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Cathodic protection systems

Cathodic protection systems use an electric current to protect metallic structures from corrosion. Understand the safety and regulatory requirements for cathodic protection systems and how to manage electrical safety risks.

Cathodic protection systems are complex and should be installed by someone who has been appropriately trained. For further information, contact the Australasian Corrosion Association.

These systems are regulated by Part 13 of the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 (the Regulation). Under the Regulation, all cathodic protection systems capable of delivering a current greater than 0.25A must be registered.

What is a cathodic protection system?

Cathodic protection devices protect submerged and underground metallic structures (such as ships, offshore floaters, pipelines, cables, tanks, harbour structures and subsea equipment) from corrosion. Cathodic protection systems use an electric current or an electrically dissimilar metal to reduce or reverse the effects of corrosion or rusting.

There are two types of cathodic protection systems:

  • Passive galvanic system: A zinc coating is applied to a steel surface, or where a separate zinc anode is placed away from the steel structure to be protected.. Zinc is more electrochemically active than steel (it has a greater negative electrode potential), so when exposed to the environment, the zinc corrodes instead of the steel (also known as a sacrificial system).
  • Impressed current system: A structure to be protected is connected to a direct current electricity source to reverse or redirect the electrochemical reaction commonly known as rust or corrosion. An impressed current system can provide more comprehensive protection than a passive galvanic system.

What are the risks of cathodic protection systems?

Unsafe electricity use and accidents involving electricity infrastructure can have serious consequences, including damage to property, injury or death. Like all electrical systems, cathodic protection systems can be hazardous under some circumstances:

  • Cathodic protection systems may be installed in remote or hazardous environments containing volatile materials. These environments present an increased risk of fire or explosion from electrical current sources.
  • An improperly installed or malfunctioning cathodic protection system can damage rather than protect a metal structure, causing it to fail prematurely or unexpectedly. Nearby metal structures or buildings can also be damaged.
  • Though the voltage is usually low, if a cathodic protection system in water or a marine environment is improperly installed or malfunctioning, it can create an electrical hazard.
  • Cathodic protection systems may be installed on structures that extend across many kilometres, presenting electrical risks from remote lighting strikes or other induced currents.

Electrical shocks can also lead to other injuries, including falls from ladders, scaffolding or elevated work platforms. Other effects can include muscle spasms, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting and collapse.

Regulations and registration requirements for cathodic protection systems

Safely installing and maintaining a correctly functioning cathodic protection system requires specialist technical knowledge and awareness. The Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 (the Regulation) details requirements for installing, designing, operating, testing and registering cathodic protection systems.

Some cathodic protection systems are exempt from the Regulation, for example:

The information below is a summary of the requirements for cathodic protection systems. See the Regulation for more details.

You must give at least 60 days’ notice to owners of any affected structures in the area before you install a cathodic protection system.

When designing and installing the system, you must follow the standard for cathodic protection, AS 2832 series (Cathodic protection of metals).

Under the Regulation:

  • the system must be appropriately tested
  • issues of interference through mitigation must be satisfied
  • the system must be operated within the requirements of the Australian standard AS 2832 series
  • the system must be registered as required.

The Regulation also details the electrical limits on:

  • the voltage applied
  • the maximum current allowed
  • changes in measured voltage potential to ground in affected metal structures and surroundings.

All cathodic protection systems must be tested before use, even if they don’t need to be registered. All systems must have testing completed within 90 days of starting operation. If the system needs to be registered, you must complete the testing within 90 days of lodging the application. The Electrical Safety Office may allow more time if you ask for it.

The system owner is responsible for:

  • arranging testing
  • providing the facilities
  • paying all costs associated with testing.

Tests must include:

  • interference tests on all foreign structures for the system
  • maximum voltage checks on water-based or marine environment systems.

Testing should be done at least on the maximum operating current values stated in the application.

See Section 244 of the Regulation for information on testing cathodic protection systems before operation.

During operation

Cathodic protection systems must also be regularly tested as a part of their operation. These tests include:

  • system operation checks
  • cathodic protection potential surveys
  • equipment maintenance checks
  • structure inspections.

