Electrical safety at home: 37 things you can do to protect your home
24 March 2021 | Celia Topping
Electricity plays such a big part in our lives that we pretty much take it for granted. From the moment we wake up and switch on the light, or boil the kettle for our morning cuppa – to charging our phones, washing our clothes or watching TV in the evening.
It’s so commonplace, it’s easy to forget how potentially deadly electricity can be, if we don’t take electrical safety seriously. It’s important to get to grips with electrical safety around the home. So we’ve put together a handy guide, to point out how to take the right electrical safety precautions.
What is electrical safety?
Electrical safety is all about being aware of the potential dangers around the home, and knowing what to look out for, avoid and change. Around 30 deaths, and thousands1 of injuries every year are caused by domestic electrical accidents. Make sure your home is safe.
By the way, if you're a landlord, it's your job to get your properties checked, to make sure they're safe. Check out our guide to electrical safety certificates and obligations for landlords.
What causes electrical fires or problems in homes?
About a quarter of the nation’s electrical fires are caused by faulty or damaged wiring in domestic appliances2. But other causes include common mistakes like overloading plug sockets, or misuse of appliances. Read on to find out the top 12 safety tips for your home, and stay safe.
12 electrical safety tips for around the home
- Look out for damaged electrical cables – all power cables and extension leads should be checked regularly, and repaired or replaced as required. As a rule of thumb, don’t run cables under rugs and furniture, as they can cause a trip hazard, overheat or get crushed and damaged.
- Don’t overload sockets – overloading plug sockets is a common cause of electrical fires. Always make sure the sockets are cool to the touch. And only plug one heat-producing appliance into a multi-way socket at a time.
- Keep electrical devices away from water – water and electricity together is a deadly combination. To follow electrical safety rules, keep all electrical equipment well away from water. There’s a high risk of electrocution if you use an electrical appliance with damp hands. And always unplug your kettle before filling it!
- Keep unused cables tidy and secure – electrical safety doesn’t only apply when cables are in use. Make sure they’re stored away safely when you’re not using them. It’s best not to wrap cables around objects (like your hairdryer or laptop plug), as it can stretch them, and cause overheating. And never put an electricity cable on a hot surface, as it can damage the insulation and wiring inside.
- Unplug all unused appliances – an unplugged appliance is safer than one that’s left plugged in. Not only does it save you money – as plugged-in appliances still use power when on standby mode – but it protects them from overheating or power surges. If your sockets are a bit hard to reach, like behind bookcases or sofas, invest in a smart plug or energy-saving extension bar if you can.
- Allow space for air circulation – electrical equipment needs room for the air to circulate, to keep cool it while it’s working. Without this, it can overheat and be a fire hazard. Don’t put anything on top of electrical appliances like microwaves, and don’t run electrical equipment in cupboards. And if you’re using a standalone heater, make sure it’s at least a foot from the wall.
- Make sure all exhaust fans are clean – some appliances, like hobs, have exhaust fans. These can get dirty and clogged. Keeping them clean will not only keep them energy-efficient, but it also helps to stop them becoming a fire hazard.
- Be safe with heaters – it might sound like common sense, but keep combustible items away from heaters. Portable heaters shouldn't be used near curtains, and should always be on a level, stable surface.
- Check the fuse – it’s easy to replace a fuse on plugs – but make sure you use the right one for the appliance. Using the wrong fuse can cause a cable to overheat, and means the appliance isn’t protected against electrical faults.
- Avoid knock-off goods – be wary of items purchased outside or imported into the UK, as these don’t always meet national safety standards. And definitely avoid counterfeit electrical goods (such as fake-brand hair straighteners), which are a leading cause of electrical shocks and fires. This goes for batteries and chargers too. Try to only buy the official branded chargers for your laptop or phone, ideally straight from the manufacturer
- Check you’re using the correct wattage – with the advent of energy-saving LED bulbs, this is less of a worry – as they’re less likely to overheat than the old incandescents. But using the right wattage of bulb can also prevent electrical problems – so always check first.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions – possibly the best piece of advice when using any electrical appliance is “read the instructions”. Using your devices correctly improves performance, and keeps you safe.
