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Electrical safety in the construction industry

Electrical hazards on construction sites can put workers at risk of injury or death. Learn how to control electrical risks on construction sites, fulfil your legal obligations and keep yourself and others safe.

What is the construction industry?

The construction industry provides construction, installation and renovation services or maintains and repairs buildings and other structures.

What are the electrical safety risks in the construction industry?

Death and serious injury can occur from exposure to electrical hazards on construction sites.

The most common hazards are:

  • poorly installed or maintained construction wiring
  • working near overhead and underground powerlines
  • unsafe and poorly maintained electrical equipment
  • energised electrical work and working near energised parts.

Some factors that contribute to construction sites being at high electrical risk are:

  • work can be in and around buildings and in a variety of weather conditions
  • electrical supply is often connected by extension leads, electrical portable outlet devices (EPODs), construction wiring and construction switchboards, increasing the risk of mechanical damage to cables and equipment
  • breaches of exclusion zones around overhead and underground powerlines
  • work sites are busy and the workforce is constantly changing.

Construction wiring

Construction wiring is an electrical installation that supplies temporary power to a construction site.

Construction wiring includes:

  • consumer mains and sub-mains supplying construction switchboards, sheds and amenities
  • final sub-circuits connected to power points, lighting, construction plant and equipment.

Electrical supply to a construction site can be:

  • an electricity distributor’s main supply
  • an existing switchboard in the permanent installation of the premises
  • a low-voltage generator.

Construction wiring is usually removed once the work is finished.

Construction wiring must be installed and maintained according to the:

Planning construction wiring

  • Decide how the site will receive power (for example, via overhead or underground powerlines, existing or temporary switchboards, or generators) and where you will locate the temporary supply relative to the work.
  • Identify hazards that could cause risks to health and safety (for example, hidden electricity cables and overhead powerlines). Consult with the network provider (such as Energex or Ergon) to identify possible hazards. Refer to the Electrical safety code of practice 2020 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB).
  • Identify environmental hazards and situations that could lead to equipment damage. Consider the likelihood of cables being subject to mechanical damage during construction activities.
  • Work with other PCBUs and identify where your health and safety duties overlap to prevent gaps in managing risks.

Safety considerations

  • Never tie, bundle or group construction wiring with permanent wiring.
  • Never attach construction wiring to free-standing, temporary fence panels.
  • Ensure that construction wiring is easy to identify and tell apart from permanent wiring. Use iridescent yellow tape marked with the words ‘construction wiring’ at intervals no more than five metres apart.
  • Position overhead wiring to avoid crossing roadways or access ways used by plant and machinery. If you can’t avoid this, consult the person in control of the network for advice.
  • Consider mechanical protection when running wiring in areas where it could be exposed to damage from construction activity.

Inspection and testing

  • Before initial use, have construction wiring inspected and tested by a qualified person (see AS/NZS 3000).
  • Have construction wiring visually inspected by a qualified person to verify its integrity every six months. If the installation is damaged or not compliant, have the relevant part isolated, repaired or replaced and tested as necessary.
  • Keep records of tests and inspections and make them available for review .

Exclusion zones and overhead or underground powerlines

Exclusion zones are the minimum safe distance from live powerlines to reduce the risk of electric shock.

Common electrical risks and causes of injury from working near overhead or underground powerlines are:

  • electrical shock causing injury or death (from direct or indirect contact, tracking through or across a medium, induction, or arcing)
  • burns from arcing, explosion or fire.

See the Electrical safety code of practice 2020 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB).

Learn more about working safely near powerlines in the construction industry (PDF, 1.04 MB).

Electrical equipment

Electric shocks from faulty or damaged electrical equipment used on a construction site can cause death or injury to the equipment owner or others on the work site.

The PCBU must ensure that all electrical equipment is electrically safe. They must have procedures or policies in place so that equipment used at the site is inspected, tested and tagged at the required intervals.

Employees of the PCBU at the construction site must cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to electrical safety. Only use electrical equipment that has been inspected, tested and tagged.

Learn more about testing and maintaining tools and equipment.

Energised electrical work and energised parts

A PCBU must ensure that electrical work is not carried out on energised (live) electrical equipment.

Electrical work on an electrical installation or equipment may pose a risk of accidental contact with adjacent energised electrical parts.

Electrical work, whether energised or de-energised, must only be carried out by an appropriately licensed or otherwise authorised person under the Electrical Safety Act 2013.

For more information on de-energised and energised electrical work, see sections 4 and  8 of the Managing electrical risks in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.25 MB).

How do I manage the risks?

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

For workers

As a worker, you are responsible for taking reasonable care of your health and safety in the workplace and taking reasonable care of 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, bystander 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 Managing electrical risks in the workplace code of practice 2021 (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.

When looking for hazards, look for:

  • the location of overhead and underground powerlines
  • unsafe electrical equipment
  • damaged equipment and cables
  • inappropriate wiring, overloaded circuits and improper grounding
  • equipment being used in wet or other hazardous conditions.

Find more information on identifying hazards 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.

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 possible hazard, do a risk assessment to decide if there is a risk to you or others. Find out if there are already effective control measures, what actions to take to control the risk and how urgently you need to 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.

Always aim to remove the risk. If you can’t remove the risk, minimise it by:

  • replacing a hazard or hazardous work practice with something with less risk (such as using extra-low voltage electrical equipment such as a battery-operated tool rather than a tool that plugs into mains electricity)
  • isolating or separating the hazard or hazardous work practice from any person exposed to it (for example, if it’s necessary and legally permissible to do energised work, it may be possible to de-energise the surrounding parts)
  • using engineering controls or physical controls to reduce the risk of receiving a fatal electric shock (for example, by installing insulation or guarding and using safety switches).

If risk remains, use administrative controls and safe work practices. Safe work practices include providing suitable and adequate training, establishing exclusion zones and using permits and warning signs.

Finally, use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective eyewear, insulated gloves, hard hats, aprons and breathing protection. Ensure the PPE is rated for the work to be done.

Check that your chosen control measure doesn’t introduce new hazards. The control measures you apply may change how you carry out the work. Consult your workers, develop safe work procedures and provide your workers with training.

Include the following control measures:

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.

Under the work health and safety laws, you must review the 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
  • when a health and safety representative requests a review.

Review methods include workplace inspection, consultation, testing and analysing records and data. Find more information on reviewing risk controls in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).