The owner must give access to the system and provide facilities to further test the system if reasonably required by the Electrical Safety Office. If the system is non-compliant, the owner must pay all indirect and overhead costs the Electrical Safety Office incurred while testing.

You must repeat the interference tests when:

  • requested by the Electrical Safety Office
  • the system or method of operation changes
  • an anode forming part of the system is replaced.

See more about testing cathodic protection systems in the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 (Section 249).

Keep test records for 10 years if:

  • the system is an impressed current cathodic system


  • the system is a passive galvanic system with a total anode mass of more than 25kg.

If the Electrical Safety Office requests these records, you must make them available within 14 days.

Impressed cathodic protection systems capable of delivering a current greater than 0.25 A must be registered through the Electrical Safety Office Cathodic Protection Registrations Online system.

The Electrical Safety Office is legally responsible for keeping a register of cathodic protection systems.

The Cathodic Protection Registrations Online system allows users or owners to:

  • register new systems
  • re-register systems
  • change/modify a system
  • transfer ownership
  • update contact details
  • notify the removal of a system.

The owner is responsible for ensuring the system is:

  • not operated unless registered
  • operated according to the requirements of the cathodic protection standard
  • tested according to the testing requirements of the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013.

Registrations are valid for 5 years unless cancelled during this time. You must re-register before the expiry date if the system is still in operation. The system must be retested before each re-registration in accordance with section 244 of the Regulation.

The owner must immediately advise the Electrical Safety Office of any changes to the registered cathodic protection system’s operation by making an application via the Cathodic Protection Registrations Online system.

The owner must advise the Electrical Safety Office within 30 days via the Cathodic Protection Registrations Online system if:

  • their address changes or
  • the system is removed or made inoperable.

Find out more about registering protection systems here.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to reduce electrical risks. A safe place of work benefits everyone. Read more about how you can create safe work.

For workers

As a worker, you have a responsibility to take reasonable care for your health and safety in the workplace and take reasonable care for the health and safety of others who may be affected by what you do or don’t do. Follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer (for example, use equipment properly, follow safe work policies and procedures and attend training).

It’s important that you:

  • ask for help if you are not sure how to safely perform your work
  • follow instructions and work safely
  • report hazards, unsafe situations and injuries to your employer.

For businesses

You have legal responsibilities as outlined in the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) for the health and safety of every worker and visitor.

The four-step risk management process below will help you meet your responsibilities under these laws. Where the WHS Act and the Electrical Safety Act both apply, the Electrical Safety Act takes priority.

You can also use the practical advice in the Electrical safety code of practice 2021 – Managing electrical risks in the workplace (PDF, 1.25 MB).

Four steps to manage risk

The first step in the risk management process is to identify the hazards. Begin by finding things and situations that could potentially cause harm to people.

You can identify potential electrical hazards by:

  • talking to workers and observing where and how they use electrical equipment
  • regularly inspecting and testing electrical equipment and electrical installations
  • reading product labels and manufacturers’ instruction manuals
  • talking to manufacturers, suppliers, industry associations and electrical safety specialists
  • reviewing incident reports.

Find more information on identifying risks in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) . The Managing electrical risks in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.25 MB) includes information on identifying electrical hazards.

The How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) provides information on when to conduct a risk assessment.

A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of it happening. If you find a potential hazard, do a risk assessment to decide if there is a risk to you or others. Consider whether there are already effective control measures, what actions you need to take to control the risk and how urgently you should act.

Use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide and record your assessments.

After assessing the risk, put control measures in place. The hierarchy of control is a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks that ranks risk controls from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and least reliable.

You can control the risks associated with cathodic protection systems by:

  • ensuring that cathodic protection systems are installed by someone who is appropriately trained and qualified
  • following the regulations for registration and operation detailed in the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013.

Risk management is an ongoing process. Reassess risk regularly throughout the project and check to ensure the control measures are working. If you find problems, go through the steps again, review the information and decide whether you need new controls.