If any appliance gives you even a slight electric shock, stop using it at once and ask a qualified electrician to check it. Don’t try to repair it yourself.
9 electrical safety tips for around the kitchen
The kitchen is the hub of many homes, and the home of many household electrical appliances. So it makes sense to take extra care, particularly because they’re often near water. Here are our top tips for electrical safety in the kitchen.
- Sockets and switches – all plug sockets should be at least 30 cms from the sink. Once again, water and electricity do not mix. Many appliances have fitted switches under worktops, or behind heavy machinery. These should use an additional, accessible connection, with a switch fitted above the worktop.
- Use a Residual Current Device (RCD) – this vital bit of kit is essential if you’re using a kitchen socket to power electrical equipment outdoors. An RCD is a super-sensitive safety device that switches off electricity if there’s a fault – such as a person accidentally touching a live wire (say if your lawnmower cuts through the cable.)
- Dry your hands – never use switches or touch electrical equipment when your hands are wet.
- Check those leads – leads and cables to kettles and toasters need to be checked, to be sure they’re in good working order.
- Unplug to clean and repair – got a bit of crumpet caught in your toaster? Unplug it before you stick something in to get it out. There are live parts inside, and touching them would you give you a shock. Same goes for any repairs.
- Get rid of grease – a build-up of grease and fat in your oven is a common fire hazard. If you’re thinking of trying eco-friendly products to clean your oven, take a look at our new guide to green cleaning, for some top tips.
- Don’t block ventilation – placing objects on top of, or in front of vents stops air circulation, which can cause a fire.
- Defrost your fridge – keep fridges and freezers running efficiently by defrosting them at least once a year.
- Smoke detectors – your first line of defence in event of a fire is a smoke detector. They’re essential in every home.
4 electrical safety tips for in the bathroom
Have we hammered on enough about electricity and water yet? Yep, that’s right, they don’t mix. And that makes the bathroom potentially the most dangerous room in the house. Bathrooms must comply with strict safety regulations – so make sure you use a registered electrician if you need any work carried out. Follow our guidelines and you’ll be fine.
- Sockets – these aren’t allowed in bathrooms or shower rooms. The only ones you’ll see are for plugging in your shaver/electric toothbrush – and these must be fitted a good distance from the bath or shower.
- Lighting – many bathrooms have long pull-cord instead of a lightswitch. Or often, the lightswitch is located outside the door. This is because... yep, you guessed it, if you touch a switch with wet hands, there’s a serious risk of an electric shock.
- Heating – central heating is the safest way to warm your bathroom. Any electric heater must be fixed and permanently wired – not plugged in.
- Portable appliances – hairdryers, radios, laptops and any other portable electric appliances with a mains connection must not be brought into the bathroom plugged in. They bring a serious risk of injury or death if they get wet.
7 electrical safety tips for out in the garden
Electrical safety is important outside, too. Follow our simple safety guidelines, to make sure you stay safe.
- Use a Residual Current Device (RCD) – as mentioned above, these devices should be used with electrical items outdoors. An RCD is a life-saving device should a cable be cut (for example, with a lawnmower) and the live wires come into contact with water, or a person. It immediately cuts the circuit, and reduces the risk of electric shock or electrical fires.
- Equipment storage – keep all electrical equipment in a dry, safe place. Always check for any water damage before using it.
- Cables and connectors – it’s important to keep cables and connectors in good working order outside. Make sure they’re properly sealed, rated correctly, kept clean and dry, and are in good condition.
- Unplug to clean and repair – always switch off and unplug before cleaning or repairing electrical equipment
- Power cable – always be aware of where it is, to avoid accidentally cutting through it when you’re cutting the grass.
- Electric pond pumps – if you're lucky enough to have a pond, a poorly-installed mains-supplied water pump could lead to you, your family or your fish being seriously injured, or worse. Any doubts? Turn it off and ask a registered electrician to take a look.
