Safety First: Frequently Asked Questions
Most people have extension leads in their homes, using 4-way bar adaptors to increase the number of appliances that they can plug into a wall socket.
However, although there is space to plug in four appliances, this does not mean it is always safe to do so.
You can avoid overloading sockets and risk of fire by following this simple advice:
- Never overload an extension lead by plugging in appliances that together will exceed the maximum current rating stated for the extension lead. This could cause the plug in the wall socket to overheat and possibly cause a fire.
- Check the current rating of the extension lead before plugging appliances into it. Most are rated at 13 A, but some are rated at only 10 A or less – the rating should be clearly marked on the back or underside of the extension lead. If not, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Use our overload calculator (below) to check if you’re exceeding the maximum load
- For an indication only of the current ratings of commonly-used domestic appliances – check out our information about Amps and Watts
- Only use one socket extension lead per socket and never plug an extension lead into another extension lead
- Use a multi-way bar extension lead rather than a block adaptor, as this will put less strain on the wall socket. Some block adaptors do not have a fuse, which increases the risk of overloading and fire
- Consider having additional sockets installed if you regularly rely on extension leads and adaptors – and use a registered electrician to carry out the installation work
- Check regularly for the following danger signs:
– a smell of hot plastic or burning near an appliance or socket
– sparks or smoke coming from a plug or appliance
– blackness or scorch marks around a socket or plug, or on an appliance
– damaged or frayed leads
– coloured wire inside leads showing at the plug or anywhere else
– melted plastic on appliance casings or leads
– fuses that blow or circuit-breakers that operate for no obvious reason
If you’re not sure …
Don’t DIY! Did you know that DIY errors cause half of all serious electric shocks in UK homes?
Too many Brits are now using Google to search for tips or YouTube videos to help them carry out major DIY work, with almost half of all men admitting they feel a responsibility to try and tackle jobs themselves or ask a mate before calling a professional.
In the survey conducted by Electrical Safety First it was found that almost half of all severe electric shocks are caused by DIY attempts, with the main errors including cutting through power leads, drilling into wiring in walls and repairing electrical items that are still switched on.
In a survey of registered electricians, a third said they had seen or been involved with fixing DIY that had resulted in fires, serious electric shock or serious financial cost to repair.
The best way to avoid any electrical problems in the home is to seek the advice of a registered electrician.
TV’s Changing Rooms star Handy Andy has been doing DIY on and off screen for more than 15 years. Here he gives his top tips on how to stay safe when doing DIY:
- Check power tools and watch out for the lead. Before using any power tools, check the lead and plug are in good condition. If you can see signs of damage, such as frayed wires, get the equipment repaired before using it. Watch out for the power lead at all times so you don’t accidentally cut through or trip over it.
- Use an RCD (residual current device). An RCD can save your life by cutting off the power in the event of an electrical fault caused by a DIY blunder. Make sure you have one fitted in your fusebox (consumer unit), and where necessary use a plug-in RCD.
- Locate cables in your wall. A common DIY error is accidentally drilling, nailing or screwing things into cables hidden inside your walls. A quality cable detector can help you to track buried cables before you start work and so help to avoid the risk of an electric shock.
- Shut off the power. If you’re doing any work near electrical wiring or power supplies, where possible, shut off the power in your fusebox and use battery powered tools. To confirm that all the power is off before beginning DIY plug an appliance into sockets and operate the lights.
- If you don’t know, Don’t DIY.
Millions of people in the UK expose themselves and their families to potentially fatal electrical accidents in the home by making simple blunders, down to a lack of knowledge about the dangers of electricity.
It is important to make sure that the electrical installation in your property is well maintained, and we recommend that you use a registered electrician to check that it is safe.
