk workplace environment. 

This will detect faults and damage you can’t see.  

Competent person for electrical inspections

A competent person must perform electrical inspections and testing. They are usually a licensed or registered electrician or a licensed electrical inspector.  

The model work health and safety (WHS) laws do not specify the training or qualifications a competent person needs. 

Your WHS or electrical regulator in your state or territory has more information on competent people. 

When to inspect and test

A competent person will determine the nature and frequency of inspection and testing. This will depend on the type of electrical equipment and how and where it’s used.  

Usually equipment in higher-risk workplaces need testing at least once every 12 months.  

See manufacturer’s recommendations or Australian Standards for more information, such as, AS/NZS 3760:2010 In-service safety inspection and testing of electrical equipment. 

Regular inspection and testing is not required if your workplace is lower risk. However, less frequent testing and inspection may still be necessary to ensure it is safe. 

Hire electrical equipment

If you hire out electrical equipment, you must ensure a competent person inspects and tests it: 

  • Before each hire 
  • Every 3 months

Residual current devices

Residual current devices (RCDs), also known as safety switches or residual current circuit breakers (RCCBs) detect harmful electrical leaks and switch off the electricity supply where needed. If you have portable electrical equipment in your workplace, use RCDs and RCCBs to protect workers using portable electrical equipment. 

Electrical risk management

Electrical leads and cords

As a PCBU, you must ensure that all electrical equipment are safe to use, whether you own them or not. You can avoid damage by:

  • Not running leads across the floor or ground, through doorways and over sharp edges. 
  • Using lead stands or insulated cable hangers to keep leads off the ground. 
  • Using cable protection ramps or covers to protect cables and cords, where applicable. 

Power circuit overload risk

  • Provide enough socket outlets – using adaptors to overload socket outlets can cause fires. 
  • Use the appropriate-rated fuse or circuit breaker to prevent overloading. 
  • If the circuit keeps overloading – not increasing the fuse rating as this creates a fire risk because of overheating. 
  • Using battery powered tools instead of mains operated where possible. 
  • Use RCDs where required. 

Overhead and underground electric lines

Construction work often involves working near electric overhead and underground electric lines.

To manage the risks of working near electric lines: 

  • De-energise lines and equipment if possible 
  • Identify line voltage and insulation 
  • Consult with workers, electricity supply authorities, and PCBUs
  • Decide safe approach distances and work zones. 

Overhead lines 

Other steps to manage the risks of overhead lines include to: 

  • Assess line visibility, height, sway and sag. 
  • Consider site conditions, including weather, ground, and traffic. 

Underground lines

Other steps to manage the risks of underground lines include to: 

  • Identify line locations – if you’re going to repair potholes, for example. 
  • Use insulated hand tools. 

Managing risks of solar power systems

Solar installation work and installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems is also construction work. You must be a licensed or registered electrician to undertake solar or PV systems installation. Solar installation pose further risks on top of electrical risks from working:

  • Near overhead electric lines and equipment. 
  • At height – risk of falls from roof or through ceiling space. 
  • In ceiling spaces – risk of exposure to asbestos, extreme heat, energised electric lines. 
  • Outdoors – exposure to ultraviolet radiation, heat, wind, and other weather. 

Construction work on or near energised PV systems is high risk construction work where there is a risk of falling more than two metres. This requires a safe work method statement (SWMS). For more information on SWMS, please refer to our information sheet. To learn more about how to prepare a SWMS, click here to access our interactive SWMS tool.

For more information

Other resources

Many construction work activities involve excavation work. Before you dig, contact Before You Dig Australia (BYDA). BYDA is a free, national service that provides information on and locations of underground electrical cables and other assets

  • Did you know

    The WHS regulator in your state or territory can provide practical advice, resources and tools to help you be safe when working in construction. They can also let you know which WHS laws apply to you.