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Electrical work in declared disasters

Doing electrical repair and reinstatement work within a declared disaster situation can be dangerous. Learn about the hazards and how to keep yourself and others safe.

What do we mean by electrical work in declared disasters?

A disaster is a serious disruption in a community, caused by the impact of an event. Declared disasters need a coordinated response from the state government and others to help the community recover from the disruption. This can include the need for electrical work.

When a disaster declaration is in place under the Queensland Disaster Management Act 2003:

  • a district disaster coordinator (DDC) or declared disaster officer (DDO) may need a person to help with the carrying out of powers according to the Act
  • a person, including a person who does not hold an electrical licence but who has a relevant electrical qualification, may need to help to maintain or restore essential services, including electricity.

Volunteering and notifying availability

You can register your availability on the Volunteering Queensland website or by phoning 1800 994 100, so your details can be shared in the event of a disaster. This site registers volunteers and fee-for-service skilled people.

You may also wish to contact the electrical industry associations for advice on how to assist:

Licensed electricians

A licensed electrician who holds a current Queensland electrical mechanic licence or a current equivalent interstate or New Zealand electrical licence (as per Schedule 1 of the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 (the Regulation)) who wishes to undertake flood repair electrical work should contact Master Electricians Australia (MEA) or the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) Queensland.

Unlicensed electricians

A person who is a qualified electrician but who has an expired Queensland electrical mechanic licence, or an expired equivalent interstate or New Zealand electrical licence (as per Schedule 1 of the Regulation), must present their qualification to a district disaster coordinator who may authorise the person to perform specific flood-related work for electrical repair or reinstatement.

Electrical work other than within a declared disaster situation

All electrical installation work outside a declared disaster situation must be carried out by a licensed electrical mechanic or the holder of an equivalent licence of another Australian jurisdiction or New Zealand (as per Schedule 1 of the Regulation). The electrical mechanic must either be employed by a licensed electrical contractor or be an employee working on their employer’s own electrical installation.

A person who holds an interstate electrical contractor licence will need to apply for a Queensland electrical contractor licence to perform electrical work in Queensland.

What are the risks of electrical work in declared disasters?

The risks of electrical work in declared disasters are:

  • electric shock – stopping the heart beating properly, preventing the person from breathing, causing painful muscle spasms and loss of muscle control
  • electrical burns – ranging from mild burns to deep burns that require surgery and are permanently disabling
  • thermal burns – ranging from mild blisters to deep second-degree burns that cause scarring.

They can result from contact with:

  • fallen or damaged electrical wires
  • electrical equipment that has been submerged in floodwaters or storm damaged
  • exposed energised parts from damaged electrical equipment.

Other risks to your health and wellbeing when working in declared disasters include the risk of infection from contact with contaminated floodwater, soil and mud.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers, volunteers, disaster coordinators and management can work together to reduce risks and to be prepared for the threat of a natural disaster.

For workers

You have a responsibility under the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to take reasonable care for your own health and safety and for others who may be affected by what you do or don’t do. You must follow instructions from supervisors, use equipment properly and follow safe work policies and procedures. If something is unclear, ask for an explanation.

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. Where the WHS Act and the Electrical Safety Act both apply the Electrical Safety Act takes priority.

The four-step risk management process below will you to meet your responsibilities under these laws.

You can also use the practical advice in the Electrical safety code of practice 2021 - Managing electrical risks in the workplace.

Four steps to manage risk

Find all the relevant things and situations that may contribute to an incident.

  • Look at the nature and extent of the damage at the disaster site, the tasks to be done, the tools, equipment and objects available, and the physical environment.
  • Talk to your workers about the possible hazards, either individually or in a meeting. Look for ways that workers who lack confidence or have other barriers can speak up.
  • Review information such as regulations, codes of practice and standards related to electrical work in general. Look for trends in information already available from previous disasters, such as workplace records, reports, worker complaints and injury compensation claims. Find out about possible risks from regulators, industry associations, unions and safety consultants, or designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers.

Once you identify possible risks, make a risk assessment and decide:

  • if there is a risk to you or others
  • whether any effective control measures are already in place
  • what actions you could take to control the risk
  • how urgently you should act.

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

Once you’ve identified possible risks, put control measures in place. The best way to control risk is to remove the hazard completely. If that’s not possible, reduce the risk as much as possible.

Do this by:

  • only allowing a competent and experienced person to undertake the work
  • inspecting and testing all conductive material, switchboards, riser brackets, solar PV panels and metal building material located in the ceiling, roof or walls that could become energised due to damage and present an electrical risk
  • not working on equipment submerged in water or that has been recently submerged in water
  • inspecting and testing disaster-affected electrical equipment and installations to ensure it is electrically safe before being re-energised (remembering to issue a comprehensive certificate of test to the customer)
  • ensuring appropriate PPE is worn.

Find the hierarchy of controls in How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) or use the Electrical safety code of practice 2021 - Managing electrical risks in the workplace (PDF, 1.25 MB).

Risk management is an ongoing process. You should check regularly to make sure the control measures are working. If you find problems, go through the steps again, review the information and decide whether you need new controls.

Under work health and safety laws you must review controls:

  • when you become aware that a control measure is not working effectively
  • before a change that might create a new risk
  • when you find a new hazard or risk
  • when your workers tell you that a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.