However, there are a number of simple, visual checks that you can carry out yourself:
- Check that you have RCD protection in your fusebox
- Make sure that your plug sockets are not overloaded. Electrical Safety First has developed an online “socket calculator” to help you to check that yours are safe
- Ensure that plugs and sockets are not damaged
- Check that visible cables and leads are in good condition
- Check that your light fittings are not visibly damaged and that downlighters are in good working condition
- Check that you are not storing combustible materials around your fusebox, electricity meter or electrical instake
- Don’t use the top of the microwave for extra storage
- Never trail cables under carpets or rugs
- Never take mains-powered electrical items into the bathroom
- Always switch off your electrical items when they are not in use
We have developed a free smartphone app that allows anyone to do a quick, visual check, to ensure their home is electrically safe. Designed to be as easy-to-use as possible, the app highlights potential dangers in each room and explains how to resolve simple, non-technical problems. Where more serious issues are flagged, people are advised to use a registered electrician.
More than half of all accidental house fires start in the kitchen. Government statistics show that the largest number of accidental reported fires caused by electricity in the home is due to people misusing electrical cooking appliances, including microwaves.
So it’s important that you take special care when using electrical appliances. The mixture of water, hot surfaces, flexible cables and electricity can be very dangerous. Follow our tips to stay safe.
Sockets and switches
To avoid water coming into contact with electricity, make sure that your sockets or switches are fitted at a safe distance (at least 30cm horizontally) from the sink
If appliances such as fridges, dishwashers and washing machines are fitted under worktops, getting to sockets may be difficult. Ideally, these appliances should be controlled by a switched fuse connection unit mounted above the worktop where you can reach it easily.
If a socket in the kitchen, or anywhere else in the house is likely to be used to supply portable equipment outdoors, it should be protected by an RCD.
Never use switches or any electrical equipment when your hands are wet
Simple tips for kitchen safety
- Don’t leave electrical appliances like dishwashers or washing machines running unattended
- Don’t wrap flexible cables around any equipment when it is still warm
- Check that flexible leads and appliances such as kettles and toasters are in good condition
- Don’t try to repair an appliance when it is still plugged in
- Never try to get toast that is stuck out of a toaster while it is plugged in, and especially not with a metal knife as there are often live parts inside
- Make sure you thoroughly clean your oven and grill– a build up of fat and grease is a major cause of fires
- Check your plug sockets are not overloaded with too many electrical appliances as this can lead to overheating
- Avoid storing objects on top of appliances like the microwave, which can block ventilation
- Defrost your fridge and freezer at least once a year to ensure these appliances continue to work properly
- Make sure you have a working smoke detector in case something does go wrong
Water carries electricity efficiently. But, if the two mix, the result can be deadly. So, the bathroom is possibly the most dangerous room in the house when it comes to electrical safety. The consequences of an electric shock are far more severe in a bathroom or shower room as wet skin reduces the body’s resistance.
There are special requirements for electrical installations in bathrooms as most electrical work must comply with Part P of the Building Regulations.
We strongly recommend that you use an electrican registered with one of the government-approved schemes to carry out any electrical installation work that you need. Find out more by visiting our Find an Electrician pages.
Our advice will help you to stay safe.
Sockets are not allowed in bathrooms or shower rooms (apart from shaver-supply units) unless they can be fitted at least three metres from the bath or shower.
Electrical shaver points must be a safe distance (in meters) from the bath or shower to avoid splashes
Enclosed ceiling lights are preferable to the ones that hang down.
All light fittings, that are not enclosed, should be out of reach of someone using, or still wet from using, the bath or shower.
Everyday light switches are a danger because of dampness and wet hands. A ceiling-mounted pull-cord switch is the safest option.
Heaters and towel rails
Central heating is the safest way to keep a bathroom warm. But if you do have an electric heater, it must be fixed at a safe distance from the bath or shower.
Electric and gas water heaters in a bathroom must be fixed and permanently wired, unless they are powered by a socket fitted three metres from a bath or shower.
A pull-cord or switch outside the bathroom is the ideal way to control electric heaters.
An electric shower must be supplied on its own circuit directly from your fusebox.
Portable electrical appliances
Never bring mains-powered portable appliances such as hairdryers, heaters or radios into a bathroom. You could be severely injured or killed.
It’s not only electrical faults that start fires, human error is often to blame. Whether it’s a badly wired plug or an iron left on – we all need to take more care.
Electricity is a major cause of accidental fires in UK homes – over 20,000 each year, while nine out of 10 (89%) electrical fires are caused by electrical products.
