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Understand the risks when working with switchboards

Before you remove switchboard panels it is important to carry out a risk assessment. If you identify any hazards you must put control measures in place to address the risk of electric shock, explosion or fire.

Electrical workers have been injured when they have removed switchboard escutcheon panels from an energised switchboard. As they have removed panels, electrical cables in the switchboard have become dislodged resulting in an arc flash causing severe burns.

Electrical safety laws prohibit work on energised electrical equipment unless:

  • it is necessary in the interests of health and safety that the electrical work is carried out while the equipment is energised (For example, it may be necessary for life-saving equipment to remain energised and operating while electrical work is carried out on the equipment)
  • it is necessary that the electrical equipment to be worked on is energised in order for the work to be carried out properly
  • it is necessary for the purposes of testing to ensure the equipment is de-energised
  • there is no reasonable alternative means of carrying out the work.

Never work on energised electrical equipment just because it is more convenient.

The Electrical Safety Office reminds you to consider your environment and the nature of work you are performing. If you are working with a high fault level you must consider putting the highest measures of controls in place – which would be to eliminate the hazard altogether and de-energise the switchboard.

If you were working on a switchboard supplied by a 500kVA transformer, the fault level would be near 14,000 amps, which could result in an arc flash with temperatures of 19,400 degrees Celsius. In this circumstance the risks of working near the live parts can be just as dangerous as the live work itself, and you should de-energise the switchboard before starting work.

Information about electrical work on energised equipment, including mandatory controls, can be found in the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 sections 12-23.

Further information

Further information in also available in the Electrical Safety Code of Practice 2013 – Managing electrical risks in the workplace.

Last updated
26 April 2017

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