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Electricity at work regulations; how they effect Conventions

By Andy Croft

Electricity at Work Regulations 1989; How they effect Conventions and Convention runners. What they will have to watch out for to prevent prosecution.


I have only recently discovered that these rules exist as they do not seem to have been promulgated very well. From talking to different people in various places it would seem that not many are aware of them. What the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 are, in practice, is an update of the old Factory Act Electricity Regulations of various years brought together under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. The major difference is that where the old Regulations only applied to factories, the new ones apply everywhere.

There has been a slight change in emphasis to increase recording requirements, as I will explain later. The suggested interpretations of the Regulations below have been verified by telephone with my local Factory Inspector. This does not guarantee that they will be interpreted the same way where your Convention is running. But rather, that they probably will be read as indicated below. If in any doubt contact your convention sites local Factory Inspector for clarification. The only way of obtaining a definite answer is in the Courts, therefore the use of "probably." Because of this, no liability can be accepted for the contents of this article. There is a Memorandum of guidance on the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 available from HMSO that gives details. This article is based on the Memorandum. Details of the booklet are given below. I would suggest that it is only of use to people with training in the field.

Although the Health & Safety at Work Act is a law of Great Britain only, Jersey has similar Regulations. I have been in formed by the Jersey Inspectors that if you stick to the mainland rules, there shouldn't be any problems.

[1] The full title and reference is: Memorandum of guidance on the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 ISBN 0-11-833963-2 Price 4. Obtainable from HMSO telephone ordering service on 01-873 9090 (Credit cards).

The key points

I shall paraphrase most of the regulations, and add a practical approach to complying.

1. Regulation 1: These Regulations come into force on 1 April 1990.

2. Regulation 2: This gives the definition of terms used in the body of the Regulations, and runs for 4 pages. They are standard industry definitions.

3. Regulation 3 (1): It shall be the duty of every employer and self employed person to comply with the provision of these Regulations in so far as they relate to matters within their control. Regulation 3 (2) says the same for an employee.

This means You! Whether you are running a Convention or just doing some work for it, the Regulations apply. The good news for Convention runners is that providing that the Convention is not being run for gain, it will not be expected that you dot the "i" and cross the 't" of every rule in full. There is recognised in the Regulations an allowance for something being "Reasonably practicable." Non-profit organisations gain their leeway through this channel. This cannot be applied to any rule declared as being "Absolute." These must be complied with no matter what. The only real catch is that where the public or a group that maybe considered as being public, i.e. where large groups of people are involved, the tendency is to apply the rules in full.

4. Regulation 4(1) All systems shall at all times be of such construction as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, danger.

This is intended to cover both the equipment and work on, or near it, which is fundamental to electrical safety.

Regulation 4 (2): As may be necessary to prevent danger, all systems shall be maintained so far as is reasonably practicable, to prevent danger.

The obligation to maintain arises only if danger would otherwise result. The quality and frequency of maintenance should be sufficient to prevent danger so far as is reasonably practicable.

This means that you must ensure that any equipment that you borrow is serviceable before use if possible. Ideally a competent person (defined later) should inspect and do whatever else they consider necessary before it is used.

If you were to be considered as a business, i.e. working for gain, this would require you to carry out actual tests on all the equipment on a regular basis. These tests would include insulation and earth protection. There is a range of special meters manufactured to meet this requirement in full. Unfortunately, they cost around 500 and require annual calibration. The equipment is undoubtedly available from hire companies. If you are running a big Convention it may well be worth considering hiring one to be on the safe side, if you will have competent people available to use it.

Records of maintenance should be kept to prove that regular maintenance is carried out and to monitor any changes in the equipment.

Conventions do not normally have to comply with this as they only run for a few days. However, it may well be worth keeping records on any equipment that is regularly used at different Conventions just to be on the safe side. Without records it is impossible to prove that effective monitoring has taken place. NOTE: Any equipment hired from professional sources should be fully covered by the supplier. You are still obliged to carry out any checks that may be necessary before use.

