Electrical safety Part 2:  Fixed electrical installations

Electrical safety Part 2: Fixed electrical installations

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Last month we looked at the issue of testing of portable appliances and now we turn our attention to the fixed wiring within churches. 

The standards for electrical wiring are constantly increasing meaning that systems are generally safer than before. That said, Ecclesiastical, a leading insurer of churches, reports that many church fires can be attributed to faulty wiring of equipment as well as causing electrical shocks and burns. 

Key areas that can cause problems are: 
• Faulty electrical wiring and apparatus.
• Poor earthing.
• Inadequate overcurrent protection. 
• Damage or wear and tear.
• Poor maintenance and testing.
• Contact with supplies.

Health and Safety legislation (The Health and safety at Work Act 1974), places an obligation on all employers to ensure the safety of all persons, not just employees, using the premises.  Even if you do not consider your church to be an employer there are many legal grey areas and it is good practice to treat volunteer workers with the same protection as a paid worker. Do it because you want to – not because you have to.

Electrical regulations (The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989) also require that “As may be necessary to prevent danger, all systems shall be maintained so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, such danger”.

The fixed electrical installation includes switches, sockets, light fittings and the distribution boards or fuse boxes along with the cabling itself. ‘Earthing’ is an important part of any electrical installation and in addition to the electrical system itself it is common for pipes and other large metal items to be earthed. 

Church Buildings Council and other bodies recommend that there an Electrical Installation Condition Report is carried out by a qualified contractor who is a ‘Full Scope’ member of NICEIC, ECA or NAPIT, at least every five years (three years where there is a Public Entertainment Licence). 

As with PAT testing the presence of a certificate is not enough as systems can be damaged and become dangerous in between tests. As well as being good practice, many insurers will want to see evidence of formal periodic visual inspections (VI) being carried out at least annually* by a competent, but not necessarily qualified, person. There should also be a system for church users to report concerns such as broken sockets, loose wires and damaged sheathing and ensuring that these problems are addressed. 

One measure that many churches encourage is the use of socket covers but theDepartment of Health and other bodies state that they SHOULD NOT be used as they can make electrical system more dangerous.

Nick Jones

*Electrical tests and gas safety checks for church buildings, Church Growth Trust

This guidance only seeks to provide generalised advice on the subject covered to assist churches in their operation. It is not a substitute for seeking specific advice on particular issue.

This article was originally published in e-news February 2018