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Ceiling spaces

There are serious electrical safety and other risks in ceiling spaces. It’s important to understand and manage these before entering a ceiling space.

What are the risks of working in ceiling spaces?

In most buildings, much of the electrical wiring for lights, socket outlets, air-conditioning and other electrical equipment runs through the ceiling space. Anyone who enters the space is at risk of electric shock.

Other risks associated with working in ceiling spaces include:

  • the risk of falling from height
  • excessive heat
  • dust
  • biological hazards such as vermin, insects and moulds.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of working in ceiling spaces. A safe place of work benefits everyone. Access more information about how you can create safe work.

For workers

As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own electrical safety and not adversely affect the electrical safety of others. You must comply with any reasonable instruction and cooperate with any reasonable policy relating to electrical safety at your place of work. If your employer provides you with equipment to do a job, you must use it in accordance with the information, instruction and training provided on its use.

You should also:

  • ensure you have sufficient and appropriate training and supervision according to your experience and the tasks that you’re doing
  • read through relevant legislation and codes of practice (see the bottom of this page for details)
  • know what to do in an electrical emergency.

For businesses

For employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), it’s your duty to use a risk management approach to manage electrical risks as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. You also have responsibilities under the Electrical Safety Act 2002.

Use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) to help you develop effective controls in your place of work. Also the Managing electrical risks in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.25 MB) will provide guidance for create a safe place of work.

You can refer to the Confined spaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.43 MB) for more information about how to protect workers in confined spaces.

Following a risk management process will help you identify and control the risks in ceiling spaces.

Four steps to risk management

This step involves finding all of the things and situations that could potentially cause harm to people. Hazards may arise from electrical cabling or from the types of substances stored or previously stored in a ceiling space. Other hazards may arise from work activities, products or by-products in or around the space.

Inspect your business

  • Walk around the place of work and inspect the ceiling space. Look at the environment and work process. Make a note of any housekeeping issues.
  • Consider hazards like asbestos, dust, electric cables and solar panels.
  • Don’t forget to think about the hazards you can’t see. This could be risks like heat stress, fatigue, bullying or stress.

Talk to your workers

  • Your workers will have a good insight into the hazards they can see at your place of work or site.
  • Young workers have a unique risk profile that can impact on their health and safety at work. The story of Dale Kennedy, a young electrician who died from an electric shock when working in a ceiling space, is a powerful reminder of the need to take these risks seriously.

Review available information

  • Look at information from a range of sources about how other places of work manage working in ceiling spaces.
  • You should also review incident and injury records including near misses.

In many cases the risks and related control measures will be well known. In other cases, you may need to carry out a risk assessment to identify the likelihood of somebody being harmed by the hazard and how serious the harm could be. A risk assessment can help you determine what action you should take to control the risk and how urgently the action needs to be taken.

You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

When assessing the risks, consider the following factors:

  • the atmosphere in the space, including whether it should be tested or monitored
  • all proposed work activities
  • the number of people occupying the space
  • the soundness and security of the overall structure and the amount of light and visibility
  • risks associated with other hazards, such as noise or electricity
  • the physiological and psychological demands of the task and the competency of people involved in the tasks or emergency response duties
  • how easily the space can be entered and exited.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to either eliminate risks, if reasonably practicable, or to minimise them as much as possible. Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety.

The following measures should be taken to control the risks of working in ceiling spaces.

Turn the power off

Before entering a ceiling space, turn the power off at the main switchboard and either tape or label it to stop it being turned back on by another person while you're working in the ceiling. Some electrical equipment such as hot water systems or stoves may have a separate switch. It’s safest to turn off all the switches and circuit breakers at the main switchboard.

Even with the power off, avoid contact with electrical cables and equipment as some cables, such as consumer service lines, may still be live. Also check for solar PV systems which may have DC supply cables that are live during daylight.

Overhead powerlines and exclusion zones

Turning off electricity to the property at the main switchboard doesn’t turn off the electricity supply from the street to the switchboard. This means the incoming overhead service lines and the cables supplying the switchboard will still be live.

You must take extreme care not to touch any of these live overhead electrical lines or supply cables.

You must also maintain an exclusion zones at all times (generally 3 metres).

Read the electrical safety code of practice 2020 – working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB).

Take a look at the Stay safer up there, switch off down here campaign.

Use cordless tools and torches

Use torches and cordless power tools so you don’t need to use power when you’re in the ceiling space. If you have no choice but to use power, make sure you turn off all circuits except the circuit supplying the socket outlet you’re using. Check that the circuit is protected by a safety switch and test it before you enter the ceiling.

Be careful of electrical cables or equipment

Make sure you:

  • find out where electrical cables, fittings and equipment are and avoid contact with them
  • keep any fixing points well clear of all electrical cables and equipment
  • don’t damage any electrical cables or equipment - any already damaged cables or equipment needs to be repaired by a licensed electrical contractor
  • check that insulation material isn’t covering any electrical fittings or equipment, especially down lights.

Take care while working in the ceiling

Make sure that you:

  • let someone know where you are and check in with them during and after the work
  • avoid heat stress by working in cooler parts of the day if possible - drink plenty of water and take breaks from the heat if you can
  • tread carefully to avoid tripping over debris and ceiling trusses
  • step carefully on ceiling joists or other beams and don’t walk on ceiling material like Gyprock sheeting to avoid falls and injuries
  • wear appropriate clothing and protective equipment, including:
    • a half-face (class P1 or P2) disposable particulate respirator, in accordance with AS/NZS 1715:2009 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment
    • a head-covering and goggles to avoid eye irritation
    • long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing and gloves to minimise contact with insulation material
    • appropriate footwear
  • keep your work areas clean and clear of fibres and dust - put waste in plastic bags suitable for dust
  • look out for other hazards, such as dangerous vermin or materials containing asbestos.

Look at the specific requirements for confined spaces in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

When working in a ceiling is finished

Once your work is complete, remember to:

  • replace any insulation material that may have moved during work - make sure it’s clear of any electrical fittings or equipment, especially downlights
  • dispose of debris and waste appropriately
  • wash your hands, face, neck and hair, with soap and water.

Control measures should be regularly reviewed. If necessary, revise your measures so they work as planned and are as effective as possible. The aim is to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Standards and compliance

Codes of practice

Related links