A safety switch is installed into an electrical system so that it switches off the electricity if there’s a problem or fault; this reduces the risk of shocks or even fires. Since 1991, all new homes and buildings were required by law to have safety switches. If your home or office was built before then, you should ask your electrician to install one if one is missing.
How a safety switch works
If someone makes contact with electricity, it leaves the circuit and goes through the person’s body, down to earth. A safety switch will detect this change in path and turn off the power in a fraction of a second, protecting the person from a severe shock.
Fuses and circuit breakers are useful against short circuiting and overloads, but safety switches are there to prevent shocks and electrocution.
The main types of safety switch
Switchboard safety switches
These are installed on individual circuits to protect any selected circuits in the building, as well as any appliances and extension cords connected to the selected power points. These switches must be installed by a certified electrician who must give you a certificate of compliance within 30 days of the installation.
If there’s a fault on the protected circuit, the supply will shut off to that circuit only; other circuits will remain in operation.
Power point safety switches
These safety switches replace power points and they protect appliances and cords plugged into them. They may also protect the other wiring and power points on the same circuit. These switches must be installed by a certified electrician. The closer to the switchboard these switches are, the more protection they can offer the circuit.
Portable safety switches
These protect people who are working with portable power tools or other appliances that aren’t connected to a switchboard or other safety switches. They’ll only protect people from problems in equipment connected directly to them. The switches plug into the outlet, then the appliances plug into them.
Testing safety switches
You should test your safety switches twice a year by pressing the T or Test button. It should trip to the Off position; you then have to return it to the On position.
If your switch doesn’t trip, then you should turn off the power and call your electrician.