- Garden lighting – it can look lovely – but mains-powered garden lights must be properly installed and maintained, to avoid any issues. Get an engineer in, to make sure. Only buy waterproof lighting designed for outdoor use. Keep lights free from leaves and other debris – and check cables regularly for signs of damage. Finally, always switch them off and unplug them before changing bulbs.
5 electrical safety tips for parents
Every parent knows how inquisitive children can be. You only have to turn your back for a moment, and they’ve wreaked domestic havoc on their adventures through home and garden.
Things like plug sockets, wires and appliances are an unending source of fascination for little ones – so it’s vital you take measures to protect curious children from shocks and burns around the house. The same goes for wandering pets, who don’t know any better than to try nibbling on a cable.
How to ensure your children’s safety in the home
1. Are plug sockets dangerous for children?
Despite all those warnings you heard as a child, and are undoubtedly passing on to your little ones – plug sockets actually present very little risk to children. They’re designed so that it’s almost impossible for your child to stick their fingers in, no matter how small they might be! That said, it’s important to teach them from an early age that plug sockets are not to be fiddled with.
2. Are socket covers reliable?
A study from the Electrical Safety Council (ESC) found that electrical safety is a huge concern for parents (and rightly so!) In fact, 62% of new parents use socket covers in their home. But, socket covers won’t prevent an electric shock if the installation isn’t safe.
Only an RCD in the fusebox will prevent fatal electric shocks and reduce the risk of electrical fires.
3. Making electrical cables child-safe
The easiest way to discourage children from investigating wires and sockets is to use your furniture to block access in the first place – although this isn’t always feasible. Electrical socket covers that sit on top of your existing outlet are another good idea. They’re easy for an adult to remove, but will stop little hands from pulling plugs out of the wall.
Make sure wires are tacked securely against skirting boards or door frames (to stop trip hazards, as well as curious chewing), and use power bars if you need more sockets.
4. How do I make appliances child-safe?
Switch off appliances when they’re not in use, and keep cables out of reach. A mobile phone cable without the phone attached is pure temptation for little hands and mouths. Remember, children are fascinated with the things that mum and dad do every day – such as straightening their hair or making a cup of tea – so keep heated appliances out of sight as well.
5. Minimise the risk of water
Mixing water and electricity can be fatal – so make sure your kids are dried off thoroughly after a bath, before they go anywhere near electrical devices. Keep drinks away from appliances, too. An accidental juice spill could easily result in a frazzled laptop – or worse, a serious injury.
How can you ensure electrical safety at home? Basic checks for electrical safety
Get into the habit of carrying out regular basic safety checks. You needn’t be an electrician to do this. Look for frayed or damaged wires, and scorched or broken sockets. Also look out for cables – are they a trip hazard, or in danger of getting damaged? Are they near water, or by an appliance that gives off heat? Could little hands (or paws!) interfere with them?
Electrical home safety checklist
Here’s a quick checklist to summarise all we’ve learned here:
- Water and electricity don’t mix! Keep them well apart
- Check for damaged wires and cables
- Keep cables and wires properly stored, and away from children
- Unplug devices and appliances to repair, adjust or clean
- Don’t overload plug sockets
- Allow air to circulate around electric appliances – don’t block vents
- Keep appliances clean and free from debris
- Use Residual Current Devices around the home
- Always ask a registered electrician to install appliances
- Avoid knock-off electrical items
- Check fuses and wattage
- Be careful where you plug in electric heaters
- Always read the instructions before operating an electrical appliance
Register your products
One extra, super-important piece of advice is to register all the products you buy with the manufacturer. This is essential for warranty purposes – but it also helps with product recall alerts.
Products such as chargers, adaptors, hair-care appliances, kettles, irons and toasters are recalled more regularly than you think. But only 10 - 20% of products are actually returned. If you register your products, your manufacturer will let you know if the product you’ve bought turns out to be faulty or dangerous. You can find a great database at Electrical Safety First.
Sources and references:
1 and 2 https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/our-policies/westminster/statistics-england/