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July 10, 2015

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Part one: the importance of effective electrical safety management

In the first of a two-part article, Bill Bates outlines the importance of electrical safety management and the risks organisations face when they have inadequate procedures.

Electrical risk management

After many years as an electrical engineer, the last 21 years as an HSE inspector, I am well aware of risks of getting safety management wrong. Many organisations do not have adequate safety management systems with the necessary policies, procedures and competent people. The organisation suffers and it is essential that risks are controlled competently.

Managers can have a difficult task of pointing out to employees, fellow managers and clients that they need to do some things for good reasons. Electricity can be dangerous, and it pays to be safe, avoiding the cost of incidents. It helps the business run smoothly and business continuity can often be critical to a company’s survival. Clients will expect it. Workers will expect it. The law demands it. The risks can be managed. There are considerable financial and legal implications.

Electrical incidents

Here are some examples of incidents that could have been prevented if the company had had effective electrical safety management.

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There are significant consequences for business if there is a serious mistake or incident. Disruption with productivity loss and unpredictable affecting business continuity. Costs arise for the business from the injured person, the additional work and consequential costs for the company, for the community and prevention of further incidents. Ignoring these consequences, hoping they will not happen can be an expensive mistake.

During 2013/14, 674 cases of safety non-compliance were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive, local authorities or procurator fiscal, with a 94 per cent success rate. As at March 2015, 186 individuals had received immediate or suspended prison sentences for health and safety at work offences since 1975. Of those, 137 occurred since May 2008.

You can see in the above examples how important it is that everyone should know how to look after electrical safety.


Managers and technical personnel have responsibilities for managing the risks to control the electrical installation and the activities affected by it. The health and safety of any organisation’s workers, contractors and others potentially at risk has to be managed. There have to be policies, procedures and competent people for that system. It is necessary to ensure that persons working at that installation are capable and have their limitations recognised and formally managed.

Often clients and managers lack the competence and confidence to improve their safety management. Safety management has to be made accessible to technical and non-technical people so that risks to people and their business are safely reduced.

There are serious effects of an incident on the company, injured person, other workers, families, and members of public. Directors and managers can be jailed, large fines and costs can affect the organisation. That’s before we start on the other consequential costs and psychological damage.

In the second part of this article, published next week, Bill outlines the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s code of practice and who will find it useful.

Bill Bates worked for over 40 years as an electrical engineer, and 21 years as a specialist HSE inspector, covering a wide range of industrial and commercial sectors and investigating many serious incidents, including fatalities. This has given him the experience to assist many organisations in managing their risks and he contributed extensively to the IET’s Electrical Safety Management CoP.

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