Safety switches in homes

Electrical safety is something you should never take for granted. Safety switches protect you, your family and anyone visiting your home from electric shock.

Safety switches turn off electrical circuits in a fraction of a second if a leakage of current is detected. Examples of when this can happen include if there is a faulty power point or electrical appliance in your home, or you accidentally hit a live cable while drilling into a wall.

You should engage a licensed electrician to make sure that safety switches are installed on all circuits in your home and are working properly. Click on the links below to find out more.

Read the brochure

Read the brochure - safety switches in homes (PDF, 1.1 MB) which explains what safety switches are, the benefits of having them installed and how to test them.

Watch these videos

Get to know your switchboard

Learn what a switchboard does, where it might be located, and the different parts inside and what they do.

How to test your safety switches

Learn how safety switches keep you and your family safe and how and when to test them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a safety switch?

Safety switches, also known as residual current devices (RCDs), help to protect people from electric shocks. They do this by disconnecting electrical circuits when a leakage of current is detected. Examples of when this could happen are:

  • A power point or electrical appliance is faulty,
  • Someone drills into a wall and hits a live cable, or
  • An appliance makes contact with water.
Why is it important to have safety switches installed?

Having safety switches installed in your home helps to protect you, your family and visitors to your home from electric shock, or serious injury or death caused by a shock.

If you don’t have safety switches installed in your home, or they aren’t working properly, you don’t have this protection. Electric shocks can have devastating impacts on individuals, families and communities.

Safety switches are a simple and reliable way of helping to prevent these incidents.

My switchboard has circuit breakers, is that the same thing?

No. Circuit breakers and fuses protect electrical circuits by quickly switching off power when there is a fault or overload that may cause damage. Safety switches are different. They disconnect an electrical circuit when they detect a very small leakage of current that can be fatal to a person who receives a shock.

Circuit breakers protect circuit wiring and appliances, whereas safety switches protect people.

Newer products sometimes include a safety switch and circuit breaker in one device. These devices perform both functions.

How do I know if my home has safety switches?

The best way to ensure you are fully protected is to engage a licensed electrician who can visit your home and check what you have.

Safety switches will have a ‘Test’ or ‘T’ button. However, they come in different colours, sizes, shapes and types. They sometimes have different labels. They may protect some circuits but not others. Therefore it’s important to engage a licensed electrician who can check that all circuits are protected by an appropriate safety switch.

Shouldn’t my home already have safety switches?

Safety switches have been required for some circuits in new or altered electrical installations since 2000.

However the requirements have increased since then. Therefore you should check with a licensed electrician to ensure all circuits in your home have a safety switch.

My home already has safety switches, do we need more?

You should have safety switches installed on all electrical circuits that supply power points, electrical appliances and lights in your home.

Your electrician can check which circuits and appliances are protected. They can then add more safety switches if necessary to make sure you are fully protected.

Am I legally required to have safety switches?

Safety switches have been required for some circuits in new or altered electrical installations since 2000. The electrician performing the work is required to make sure they are installed.

It is not mandatory to install safety switches in homes which pre-date these requirements. This is unless the electrical installations are altered after the requirements came in.

However, CBOS strongly recommends that you get safety switches installed anyway. This is very important to protect you, your family and visitors to your home from electric shock.

I live in a rental property, what should I do?

Ask your landlord whether the property has safety switches and whether all circuits are protected. If they’re not sure, ask them to organise a licensed electrician to check.

Can I install a safety switch in a switchboard?

No. Only a licensed electrician can install safety switches. It is dangerous and requires specialised knowledge.

Check if your electrician is licensed at Find a Licensed Tradesperson.

How much do safety switches cost?

Safety switches themselves are generally not expensive and can be installed by any licensed electrician.

In some cases, older switchboards may need to be upgraded to accommodate safety switches. This would be an extra cost. However it’s worthwhile to protect you and your family from electric shock.

You should get quotes from multiple electricians before having safety switches installed to ensure you’re paying a fair price.

Do safety switches need to be tested regularly?

Safety switches must be tested regularly to ensure that they are working correctly. They should be tested at least every three months. Put a reminder in your calendar, or remember to test them at the end of every season.

Can I test safety switches myself?

Yes. Safety switches can be tested by any person using the 'Test' button.

First, let everyone in the home know you are doing the test so you don’t interrupt their power supply.

Then simply go to the switchboard and push the button marked 'T' or 'Test' on the safety switch. If it flicks off and cuts the power to the intended circuits, it is working correctly. Check to see which lights or appliances have been turned off. The lights or appliances turned off by the safety switch mean they are protected by it.

After testing, turn the safety switch back on by flicking the switch on. For circuits with a refrigerator or air conditioner, wait at least two to three minutes before turning the safety switch back on to avoid possible appliance damage.

If a safety switch doesn't appear to be working, contact your electrician immediately.  Do not attempt to replace it yourself.

Watch videos on how to test safety switches.

What if my safety switch keeps flicking off, or I can’t reset it?

If your safety switch keeps flicking off, or you can’t reset it, there may be a fault on the circuit or an electrical appliance connected to the circuit.

Try unplugging all of your electrical appliances. Then try turning your safety switch back on.

  • If it flicks off again, and there are no appliances plugged in, there may be a problem with the circuit. Contact a licensed electrician so they can identify and fix any faults.
  • If your safety switch now stays on, there may be a problem with one of the appliances. Start plugging your appliances back in one by one. If your safety switch flicks off when you plug an appliance in, there may be a problem with the appliance. Unplug it again and reset your safety switch. Arrange for the appliance to be repaired or replaced if necessary.
My safety switches are old, should I get new ones?

There is no need to replace safety switches provided they are working properly. You should check this by testing them regularly. If a safety switch doesn't appear to be working, contact a licensed electrician immediately so they can replace it if necessary.

Will safety switches always protect against electric shock?

No. Safety switches are extra protection only. Damaged wiring or appliances are still a safety risk.

There are also some situations where a safety switch will not operate because a leakage of current to earth is not detected. This may happen if wiring has degraded over time.

Therefore it is important to make sure that any damaged electrical appliances, wiring and extension cords are repaired or replaced immediately.

'Get to know your switchboard' and 'How to test your safety switch' videos were created by the Electrical Safety Office, Queensland Government.

This webpage is based on information originally produced by the Electrical Safety Office, Queensland Government, and has been reproduced and published with their permission. It is a resource and reference for general information only. For more information, read ourDisclaimer and copyright notice.

Updated: 16 Sep 2022

This page has been produced and published by the Consumer Building and Occupational Services Division of the Department of Justice. Although every care has been taken in production, no responsibility is accepted for the accuracy, completeness, or relevance to the user's purpose of the information. Those using it for whatever purpose are advised to verify it with the relevant government department, local government body or other source and to obtain any appropriate professional advice. The Crown, its officers, employees and agents do not accept liability however arising, including liability for negligence, for any loss resulting from the use of or reliance upon the information and/or reliance on its availability at any time.