Playing it safe with safety switches

I have a safety switch—isn't one enough?

Safety switches are often confused with circuit breakers and fuses, but they perform different tasks. Safety switches monitor the flow of electricity through a circuit and turn off the power in a fraction of a second if a leakage of current is detected. Safety switches provide personal protection against electric shock.

Circuit breakers protect an electrical circuit by quickly cutting power when there is a high current fault or overload that may cause a hazard.

Even if your home has a safety switch installed, one may not be enough to protect you from electric shock. A safety switch only protects you if it's on that circuit. You should consider having safety switches installed on all circuits in your home, including power points, lights, air conditioning, oven, hot water and pool equipment circuits, even if they are on a separate tariff.

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    • Do you know if you are protected by safety switches on your electrical switchboard? Or are they just circuit-breakers?

      Safety switches, circuit breakers and fuses are often confused as being the same thing. They're not, and there are some important differences in what they do. This film will help you to see and understand the differences.

      Safety switches protect you from electric shock. They turn off the electricity within milliseconds when a current leak is detected. This can happen if a faulty power point, wiring or electrical appliance is being used. Circuit breakers and fuses on the other hand protect the circuitry. They cut the power when electrical wiring has too much current flowing through it. Too much current such as that from a surge or lightning strike can overheat an electrical appliance or wiring and cause an electrical fire.

      Circuit breakers and fuses do not protect people directly, only safety switches save lives. The easiest way to identify whether you have safety switches installed is to check your switchboard.

      Look for marked labels and any switches with a 'T' or 'test' button. There are lots of different types. Sometimes they are separate items on the switchboard or they can be part of a circuit breaker. The test buttons can be blue, white, black or orange and they range in size and shape. Here are a couple of common safety switches that can be installed by your electrician. There are different ratings and types depending on the circuits they're to be installed on. Your electrician can advise which you need. All the switches on your switchboard should be correctly labelled for easy identification.

      If you''re still not sure, check with your electrician about which circuits are protected by a safety switch, or use the safety switch test button to see which circuits are switched off by the test.

      If you look at this switchboard it has a number of circuit breakers for the electrical circuits in your home and two safety switches.

      In this case, this safety switch protects the lighting circuit this one covers the power point circuits. Check your home's switchboard and see if you can spot your safety switches. If you're still unsure, call your electrician to check whether your home is safe.

      Adding extra safety switches to your switchboard package will protect other circuits, such as the air-conditioner circuit, hot water system, oven and pool equipment. Only use a licensed electrician to do this work. For more information visit www.electricalsafety.qld.gov.au or call 1300 362 128.

Testing your safety switches

Test your safety switches every three months to ensure they are working properly.

Follow these simple steps:

  • Let everyone know you are about to test your safety switches, especially if they're using a computer or recording something on TV—the testing process will cut power to those circuits connected to the safety switch.
  • At the switchboard, press the T' or 'Test' button located on the safety switch. If it flicks off and cuts the power, it is working. Check to see which lights or appliances are now off—these are protected by the safety switch. If it has not cut the power to the connected circuit then you are no longer protected and you should talk to your licensed electrician as soon as you can.
  • After testing, turn the safety switch back on. Depending on the safety switch type, push it back upwards or twist it into the 'on' position. For circuits with a refrigerator or air conditioner, wait for two to three minutes before resetting to avoid possible appliance damage.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP, 35MB)

  • Read transcript
    • A safety switch will turn off the electricity in your home within milliseconds of a fault to protect you from a serious electric shock.

      But the safety switch will only protect you if it is working properly and it is connected to the faulty circuit. That's why we want you have safety switches connected to all the circuits in your home, including powerpoints, lighting, air-conditioning, stove, hot water and pool equipment, even if they are on separate tariffs.

      It's also important to test your safety switch every three months to ensure that it continues to function properly and protect you from electric shocks.

      Your safety switches can be quickly identified by looking for one or more buttons marked 'T' or 'test' at your switchboard. You will need to look carefully as there may be more than one and they can be different colours, shapes or sizes.

      Before testing your safety switch, make sure everyone in your home knows you're about to do the test. If anyone is using a computer or recording their favourite program, turning the power off without warning would be pretty annoying.

      To test, simply press the test button on each safety switch. This should automatically trip the switch to the off position and you will hear a 'clunk' sound.

      You should check inside your home to see which lights or appliances are now off. The circuits turned off by the safety switch test mean they are protected by it.

      Let's try another one. This is for the power points circuits.

      Once you're confident that each safety switch has worked correctly, reset them by lifting or twisting the switch to turn it back on.

      If you have a fridge or air-conditioner on the circuit, it's best that you wait 2-3 minutes before turning them back on to prevent damage. If during the test your safety switch didn't make a sound and didn't switch off any lights or appliances, then it has failed. Contact your electrician to have it checked immediately as you will not be protected from electrical faults.

      To help you remember when to test your safety switches, use the arrival of your quarterly electricity bill or rates notice as a reminder. Or, set up a reminder in your computer's or mobile phone's calendar to alert you when the next test is due.

      Having safety switches installed is good, but it isn't enough, it is just as important to regularly test them to make sure they work. For more information visit www.electricalsafety.qld.gov.au or call 1300 362 128.

Nuisance tripping

There are instances where excessive tripping of your safety switch can be annoying. It might be a faulty electrical appliance or indicate a high load from a variety of appliances on that circuit.

At the switchboard, reset the safety switch that flicked off – if it trips again, the last appliance plugged in may be the cause. However, if the safety switch continues to trip, then disconnect all the appliances and plug them in one at a time until the faulty one trips the safety switch.

If a particular electrical appliance repeatedly sets off the safety switch, then it may need to be replaced or checked by a competent person or the manufacturer's authorised agent. Avoid touching any potentially faulty appliances while the power is on.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP, 26MB)

  • Read transcript
    • Do you get nuisance tripping of your safety switch?

      There are instances where excessive tripping of your safety switch can be annoying or a downright nuisance. No sooner do you flick on the kettle than you hear the TV go off behind you!

      As you once again tramp downstairs to turn the safety switch back on, think about what the problem could be. It might be a faulty electrical appliance or indicate a high load from a variety of appliances on that circuit.

      Circuit loading can be caused by appliances that require a large current to work such as micro-waves, irons and kettles, especially if they're all on the same circuit.

      At the switchboard, reset the safety switch that flicked off, if it trips again, the last appliance plugged in may be the cause. Disconnect that appliance from the power point and reset the safety switch.

      If everything now functions properly, you've resolved the problem.

      However, if the safety switch continues to trip, then disconnect all the appliances and plug them in one at a time until the faulty one trips the safety switch.

      If a particular electrical appliance repeatedly sets off the safety switch, then it may need to be replaced or checked by a competent person or the manufacturer's authorised agent.

      Avoid touching any potentially faulty appliances while the power is on.

      If you continue to have problems, contact your licensed electrician. Don't attempt to do any repairs to electrical equipment or your switchboard yourself.

      It's best to always keep your electrical appliances, power point switches and extension leads in good working order.

      If anything looks damaged, cracked or it's not working correctly, then have it checked or dispose of it. And keep your safety switches working by testing them every three months. They're there to protect you.

      For more information visit www.electricalsafety.qld.gov.au or call 1300 362 128.

Last updated
14 March 2017