Electricity Overview

There are considerable risks and dangers from electricity, including burning, explosion, electrocution, shocks, fires and those arising from the mechanical movement of equipment. There are specific regulations in relation to the use of electricity. The regulations apply to many workplaces.

The obligations apply at multiple levels.  There are obligations on the manufacturers, suppliers, designers, installers, and suppliers of electrical equipment and installations.  Equipment includes any cable as well as machines apparatus, generation stations, conversion, controlling, transmission and production installations.  An installation is an assemblage of associated electrical equipment.

In the usual way, employers have an obligation to prevent accidents arising from electricity and the use of electricity and electrical equipment.  The risks must be ascertained as part of the risk assessment. They must be thereafter managed and minimised.

Many civil claims have arisen from electrocution in the course of employment.  Accidents and injuries attributable to failures in the system of work or the failure to comply with the relevant statutory obligations are likely to make the employer liable in negligence for personal injury and loss thereby arising.

Safe Equipment

Electrical installations and equipment must be constructed, installed, and maintained so as to prevent danger.  There is a duty in selecting and using electrical equipment to ensure that it does not cause danger.

New electrical installations and alterations to existing installations must be inspected and tested by an electrical contractor.  The contractor should submit a certificate of test verifying compliance with the regulations.

Electricity contractors are regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The CER recognises electrical safety supervisory bodies in accordance with criteria. Those bodies, in turn, accredit electricians and other who work with electricity. The CER has inspection, investigation and enforcement powers.

The CER may designate classes of works which may be lawfully undertaken, provided that a completion certificate is produced. This in effect requires that the work be carried out by a registered electrical contractor or otherwise. In the latter case, they must in effect be inspected and certified by a registered contractor.


Electrical equipment should be tested and checked from time to time.  Obvious damage to the equipment and installations must be repaired, and if necessary replaced.  Loose connections or cabling, scorch marks and other evidence of malfunctioning must be dealt with and rectified.  Where an employee discovers a defect in portable electrical equipment, he should not use the equipment and must report it to the supervisor.

Environmental exposure may cause risks including weather, wet, dusty or damp conditions, mechanical damage and explosive atmospheres. Checks should be undertaken on electrical equipment and devices, periodically, for obvious damage and dangers, loose connections, damage to cables, damage to plugs, scorched and burn marks. These risks must be assessed, eliminated or where applicable minimised.

Shock Risk

Precautions must be taken to prevent electrical shock.  This includes precautions in relation to insulation, earthing, safe voltages, electrical separation and automatic disconnection. Switches, circuit breakers, and other devices must be readily accessible and as properly lit. Higher standards apply to plugs and sockets in industrial and outdoor locations.

Every electrical joint or connection must be adequate, adequately insulated and of sufficient strength to prevent danger. There are specific obligations in relation to the switching and isolation of current. The requisite equipment must be marked to show on and off positions.

A circuit or socket supplying portable electric equipment must contain a residual current device with a tripping effect.  There are specific rules for engineering in particular contexts, particularly in construction and engineering work. Electrical (including portable electrical equipment) with voltage over 125 volts must be protected by a tripping device within certain parameters.

Work with Electricity

Persons working with electricity must have the necessary knowledge and experience to prevent dangers.  Alternatively, they must be under the supervision of a person with the relevant competence.  They need not necessarily be qualified electricians, but they must have the requisite competence.

Generally, a person should not be engaged in work near live equipment unless completely necessary. It is permissible, only where there is no alternative. There are strict conditions where live work is permitted.  As with other especially dangerous work, specific prior steps must be taken, including advance planning, supervision, training, tools, equipment, protective measures and surveillance.

Steps must be taken to ensure dead equipment does not become live inadvertently. There are specific requirements in relation to identification, disconnection, isolation, signs and barriers. Persons carrying out electrical work must have adequate technical knowledge and experience.  What is required depends on the circumstances and nature of the work.

Under certain circumstance, a system of permits must be used. A permit to work system involves confirmation by a competent person states that equipment is dead / disconnected from electricity before it is worked on.  The permit should specify certain matters including, the permit holder who is to be present, the equipment that has been made dead, warning notices, etc.

There must be adequate space, means of access, and lighting to where electrical equipment is being worked on.

Portable Equipment I

An employer shall ensure that—

  • a circuit supplying portable equipment or a socket outlet intended to supply portable equipment, including any circuit supplied by an electrical generator, and in which is used alternating current at a voltage   exceeding 125 volts, and  not exceeding 1,000 volts, is protected by one or more residual current devices having a tripping current not exceeding 30 milliamperes operating within such period of time so as to provide the necessary protection to prevent danger to any person coming into direct or indirect contact with any live part of the circuit;
  • portable equipment is maintained in a manner fit for safe use, and
  • portable equipment which is  exposed to conditions causing deterioration liable to result in danger, and  supplied at a voltage exceeding 125 volts alternating current, visually checked by the user before use, and periodically inspected by a competent person, appropriate to the nature location and use of the equipment.

Portable Equipment II

An employer shall ensure, where appropriate, that a competent person tests any portable equipment described om the first paragraph above  and  certifies whether or not the portable equipment (including any cables and plugs was, on the day of test, as far as could reasonably be ascertained, safe and without risk to persons coming into direct or indirect contact with any live part of the equipment.

If the certificate of the competent person indicates that the portable equipment tested was not, on the day of the test, safe and without risk, as described in that paragraph, the employer shall ensure that the equipment is not used until it is made safe and certified as such in compliance with the above requirements.

Outdoor Installations I

The risk of fatalities, serious injuries and injury from overhead lines is significant. All overhead lines must be installed in a manner suitable for the work and conditions in which they are to be operated and so as to prevent danger.  The material used in conductors cross arms, holds and phase must be durable. Maintenance should be undertaken.  This should include visual and other testing.

When construction work is being undertaken in the vicinity of overhead lines, specific prior precautions are required.  They may entail diversion of electric lines by guides and barriers, where there is a risk of machinery coming into contact with the overhead lines.

Employers have a duty to prevent danger from underground or overground lines arising from high rise machines and tipping trucks.  There must be a mechanism to prevent danger in the event that live conductors accidentally fall due to breakage or from excessive voltage.  Incidents should be reported to the electricity authorities.

Outdoor Installations II

There are strict rules in relation to the perimeters and fencing of substations. Outdoor high voltage transformers and switchgear equipment must be fenced to a minimum height of 2.4 metres.  This does not apply where the transformer or switchgear is in a metal casing which is earthed.

Additional requirements apply when working in the vicinity of overhead lines or underground cables.  Many accidents have taken place due to accidental contact with such cables. Preventative steps are prescribed.  Particular risks arise from high-rise machines and tripping trucks.

References and Sources

Irish Books

Safety, Health and Welfare and at Work Law in Ireland 2nd Ed 2008 Byrne Ch 16

Safety & Health Acts Consolidated & Annotated       2013   Byrne

Health, Safety & Welfare Law in Ireland        2012   Kinsella Ch. 4

Health & Safety: Law and practice 2007 Shannon

Health & Safety at Work   1998 Stranks Ch.13


The Health and Safety Authority  www.hsa.ie

Health and Safety Executive (UK) www.hse.gov.uk

UK Books

Health and safety at work, 2017 29th edition Author BAMBER, L.,

Corporate liability: work related deaths and criminal prosecutions 3rd ed. Author FORLIN, G.

Health and safety at work: European and comparative perspective Author ALES, E., ed.

Health and Safety Law 5th Ed 2005 Stranks


Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 70 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 36 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 445 of 2012)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 176 of 2010)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 732 of 2007)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007)