Safety switches

Safety switches. Courtesy of Peter Weddell, owner/operator of Qld Home Buyers Inspection Service and Queensland Building Inspection Service, QBIS.

Is one enough to protect you and your family?

Definately not!

Although not compulsary in Queensland, it is highly recommended that you should have at least two.

  • One for the light circuit.
  • One for the power circuit.
  • Some equipment may require their own safety switch, independant of the others.

Check with a qualified electrician for their recommendations on what circuits and equipment require safety switches.

How many safety switches do I need for protection?

Preferably on all circuits including power, lights, air-conditioners, oven, hotplates and pool equipment, even if on seperate tariffs. Check with your electrician.

How do I know if safety switches have already been fitted or not and what do they look like?

In some cases this is difficult to determine, unless you know exactly what to look for.

There are a number of different types of safety switches available from manufacturers, some look very similar to circuit breakers.

It is not worth the risk. For a small callout fee, have your power box checked by a qualified electrician to remove any doubt or risk!  

Do they stop fires?

No, they do not.

How safe are they?

  • If correctly fitted, they will protect you in most circumstances, BUT NOT ALL!
  • Never rely upon them solely to protect you.
  • To be safe always turn off all power and light circuits.

Even if safety switches have been fitted. Never attempt to alter any electrical wiring and/or installations yourself. Employ a qualified licenced electrician. 

I have circuit breakers and fuses, do I need safety switches as well?

  •  Most definately.
  • Circuit breakers and fuses offer very little protection. They do not stop fatalities occuring from electrocution.

Differences between Safety Switches, circuit breakers and fuses:

  • Safety switches monitor electricity flow through a circuit and turn the power off if a current leakage is detected, in a fraction of a second.
  • Fuses have a fine wire fitted within them. This melts when overloaded and cuts the power from that particular circuit.
  • Fuse wires must then be replaced with the correct guage to avoid other potential dangers.
  • Circuit breakers are just a newer version of a fuse. They will cut the power if the circuit is overloaded, unlike fuses they don’t require replacing when tripped.
  • Rating of the fuse wire and circuit breakers must be determined correctly to avoid overloading of the circuit. This is dependent upon the load drawn from the appliance or installation on that particular circuit.

Do not be confused, it could cost your life! 

If in doubt, contact your power supply company or a licensed electrician for advice.

How often should I test them?

Every few months to make sure they are working properly.

Follow these steps:

  • Inform anyone using electrical equipment of any sort before testing. This will disconnect power to any circuits connected to the safety switch. Allow them time to close off anything important that they may be working on or with.
  • Press the button on the safety switch, be certain it is a safety switch first, not a circuit breaker. If it switches off and cuts the power and more importantly can be switched back on, then it is working correctly. Check to make sure it turns the appliances off.
  • Make sure the lights turn off, if a safety switch has also been fitted to the light circuit, .
  • If neither safety switch turn off the appliances and lights that are connected to the particular circuit, then you are not protected. Contact a qualified electrician ASAP to have the problem rectified.

After testing, turn the safety switch back on. Wait a few minutes before resetting to avoid possible damage to any appliances or equipment operating on the circuits.

What if a safety switch shuts off, constantly?

This may be an inconvenience and nuisance, but it may save your life.

  • At the powerboard, flick the safety switch back on.
  • If it continues to turn off, do not turn it back on, until the reason for the tripping and fault can be determined and rectified. It may be due to a faulty appliance or overload on that particular circuit.
  • Check the last appliance used, it may be the cause.
  • If the safety switch keeps tripping off. Unplug all the appliances and replug them one at a time until the faulty one trips the safety switch. This will help you locate the scource of the fault.
  • If an appliance keeps turning the power off, do not touch it whilst the power is on. Have the appliance checked by the manufacturer or a qualified repairer, do not attempt to fix it yourself.
  • If it cannot be repaired. Replace the failed appliance, never use it again and dispose of it! 
  • Have the wiring checked for damage by a qualified electrician.
  • If you cannot locate the problem easily and without endangering yourself, call an electrician immediately.

Never lose sight of the fact that safety switches are fitted to help save your life from potential electrocution.

Purpose of safety switches & what trips them:

To detect electrical leakage in a circuit that it has been fitted to and shut the power off to avoid potential electrocution.

  • When an appliance or installation has failed.
  • Power cables are damaged and have shorted out.
  • Water ingress shorts an appliance or fitting.
  • Vermin have caused damage to wiring.

When do they need to be replaced?

  • After being tested, their function fails.
  • They are too old to function effectively and safely.
  • They become damaged for whatever reason.
  • When upgrading the power board, not mandatory but recommended.

Who fits them?

A qualified licenced electrician only.

Never attempt altering or adding any electrical installations, fittings or wiring unless you are qualified to do so.

How much do they cost?

What is your life potentially worth?

  • Safety Swithes are relatively cheap to buy and to have them installed by a qualified electrician.

Consider them a very cheap form of life insurance.

Be aware:

  • Safety switches can become faulty.
  • Their operation must be checked periodically and be replaced, when necessary.
  • There is virtually no protection to any power cables between your main power supply from the street and before the safety switch. Apart from fuses (that may not be fitted) at the street main supply box or power pole. Check with your power supplier.

Fuses and circuit breakers do not protect you from electrocution.

What you must do before entering a roof void or confined space:

  • Turn off all switches at the main board to your building.
  • Remove all fuses, if they have been fitted.
  • Never enter a confined space, such as the roof interior or sub-floor without first switching all power and light circuits off! 

If in any doubt, contact your power supply company or a qualifed licensed electrician for advice, before doing anything.

Further information & resources:

Related information that may help you:

Qld Government Worksafe risk management

These comments are a guide only. If in doubt, consult your power supplier and/or a qualified electrician.

For independent Building Inspections Brisbane in all suburbs, Qld Home Buyers Inspection Service.