We use electricity every day but it can be dangerous. Treat it with respect and follow these simple do’s and don’ts:
- Check the condition of your wiring – This should be done when you move into a new home and then once every 10 years. It’s the landlord’s responsibility if you rent your home. Ask to see a copy of the certificate or report confirming that the electrics meet the UK national standard BS 7671 (Requirements for Electrical Installations).
- Check your sockets regularly – if you see burn marks or they feel hot, get a registered electrician to check them.
- Turn off any electrical equipment you are not using – especially at night, when a fire can spread quickly while you sleep.
- Regularly check flexible cables on kettles and other similar appliances – look for signs of fraying, general wear and tear, or a loose plug. Do this before you plug anything in.
- Be careful when using hand-held electrical equipment – make sure you switch off and unplug when you have finished. This is important with items that get hot, for instance hairdryers or curling tongs, as they may come into contact with materials that can catch fire (like curtains).
- Check the current rating of an electrical adaptor before you plug appliances in – make sure that the total current used does not exceed the adaptor’s rating.
- Call the Fire and Rescue Service immediately if you smell burning that cannot be explained. They will have equipment such as thermal imaging cameras which will accurately detect objects that are overheating.
- Overload any adaptor or socket – especially with appliances that have a high electrical current such as kettles, irons or heaters. It’s safer to have extra sockets installed if needed.
- Put electric heaters near curtains or furniture – or dry clothes on them.
- Cover the air vents on storage heaters or fan heaters.
- Trail flexible cables under carpets or rugs.
- Exceed the wattage of the light fitting or lampshade with the bulb you use.
- Cover the air vents on storage heaters or fan heaters.
- Store combustible materials (clothes, papers, cleaning materials etc) close to your service head (cut-out fuse), electricity meter or fusebox.
Did you know?
Many local Fire and Rescue Services will come to your home and carry out a Home Fire Risk Check to help keep you and your family safe. For more information on fire safety, visit www.direct.gov.uk/firekills, or contact your local Fire and Rescue Service (not 999).
You are half as likely to die in a house fire if you have a working smoke alarm. If a fire starts in your home, a smoke alarm gives you the time to get out.
Modern alarms are neat and tidy, cost around £10 and are easy to fit. You may find your local Fire and Rescue service may install one for you, for free, as part of a free home fire risk check.
In the kitchen
Nearly 13,000 fires start each year in the kitchen1. These accidents, caused mainly by people misusing electrical cooking equipment like microwaves, could easily be avoided.
Here are some simple suggestions to reduce the risks of fire
- Don’t let leads from kettles, toasters or similar, trail across your cooker.
- Never dry towels on, or near, the cooker.
- Don’t let fat and grease build up, especially in the cooker’s grill pan, as it can catch fire easily.
- Make sure you turn the cooker off when you have finished.
1 Data supplied to ESC by the Department of Communities and Local Government, 11/02/10
What to do if you believe someone has had, or is getting, an electric shock
It may not be immediately clear, but if you think someone is suffering from electricshock, approach with extreme caution.
The first step is to separate the person from the source of electricity as quickly as possible. The best way of doing this is to turn off the supply, for example, by unplugging the appliance or by turning the mains off at the fusebox (consumer unit).
If this isn’t possible, then try to remove the source of electricity from the person using a piece of insulating material, such as a length of wood.
NEVER touch the person receiving the electric shock, or you could suffer one too.
After removing the person from the source of electricity, if the person is unconscious call for an ambulance immediately. Only those with the necessary knowledge and skill should carry out first aid.
Where the person is conscious and seems well, it is still advisable to monitor their condition, as the effects of an electric shock may not be immediately obvious. In worst case conditions, an electric shock may lead to a condition known as electroporation, where cells within the body rupture, leading to tissue death. Additional problems might include deep-seated burns, muscle damage and broken bones.
Use an RCD
Using an RCD will help to protect you from dangerous electric shocks. Although not a guarantee of absolute safety, it limits the time current can flow through the body if a person comes into contact with a live source of electricity.
We strongly recommend that anyone using electrical appliances in the garden ensures that they are protected by an RCD, preferably one fitted in the main household fusebox.
Alternatively, a dedicated RCD-protected socket or a plug-in RCD should be used.