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Safety switches in workplaces

Managing electrical risks in workplaces is important to ensure that you, your workers and visitors to your premises are safe.

Safety switches help to protect people from electric shocks. They do this by disconnecting electrical circuits when a leakage of current is detected. This may happen when electrical equipment or a power point is faulty, or if someone accidentally makes contact with a live cable or a live part in equipment.

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

Read the brochure

Read this brochure (PDF, 1.2 MB) which explains what safety switches are, the benefits of having them installed and how 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. This may happen when electrical equipment or a power point is faulty, or if someone accidentally makes contact with a live cable or a live part in equipment.

Why is it important to have safety switches installed?

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

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

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

The switchboard at my premises 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 current that can be fatal to a person who receives a shock.

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

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

How do I know if my premises has safety switches?

The best way to ensure you are fully protected is to engage a licensed electrician who can visit your premises 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.

Is my workplace 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.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) are also required to mitigate electrical safety risks in the workplace.

PCBUs have a duty to ensure that appropriate circuits and electrical equipment are protected by safety switches where the environment is higher risk. Examples include where electrical equipment is exposed to damage by impact, moisture, heat, vibration, chemicals, dust, or is moved frequently in use.

For more information, read the Managing Electrical Risks in the Workplace – Code of Practice available on the WorkSafe Tasmania website (external link).

Contact WorkSafe Tasmania (external link) if you have any questions about your obligations.

Are there different types of safety switches? What type should my workplace have?

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure that an appropriate safety switch is used when required.

You should talk to your licensed electrician about the types of safety switches that are most appropriate for your workplace.

For more information, read the Managing Electrical Risks in the Workplace – Code of Practice available on the WorkSafe Tasmania website (external link).

Shouldn’t my switchboard already have safety switches?

Safety switches have been required for some circuits in new or altered electrical installations since 2000. The requirements have increased since then. You should check with a licensed electrician to ensure all circuits at your premises have a safety switch.

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

You should have safety switches installed on all electrical circuits that supply power points, electrical equipment and lighting in your workplace. The minimum requirements depend on the operating environment and equipment used.

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

I rent my premises. What should I do?

Check your lease and discuss with your landlord to determine who is responsible for making sure the property has safety switches.

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) you are still responsible for mitigating electrical safety risks in the workplace. Therefore you need to ensure that an appropriate safety switch is used when required.

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 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, but would significantly improve electrical safety. This can save you costs in the long run by preventing a serious electrical safety incident.

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. As a minimum, they should be tested at least every three months. Put a reminder in your calendar. More frequent testing may be required in your workplace depending on the level of risk. Ensure you keep records of these tests at your workplace.

Can I test safety switches myself?

Safety switches can be tested by any person using the 'test' button. This will interrupt the power supply, so consider doing the test outside of business hours and let everyone on the premises know you are doing the test beforehand.

Simply 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 equipment have been turned off. The circuits turned off by the safety switch mean they are protected by it. After testing, turn the safety switch back on. For circuits with a refrigerator or air conditioner, wait at least two to three minutes before turning the 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.

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 electrical equipment connected to the circuit.

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

  • If it flicks off again, and there are no appliances or equipment 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 or equipment. Start plugging them 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. Defective or damaged wiring or equipment is still a safety risk.

There may be 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 also important to make sure that electrical equipment and installations at your workplace are inspected and tested regularly. Any damaged electrical appliances, wiring, extension cords and other electrical equipment at your workplace must be repaired or replaced immediately.

It is also important that other practices are in place to manage electrical risks in your workplace, and that these procedures are followed by everyone.

For more information, read the Managing Electrical Risks in the Workplace – Code of Practice available on the WorkSafe Tasmania website (external link).

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 document for general information only. For more information, read ourDisclaimer and copyright notice.

Updated: 02 Aug 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.