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Uswitch guide to electrical safety in the home

This guide contains 13 simple tips to help you keep your household safe from potential electrical hazards.
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Burnt plug

Despite causing an average of 70 deaths and 350,000 serious injuries every year in the UK, many people underestimate the risks associated with electricity.

Millions of people continue to expose themselves and their loved ones to potentially lethal electrical faults due to a lack of knowledge around the issue.

1. Have a look at your electrical appliances and how they are set-up

This may seem obvious but often we don’t notice dangers related to appliances which we use every day. For example, does an electricity cable run next to your toaster or any other appliance which produces heat? Is one of your electricity sockets overloaded? The Electricity Safety Council (ESC) has created a "Home Electrical Safety Check" app to help you spot any potential dangers.

2. Avoid overloading electrical sockets

Overloaded extension leads are a common sight within many homes and offices. However, overburdening an extension lead or adapter can result in an electric fire and anyone using one should be wary of the amount of amps it can safely supply. Be wary of assuming a certain appliance doesn’t use much energy. The ESC has created an easy to use website, designed to let you know if you are overloading a socket.

3. Keep flammable items away from sources of heat

The ESC advises against storing combustible products in the vicinity of electrical intake equipment. This is particularly relevant for those whose electrical intake equipment in located in a cupboard used to store potentially flammable items such as clothes and cleaning products.

4. Purchase electrical goods from a reliable source

A number of items purchased outside of, or imported into, the UK, do not meet national safety standards. These are liable to experience faults and consequently cause electric shocks and even set off fires. You should also avoid buying counterfeit electrical goods. These often turn out to be faulty and are the leading cause of serious electrical shocks and result in thousands of fires in the UK every year.

5. Regularly check for worn cables and wires

Make sure the wire connecting your appliance to a plug is not loose and ensure it is not frayed. This should be done each time you use an appliance.

6. Using foreign appliances without a converter can be dangerous

Many appliances produced for markets outside of the UK should only be used with a suitable conversion plug or adapter. Without one, the socket can overheat and could cause a fire.

7. Switch off appliances at the plug when not in use

This not only saves energy but also reduces the risk of a fire starting. There are of course exceptions - some appliances, such as fridges, are designed to be left on.

8. Monitor product recalls

Although more than 560 recall notices have been issued in the past 12 years, response rates remain very low – usually between 10% and 20%. These figures are particularly worrying as recalls are typically issued for products which carry a risk of electric shocks or fire.

The ESC has a dedicated webpage for recalled products.

9. Always use the right fuse

An incorrect fuse can cause a cable to overheat and means the appliance is not protected in case of an electrical fault. Always follow the appliance’s instruction booklet.

10. Don’t stick around in the event of a fire

In the event of an electric fire, if it is possible to do so without endangering yourself, you should switch off the affected appliance and remove the plug from the socket. Then leave the area and call 999.

Never use water on an electric fire and if you have access to a fire extinguisher, do not assume it is suitable to use on an electric fire. There are different types of fire extinguishers and only dry powder or CO2 should be used. If you are not sure what type you have, avoid using it as you could make the fire worse.

11. Know how to responsibly use a portable heater

When using a portable heater:

  • Place the heater on a steady, flat surface in an uncluttered area. Do not put it against a wall, as this may reduce ventilation

  • Keep away from curtains and do not use for drying clothes

  • Never block air vents on the heater.

12. Know how to responsibly use an electric blanket

When using an electric blanket:

  • Unplug before getting into bed (unless it has a thermostat control for safe all-night use)

  • Regularly examine for signs of damage

  • Do not use in conjunction with a hot water bottle

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

13. Install a Residual Current Device (RCD)

A RCD is an electrical wiring device, designed to protect people from getting serious electric shocks if they come into contact with a live wire. It offers a higher level of protection than any ordinary fuse or circuit breaker. A RCD is particularly important for those who use electrical appliances outdoors.

If you have a RDC installed you should test it every three months by pushing the ‘T’ or ‘Test’ button. If working, it will temporarily remove access to power for all areas which it protects.

Our gas safety guide has ten tips on keeping your household safe from gas leaks and fires.

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