Making sure the office doesn't burn down

We're all familiar with the tangled mess of wires underneath our desks, but how many of those are carrying 240 volts to contraband electricals?

by Celia Kemp
Last Updated: 05 Apr 2013

The risk of a fire at work might seem small, and some way down your list of priorities, but if it does happen, the consequences can be severe. Phone chargers, laptops, iPads and more mean business owners must ensure that all electrical items on their property have been checked for safety. 

This could be a visual check, or it might require a more formal test such as a PAT. Whatever the test, which must be ‘reasonable’ in the eyes of the law, business owners need to keep better track of the electrical items coming in and out of their doors. 

RSA’s research shows that workers bring everything from fairy lights and fibre optic trees to hair straighteners and curling tongs into work from home. The main reasons cited include improving the working environment, making work more enjoyable and making their job easier. 

The research also reveals that not all of these items are reported or checked for electrical safety. In some cases, the contraband item blew up, caught fire or caused personal injury: an electric shock or burn. 

To prevent these risks from occurring, RSA recommends following these top tips: 

1. Manage your employees 

Staff won’t necessarily be aware of the rules and regulations on electrical safety at work, or the hazards associated with bringing personal items into work from home, so business owners need to make sure the information trickles down.

Employers should consider what items people need to do their job, communicate the risks associated with bringing personal items into work from home, and clearly state their policies and procedures in company handbooks for new starters to read. 

They should also give reminders and updates throughout the year, particularly when the desire to bring personal items into the workplace is likely to increase. Examples are mini fridges and fans in the summer, and heaters and hot plates in the winter.  

2. Know your responsibilities 

Business owners have a general duty under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 to maintain electrical appliances, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, in a safe condition. And that definitely includes any equipment brought onto the site by employees. 

3. Put suitable policies and checks in place 

Again, this needs to be bespoke to each company, so employers should find the best policies and checks to put in place for their business. This might include issuing company guidelines on the use of personal electrical items on work premises, and controlling access to electrical rooms and cupboards. 

4. Ensure employees know what to do

As well as communicating their policies and procedures, employers should ensue that staff know what to do in the event of an accident occurring. For example, this might include knowing who the designated Health & Safety Officer and Fire Marshall are, where the nearest fire exit is, and what to do in the event of a fire. 

Celia Kemp is insurer RSA’s underwriting technical lead SME 

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