UK: Norwich Union warns of dangers of electricity in the workplace

Firms need to focus on the threat from electricity, which causes approximately 1,000 incidents and kills around 25 workers each year*, says Norwich Union.

"Electricity is found everywhere from offices and shops to factories and on construction sites. It is the most common method for powering tools and machinery, but it needs to be used sensibly and treated with respect to avoid serious accidents," says Phil Grace liability risk manager for Norwich Union.

As part of Norwich Union's Simply Safety campaign, a downloadable guide is available at advising on how to use electricity safely.

The two most prominent dangers of using electricity are the risk of fire and/or injury. Grace warns: "In order to mitigate the risk of fire or injury, all electrical installations and wiring should be checked to ensure they are suitable for the task involved. The correct safeguards and precautions must also be used, for example circuit breakers to cut the supply if necessary.

"Training is another key element when it comes to avoiding accidents. All people who work on or with electrical equipment should be trained accordingly and be fully aware of the risks. There are additional dangers associated with portable equipment too and so these should be used carefully and inspected regularly."

Fixed wiring, such as plugs and sockets, is another vital consideration in the workplace in any trade.

Grace says: "Fixed wiring should be designed and installed as fit for purpose and should never be overloaded. All wiring and sockets should be inspected at regular intervals, ideally between two and five years, to ensure that they remain in good condition."

When carrying out any electrical work, such as re-wiring, there are some important guidelines to follow: "Work on electrical installations should only be undertaken by experts and, ideally, no work at all should be carried out when electricity is live, so mains must be shut off. Installations should be switched off and thoroughly checked before work commences to make sure it is safe."

Portable equipment often needs extra attention in the workplace, as well as the environment it is used in, warns Grace.

"It needs more frequent checking as it is more susceptible to damage.  Therefore, a Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) programme should be set up to ensure tools are checked each day and are safe to use. 

"Whenever electric tools are used outside, in wet or similar high risk surroundings, it is important to use circuit breakers to avoid any injuries.  In certain environments, it may even be necessary to consider whether the risks of using portable electrical equipment are too great. There are ways of controlling these risks, however, through the use of reduced voltages or by adapting to alternative means of working."

Grace suggests keeping a record of inspections of all electrical equipment: "Keeping a check will ensure the regular inspections of portable equipment."

Overhead and underground cables are also a major risk to workers and guidelines must be strictly followed, he adds.

"All overhead cables must be treated as ‘live' first of all, as contact can be extremely dangerous. This is particularly prominent in the farming and construction industries where sprayers in fields or tipper lorries are at risk of coming into contact.

"When digging, it is vital to check for the presence of underground cables.  Contact with a buried cable can prove fatal."

One day or half-day electrical safety awareness courses, run at companies' premises are a good way to manage risks.  These can be tailored to suit particular electrical hazards and are currently available from Norwich Union Risk Services. (


Download Simply Safety: Electricity (PDF 71KB)

For further information, please contact:
Elinor Graveson at Staniforth on 0161 919 8025 or Sally Leeman at Norwich Union on 01603 684225/ 07789 270 677.

Notes to editors:  

* Incidents reported to the HSE

Norwich Union is the UK's largest general insurer with a market share of around 15%, with a focus on insurance for individuals and small businesses.

It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest financial adviser (FA) providers. FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.

Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at

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