Fixed electrical wiring
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Property owners’ electrical installations

Top five self-checks between formal inspections

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    Properties can contain an ever-growing amount of electrical equipment; from televisions to tablets, and LED bulbs to (often numerous) plug-in chargers

    Over a 12-month   period  during 2019/20, there were  more than 25,000  accidental property fires in  England. With almost 34%  of those fires caused by  electrical faults/misuse(1),  electrical hazards can pose  a major threat to the general  public; and with the variety  of non-compliant electrical  switch gear and appliances  available to purchase online, it’s easy to see how  electrical fires can happen.

    How can property owners reduce the electrical risks in their properties?

    Property owners are directly responsible, and legally accountable, for the prevention of electrical safety issues. The UK legal framework - that includes the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and Consumer Protection Act 1987 - places responsibility on property owners to maintain all electrical systems and apparatus, and to retain proof that maintenance steps have been taken. This should include routine inspection by a 'Competent Person' and retention of the condition report provided.

    The UK Health & Safety Executive defines a 'Competent Person' as "someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety".

    Depending on the particular legislation, the Competent Person can be either an individual or the body which employs the individual to provide inspection services.

    The 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act defines a 'Competent Person' "where, having regard to the task he or she is required to perform and taking account of the size or hazards (or both of them) of the undertaking or establishment in which he or she undertakes work, the person possesses sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work to be undertaken".

    Formal inspections must be  conducted by a Competent Person  at the frequency specified in the  Wiring Regulations (in BS7671,  this is commonly every five years  for commercial property and three  years for industrial properties).  Observations in electrical inspection  condition reports should be acted  upon and kept on file along with  electrical repair, maintenance and  warrantee documents. Should an  adverse electrical event occur,  evidence will need to be provided  to show how and when the electrical  installation was maintained.  

    Whilst the Competent Person conducts periodic inspection and  testing to identify any hidden dangers  and deterioration affecting the  installation, alterations and damage  may occur between the required  inspection periods. This is why it is  important that property owners know  what to look for and   how to tell if electrical systems are unsafe.

    Top five visual self-checks

    To help, here are the top five routine visual checks that can be carried out(2) in between formal inspection and testing.

    1. Check the intake position

    This is where the supply  authority connects to the meter and the main switchgear  in the premises.

    • Remove all stored equipment (spare paint, aerosols, boiler suits, coats and other flammable goods) from around or  near the switchgear.
    • Make sure a suitable fire extinguisher (typically CO2) is easily accessible and stored in close proximity.
    • Make sure a suitable rubber floor mat is in front of the main switchgear.
    • Ensure all isolation points are labelled, voltage warning labels are fitted and there is a label on the doorway.
    • Make sure the switchroom door is kept locked, labelled and only accessible to skilled or instructed persons.

    2. Check the distribution boards

    These are the enclosures  throughout the building that contain the protective  devices (i.e. fuses, MCBs and RCDs).

    • Clear any stored equipment from around or on top of distribution boards.
    • Fit insulated blanking pieces to external holes and unused fuseways, and make sure the enclosures are undamaged  and securely fitted.
    • Ensure enclosures are labelled with a unique number/name and detail of their supply point.
    • Ensure the circuit legend is fitted inside or near each distribution board and kept up to date as this will speed  up any urgently-required isolations.
    • Press the RCD test buttons every six months.

    3. Check the condition of accessories

    These include light switches, sockets, spur units and local isolation switches.

    • Check that lights and switches are not flickering or buzzing as loose or broken wiring is a common cause of fire.
    • Do not use socket outlets, spur units or lights that show signs of damage, and replace any missing fixing screws.
    • Make it common practice to ensure socket outlets are switched off before plugging appliances in. High current  appliances (e.g. kettles) can damage sockets, so check for  signs of arcing or overheating.
    • Never overload sockets. Remove any socket adaptors as they can become overloaded in your absence.
    • Extension leads should only be used temporarily. Ensure they are in good condition and not hidden (such as under  carpet) or used in areas susceptible to damage.

    4. Check all appliances

    Portable and fixed electrical  equipment.

    • Make it a habit to turn off appliances when they are not in use.
    • Never allow cables to trail over kitchen appliances (e.g. toasters or hobs). Make sure long leads and IEC leads (e.g.  kettle leads) cannot come into contact with water or  conductive parts.
    • Make sure appliances carry a CE mark, they are undamaged (including the cable and plug) and the correct  rating of fuse is fitted.
    • Make it a common practice to unplug and visually check the plug, lead and the appliance itself before use.
    • Create a register of the portable appliances you provide at the property, and keep a record of testing (also known as  PAT testing), repairs and maintenance.

    5. Check any alterations

    • Any major alterations to fixed wiring needs a formal inspection and condition report by a Competent Person.
    • Use a reputable contractor for repairs to your wiring installation.
    • If you are having a new circuit fitted, ensure the contractor connects correctly to the supply. It is common for  contractors to incorrectly connect the supply to a used  MCB/fuse because there is no space in the distribution  board to fit a new one. It is acceptable to add a junction  box to an existing circuit away from the distribution board,  but never an uninsulated connector block.
    • Any person fixing something to the wall, excavating indoors/outdoors or working in your roof space runs the  risk of damaging the fixed wiring cables, so ensure they  are aware of where cables are before they begin work and  check them after they have finished their work.
    • Think about your wiring when you have alterations to other service areas. Keep cables clear of loft insulation and do  not route water pipes near the electrical system.
    The self-checks listed within this technical bulletin provide awareness of electrical hazards – they are not substitutes for  a professional electrical inspection and testing service. To ensure electrical safety for your property, and its inhabitants and  visitors, ensure you schedule a professional electrical inspection.

    HSB Inspection Services

    Our electrical wiring inspection services can help customers to achieve regulatory compliance and mitigate fixed wiring risks via our technically expert network of Engineer Surveyors; who are ‘Competent Persons’ under BS7671. As well as assisting property owners, commercial landlords and facilities managers, our inspection services extend to include quarry wiring inspections, public area licences, HV wiring (visual inspection only), and petroleum wiring inspections.
    1) The Home Office: Fire statistics data tables, as at March 2020 (
    (2) The context of this document assumes a typical property with a single or three-phase supply and distribution boards.