New laws mandating safety switches in most NSW workplaces came into force last Friday (18 February).
Announced in December 2010 by Finance Minister Michael Daley, the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Residual Current Devices) Regulation 2011 requires all workplaces to install a safety switch (also known as a residual current device or RCD) for each power point to protect workers against serious injury or fatality from electric shock.
The new laws closely align with the RCD requirements proposed in rr 4.7.21 and 4.7.22 of the draft national Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations, which are expected to replace existing jurisdictional OHS legislation from 1 January 2012.
The National Regulatory Impact Statement for the WHS Regulations found that states with mandatory safety switches have around 35% fewer electrical incidents.
New South Wales is now one of five jurisdictions (South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland) to have safety switch provisions in place for workplaces.
Overview of requirements
Under the new laws, employers must ensure a safety switch is installed into the power circuit or as part of the socket itself, or alternatively use a portable safety switch in any workplace that uses hand-held electrical equipment or where electrical equipment is moved during operation.
The laws also require ‘high-risk’ portable electrical equipment and electrical equipment that is used in ‘hostile conditions’ to be protected by a safety switch. Examples of ‘high risk portable electrical equipment include:
- hand-held electrical equipment such as circular saws, angle grinders, hair dryers or commercial kitchen appliances
- portable equipment that is moved while in operation such as floor polishers, vacuum cleaners and portable lighting
- electrical equipment that could be moved between jobs such as extension leads, power boards, audio visual equipment or welding machines
- electrical equipment used for construction work (safety switches are already required for construction and building sites)
In addition, employers are required to ensure that safety switches are regularly tested by a competent person to ensure the devices are operating correctly.
Rebate available, compliance deadlines
Businesses will have 12 months to protect portable electrical equipment and electrical equipment used in hazardous conditions with safety switches. By December 2014, all businesses will be required to protect workers with safety switches where reasonably practicable.
Rebates of up to $500 to purchase and install safety switches will be available for small businesses that attend a WorkCover NSW business advisory workshop or arrange a visit from a business advisory officer. Further information is available on the WorkCover website.
Further RCD information
WorkCover has published What is an RCD and how does it work? (February 2011), which provides an overview of the device.