Regulation 4 (3): Every work activity including operation, use and maintenance of a system and work near a system, shall be carried out in such a manner to not to give rise, so far as it is reasonably practicable, to danger.

Basically summarised as isolate equipment before working on it.

Regulation 4 (4): This one basically says the same as the other three sections of this Regulation only for the tools and equipment used to do the work.

The only difference is that "Reasonably practicable" doesn't come into it. It is compulsory. This makes it a pain for all technicians, as they MUST ensure that their tools are in good condition.

5. Regulation 5: No electrical equipment shall be put into use where its strength and capability may be exceeded in such a way as may give rise to danger.

Or to put another way, use the right tool for the job. Don't try to replace the lift motor with someone's old electric drill. The more difficult thing to watch out for here is the utilisation factor. On a lot of equipment like electric drills for example, there is a big difference between professional and consumer ones. The professional ones can be used all day every day. Whereas, consumer drills are only designed to run for a maximum of 10 minutes in an hour. This why your one at home gets very hot, very quickly. On professional kit that have some restriction on run time, it is usually marked. Consumer goods are very rarely marked. This needs watching out for where you have a loan of equipment.

6. Regulation 6: Adverse or hazardous environments. All electrical equipment must be of such construction or protected as necessary to prevent as far as is practical danger arising from such exposure.

Translation: If it is likely to get knocked, for example, then either it must be made to take it or you must talk reasonable precautions to make ensure that it doesn't get knocked.

7. Regulation 8: Precautions must be taken to ensure that in the event of a fault, that either by earthing, or by other means, to prevent danger from electric shock.

In brief, the insulation must be in good repair and any earth conductor is made properly. An alternative means of protection, using a Residual Current Device, (RCD) is considered a form of secondary protection. All RCD' s should be checked regularly, and preferably before each use according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Despite RCD's being described as being secondary protection, their use is recommended to reduce the risk of shock.

8. Regulation 9: This can be summed up as saying that the earth must be intact and of low resistance. It goes into a page detailing specifics.

9. Regulation 10: This sums up as saying that all joints in the system must be mechanically and electrically suitable for use. This includes the requirement that all plugs and sockets are fit for use. Special attention is required for portable appliances

This means no broken or cracked plugs, no power cables with cuts or nicks or exposed inner wires (particularly where the power cable enters tools and plugs.

10. Regulation 11: Efficient means, suitably located, shall be provided for protecting from excess current in every part of the system, as may be necessary to prevent danger.

Translation: Correct fuses and, where applicable, circuit breakers, must be fitted in the right place and be in good working order.

11. Regulation 12: This requires that 3 means of isolation is available and in good order. It runs to a page and a half of detail.

12. Regulation 13: This is aimed at people carrying out maintenance, to ensure that they have good working practices. This includes the requirement for written procedures where necessary. The site may have some written procedures. If so, they may affect the technical crew, in which case a copy would be required for their use.

13. Regulation 14: Again, aimed at electrical maintenance, ensuring that safe practices are being followed when working on or near live equipment. Runs to three pages.

14. Regulation 15: It requires that a good work space and lighting is available, where any electrical maintenance is being carried out. The Technical Operations area should comply with this Regulation, if any electrical work is to be carried out.

15 Regulation 16: Persons competent to prevent danger and injury. No person shall be engaged in any work activity where technical knowledge or experience is necessary to prevent danger or, where appropriate, injury, unless they possess such knowledge or experience, or is under such a degree of supervision as maybe appropriate having regard to the nature of the work.

This means that you will have to have at least one person that can meet this requirement in full, supervising all technical staff working with electricity. Please remember that they will carry the legal responsibility in the event of anything going wrong, along with the Committee that appointed them. They certainly would have to be confidant that any non-technical staff assisting in Technical Operations is able to do the job safely. If they say that a given person must be supervised to do a particular job, this must be complied with. It should be made clear in the Convention instructions that they cannot be overridden by anyone, including a Committee member, unless that person is qualified to do so.


This page updated on 09 July 1999