Workers are at risk of severe or fatal electric shock when working on metal water services. Learn how to control electrical safety risks when working on metal water services and meet your legal and safety obligations.
This information is relevant for plumbers and anyone working on metallic water services.
What does ‘working on metal water services’ mean?
‘Working on metal water services’ means removing water meters or cutting through or disconnecting metallic water pipes.
What are the risks of working on metal water services?
The main electrical risk is severe or fatal electric shock when working on metallic water pipes.
Metallic water pipes in an installation must be ‘earthed’ for electricity to discharge safely under fault conditions. If there is an electrical fault, the piping can become ‘live’ (electrical current can flow along the water pipe).
Workers may risk a fatal electric shock when they cut through a water pipe, remove a water meter, or disconnect the main earth wire from the water pipe. Sometimes, simply touching the water pipe can give an electric shock.
How can I manage the risk?
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.
Safe practices when working on metal water services
Your safe system of work should suit the situation and include the following procedures. Also refer to AS/NZS 3500.1 Plumbing and drainage – Part 1: Water services.
- Plan the job by assessing electrical and other risks. Take appropriate steps to stay safe.
- Identify other underground services before beginning work. Learn more about the hidden risks of underground electrical cables.
- Before starting work, ask if anyone has experienced shocks or tingles from the taps or other metalwork within the installation. If yes, cancel the job and notify the electricity network owner/distributor, as this could indicate a potentially dangerous situation (fault).
- Where possible, switch off the electrical main switch or switches (including the hot water main switch) at the premises. Attach a tag reading DANGER DO NOT SWITCH ON.
- Take extra steps to reduce electrical risk. Avoid skin contact with the metallic water pipes you’re working on. Wear gloves and long trousers. Consider using rubber ground mats, especially where work involves kneeling or lying on the ground.
- Thoroughly clean a section of metal pipe on each side of the length you’re repairing.
- Ensure the insulated bridging conductor (including its connections) is in good condition before use.
- Attach an insulated bridging conductor to span the length of the pipe you’re cutting (Fig. 1). A bridging conductor is a stranded copper cable that can carry 70 amperes. It should have appropriate end clamps and insulated handgrips.
Fig 1: Attach an insulated bridge conductor to span the length of the pipe to be cut
- Check that the clamps make good electrical contact with the metal pipe.
- Check that the bridging conductor remains in place until you finish the work.
- If you’re replacing an existing metallic service pipe with a non-metallic pipe or fittings, have the electrical installation checked by a licensed electrical contractor. If necessary, have them modify it to ensure the electrical earthing system stays effective.
- Notify the local electricity distributor and the householder immediately if you see anything abnormal (such as electric sparks) or if you feel an electric shock.
As a worker, you are responsible under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to take reasonable care for your own electrical safety and others who may be affected by what you do or don’t do.
Follow health and safety instructions from your employer, use equipment properly, follow safe work policies and procedures, and attend training.
If something is unclear, or you are uncertain, ask for an explanation. Raise health and safety concerns and report hazards and work-related injury or illness.
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
Begin by identifying hazards (things that can cause harm to people) in the workplace.
You can identify 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.
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, a risk assessment can help you determine if there is a risk to you or others, whether effective control measures are already in place, what actions you need 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. Work through the hierarchy of control and aim to eliminate the risk. If you can’t stop the risk, you must control it as much as possible.
You can control the electrical safety risks of working on metal water services by following the safe method of work outlined above. Also refer to the relevant electrical safety laws and codes of practice.
Apply these electrical safety controls whenever you are working around electricity:
- Stay safe around power lines and electrical cables by planning your work to stay outside the specified exclusion zones. Use a safety observer if there is a risk of coming too close to powerlines.
- Identify overhead and underground powerlines by consulting maps and talking to the property owner and electrical entity. For Ergon Energy and Energex, visit lookupandlive.com.au for your free powerline safety plan.
- Know the location of underground services (such as electricity cables, communication lines and other services) before you break ground. Always contact your local providers before you dig. Visit Before You Dig Australia (BYDA) for more information.
- Check electrical equipment (such as leads and power tools) to ensure they are safe to use. Have them tested and tagged regularly. Use a safety switch when operating electrical equipment. Don’t use faulty or damaged electrical equipment—replace it or have it checked and repaired by a licensed electrical worker.
- Ensure that staff are qualified to perform the work and appropriately trained and supervised.
- Have first aid and emergency plans in place.
- Notify WorkSafe.qld.gov.au if a worker or other person is exposed to an electric shock, even if emergency services attend.
Risk management is ongoing. 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 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
- after a health and safety representative requests a review.
Standards and compliance
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Electrical Safety Act 2002
- AS/NZS 3500.1 Plumbing and drainage – Part 1: Water services
Codes of practice
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Managing electrical risks in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.25 MB)
- Electrical safety code of practice 2020 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB)