Safety Switches and Circuit BreakersMonday February 20 2023
What is a safety switch?
Safety switches are insurance against electric shock. They shut off electricity supply when current leakage is detected. This avoids serious electric shock and possible electric burns by stopping the current flowing through a person.
– I have circuit breakers. Is that the same thing?
Circuit breakers protect an electrical circuit by quickly cutting power when there is a high current fault or overload that may cause a hazard. A safety switch is different, it shuts off electricity supply when it detects a leakage to earth. Circuit breakers are installed to protect circuit wiring and appliances, while safety switches protect people.
– How do I know I have a safety switch?
Safety switches have a ‘T’ or ‘test’ button on the front face. If the devices in your switch board do not have a test function, they are probably circuit breakers not safety switches.
– I already have a safety switch, do I need additional ones?
You should consider having safety switches installed on all circuits in your home, including power points, lights, air conditioning, oven, hot water and pool equipment circuits, even if they are on a separate tariff.
– What are my legal obligations?
The Queensland Government has a longstanding commitment to increase electrical safety in the community by requiring the installation of safety switches in domestic premises. The following situations for domestic homes are required by law in Queensland.
All new homes built or extended after 1992 but before 2000
Safety switches have been compulsory on all new homes in Queensland since 1992. Safety switches must also be fitted to all power point circuits when a new electrical installations occurs, such as a general power outlet (GPO).
All new homes built or extended after 2000
Safety switches have been compulsory on all power point and lighting circuits for new Queensland homes built since 2000, following the change in Wiring Rules.
Homes which have had the electrical installation extended to include additional lighting and power point circuits are required to have safety switch protection on both lighting and power point circuits.
Buying a property
If you buy a property without a safety switch, you must install a safety switch for the power point circuits within three months of a property transfer. This applies to any transfer of domestic premises.
Selling a property
If you sell a property, you first establish if a safety switch is installed for power point circuits, which must be declared on the standard sales contract and Form 24 Property Transfer.
Renting a home
A landlord renting out a home must ensure a safety switch has been installed for the power points within six months of the tenancy agreement, if there is not a safety switch already present.
– Can I install a safety switch?
No. Only a licensed electrician can install a safety switch. DIY electrical work is dangerous and illegal.
– Are safety switches failsafe?
No, it cannot protect you if it’s not working properly. To ensure a safety switch continues to work, you should check your safety switch test functionality every three months.
It is also important to make sure that any observed damage to your electrical appliances, electrical wiring, extension leads and other electrical equipment is repaired or the faulty appliances are discarded for new ones.
– Can I test my safety switch?
Safety switches can be easily tested using the ‘test’ button. They need to be tested regularly to ensure the mechanism continues to work freely and is not gummed up with dirt or other foreign matter.
Simply push the button marked ‘T’ or ‘test’. If the safety switch flicks off and cuts the power to the intended circuits, it is working correctly. Check inside your home to see which lights or appliances have been turned off. The circuits turned off by the safety switch test mean they are protected by it. If it doesn’t turn off the power, contact your licensed electrician to check it immediately. After testing, turn the safety switch back on. For circuits with a refrigerator or air conditioner, wait at two to three minutes before resetting to avoid possible appliance damage.
– What happens if I can’t reset the safety switch?
This may mean that there is a fault on the circuit and will need the expertise of a licensed electrician to inspect and repair it.
– How often should I test my safety switch?
The Electrical Safety Office recommends that push button testing should be done every three months. As a reminder, test them every time you receive your quarterly electricity account or set up a reminder on your calendar.
– How long will a safety switch last?
Under the current Australian standard, a safety switch is manufactured to last for a period of 4000 tests. Unless there is a significant problem with a device, they should last a lifetime.
– How do I know if I need extra safety switches?
If you’re not sure after looking at your switchboard, contact your electrician as they will be able to tell you which circuits are protected. Watch our short film that explains some of the differences to look for in your switchboard. View safety switch films.
– Will my safety switch always protect me?
A safety switch will turn off the power in a fraction of a second if a leakage of current to “earth” is detected. This can happen if there is a faulty power point or electrical appliance or you accidentally hit a live wire, but there may be instances where it doesn’t operate if a person is not earthed. So even if you have safety switches fitted, it is important to only use electrical equipment that is in good working order and only in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Always check for signs of damage and never attempt your own electrical repairs. Damaged electrical equipment and appliances should either be disposed of or repaired by an authorised service agent or licensed electrician. To ensure a safety switch continues to work correctly, you should self-test your safety switch test every three months. It cannot protect you if it is not working properly. Regular testing is the best way to ensure that it continues to work.
– Are the retrofitting of safety switches in homes different in Queensland than to the rest of the Australia?
While all states in Australia require homes to comply with the relevant wiring standards when they are built, Queensland also has a range of additional legislative requirements such as requiring safety switches to be installed on “power point” circuits in homes when they are sold and on domestic rental properties. Only Western Australia has similar requirements. These laws have resulted in many older homes in Queensland being made safer. Homeowners should consider having safety switches installed on all circuits in their home to maximise their protection.
– Do I need more safety switches or circuit breakers if I am having a new solar system installed and what will that mean for my existing switchboard?
A switchboard upgrade is not required in all cases, but the solar power system will require the installation of its own isolator switches and possibly additional circuit breakers. The inverter may also require a safety switch if specified by the manufacturer.
In addition to the installation of the solar system, safety switches for the general purpose outlets (power points) may need to be installed to comply with electrical safety legislation regarding retrofitting of safety switches. In some situations, these additions may require the switchboard to be upgraded to accommodate these extra parts.
When considering installation of a solar system it is recommended that you check with your electrician and solar installer before confirming the final price for the installation. The best way you understand what will be required is to have your electrician visit to review existing wiring installations, before agreeing on a final price.
For information about what to check when installing solar systems for households, visit Clean energy council accredited installer website.
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