A functioning Safety Switch or RCD can offer protection from a malfunctioning electrical appliance that might otherwise cause a devastating electric shock, injury, or fire. Here’s what you need to know.
A residual current device (RCD), also known as a safety switch, is an essential device that keeps you safe from electrocution. But how do you know when RCDs are working properly and what should you know to be safe around RCDs and safety switches?
What is an RCD or a safety switch?
Residual current devices or safety switches are placed on electrical circuits and instantaneously cut the flow of electricity when there is an interruption to the flow of the circuit – such as if the circuit starts flowing through a human body. Safety switches are designed to keep us safe from electrocution.
Safety switches can be attached to circuits in switchboards, but portable RCDs are also used on the cords of some portable electrical equipment including equipment used in construction. Portable RCDs are generally used on high-voltage equipment that is being used in a ‘hostile environment’ where there is a high risk of the equipment being damaged during use and posing an electrocution risk to the operator.
Are safety switches mandatory?
Safety switches are mandatory on all circuits in new homes and commercial premises but in Victoria, according to the Master Electricians Association, it isn’t mandatory for older homes to have safety switches installed on all circuits and this causes a serious safety risk. If you live in an older home in Victoria, it’s important to have the circuits in your home checked by a licenced electrician or electrical safety supplier to ensure that you have safety switches installed on all circuits.
Safety switches only operate on the circuit they are attached to – Not having safety switches on all circuits poses a safety risk because safety switches can only work on the circuit they are attached to. If you have a safety switch attached to your lighting circuit, but there is a fault in the electrical wiring for your power points, you could still be at risk from electrocution when you plug a device into a faulty power point because you aren’t being protected by a safety switch on that circuit.
So, the first rule of electrical safety for RCDs and safety switches is to make sure that you have a safety switch on every circuit in your home or business. Each year around 15 people across Australia are killed in electrical deaths that could have been prevented if a safety switch had been installed, and around 300 more are hospitalised due to electrical injuries.
One safety switch per circuit – Safety switches can’t be used to protect multiple circuits so it’s important that your safety switches are only installed on one circuit.
Safety switches need to be regularly tested
Just having a safety switch on a circuit or a portable RCD on a piece of equipment isn’t enough to protect you if your safety switch isn’t operating correctly, so regular testing is an important component of ensuring your electrical safety.
How often should RCDs and safety switches be tested?
RCDs or safety switches installed on circuits should be checked every three months using the test button on the safety switch and portable RCDs on appliances should be tested every time they’re used.
In addition, RCDs and safety switches also require a timing test which needs to be conducted by a licenced electrician or electrical safety supplier such as Jim’s Test & Tag. For most homes and businesses, this additional test needs to be conducted annually, but your electrical safety specialist will be able to advise the specific requirements for your business.
How do you test RCDs and safety switches?
RCDs or safety switches on your switchboard carry a test button which is normally blue and indicated by the word test or the letter T. Pressing the test button should flick the safety switch to the off position cutting the power to that circuit. If the safety switch doesn’t flick to off or the power to the circuit remains on, your safety switch is faulty. If you test all your safety switches and they all flick off, but power remains in a circuit in your home or business, that’s an indicator that you have a circuit that doesn’t have a safety switch attached.
If you believe your safety switch is faulty, or that you may not have safety switches on all your circuits, contact a licenced electrician or electrical safety supplier who can test your switches and circuits for you. Jim’s Test & Tag conducts testing of RCDs and safety switches and can advise if your switches are working properly or need to be replaced.
Are RCDs and safety switches the same as circuit breakers?
People sometimes get confused about the difference between an RCD or safety switch and a circuit breaker. The difference is quite straightforward. Both are important for our electrical safety, but circuit breakers protect our circuits and appliances whereas RCDs and safety switches protect us from the risk of electrical shock and electrocution.
Circuit breakers work by cutting the power to a circuit if they detect a fault in the circuit or in an appliance attached to the circuit. They will also trip the power if a circuit is overloaded. Safety switches, however, instantaneously cut the electricity if there is an irregularity or interruption to the circuit, such as if the electrical current is flowing through a human body.
What other electrical safety testing do I need?
Safety switch testing is just one component of electrical safety testing. You should also have your portable appliances and electrical equipment regularly tested and tagged, and your circuits regularly checked to ensure that they’re fault free.
Jim’s Test & Tag are electrical safety experts
Jim’s Test & Tag are electrical safety experts who specialise in electrical safety testing. Jim’s can conduct an electrical safety risk assessment for your premises and advise on your safety switches, and the safety of your electrical circuits and will also test and tag all your portable electrical appliances and equipment. Jim’s Test & Tag will provide a free quote for their services. Visit www.jimstestandtag.com.au or call 13 15 46 for more information.