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Lighting the Way - Electrical Safety Comes of Age

The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) makes an impact through a wide range of initiatives which support both consumers and the industry. Here Phil Buckle, Director General of the ESC, explains how the Charity is leading the charge for electrical safety.

Electricity is so seamlessly integrated into modern life that it is easy, particularly for people outside the profession, to forget just how powerful and dangerous it can be. It is, however, the fundamental reason for the Electrical Safety Council’s (ESC) existence. Put simply, our mission is to reduce the number of injuries and deaths in the UK that is caused by electricity.  

The electrical industry is generally well-respected in the UK. However, with the ever-growing proliferation of electrical gadgets, the explosion of counterfeit goods and on-line shopping - plus the introduction of smart meters and a ‘challenging’ economic climate - it is a sector living through interesting times.

We believe that consumer protection is best served by working with the industry to ensure public protection is always a primary concern and an important part of our approach is developing evidence-based policy. Our extensive research programme helps us identify and address key concerns and informs our strategy and campaigns. Basically, it ensures that we focus on the most important issues and that we have the data to support any position we might take.

We are fortunate in having a pool of leading technical experts, who sit on various UK and International standardisation committees and provide advice to electrical contractors and the public alike. Our technical team also produces a number of authoritative resources for the industry, including a series of Best Practice Guides and The Essential Guide to the Wiring Regulations – a key reference source for electricians, installation designers and college lecturers. Currently, our Technical Division is closely involved in stakeholder discussions regarding the introduction of smart meters, providing both technical expertise and insights gained as consumer advocates.

As part of our collaborative work with industry, we have also organised a number of round tables on significant subjects, such as smart metering and counterfeiting. Events such as these bring together industry and consumer bodies, enforcement agencies and government departments, to develop an integrated approach to core issues. Most recently, we arranged a round table on the government’s upcoming review of Part P of the Building Regulations for England and Wales – the only regulatory framework (in England and Wales) that addresses the safety of electrical installation work in domestic properties. Following on from the success of this event we convened a working group to source impact assessment material on Part P, for submission to the government’s review and – where possible – to establish joint policy positions.

Our intention has been to offer government an informed view to help balance the competing needs of the public, who need to be confident in the standards of work being carried out in their homes, while respecting the industry’s desire to avoid unnecessary red tape. The bottom line is that the government wants to reduce the complexities of Part P without compromising safety. The ESC believes that revoking Part P would undermine consumer safeguards and, particularly in these financially uncertain times, could contribute to an explosion of DIY-related electrical injuries and fires. We have no doubt this would negate the considerable efforts made in recent years by the ESC, and the electrical industry, to improve the safety of electrical installations in UK homes.  

We are keenly aware, however, that consumers need to be educated about electrical safety and all our consumer material incorporates a message which reinforces the need to use a registered electrician when having electrical work carried out. We also run a number of consumer campaigns which cover various aspects of electrical safety. Our biggest campaign to date - Plug into Safety - was launched last summer. It aims to increase the awareness and use of RCDs in much the same way that the government’s Fire Kills campaign boosted the installation and use of smoke alarms.  

Media coverage of this campaign has been excellent but to make it fully effective we have been working closely with a range of stakeholders. A programme of partnership marketing with manufacturers of electrical products and accessories, as well as major DIY and garden retailers is ongoing and we have been particularly keen to bring electrical contractors into the campaign. To achieve this, we have created a Plug into Safety promotional ‘toolkit’ for electricians, to help them engage with clients and explain the benefits of the additional protection provided by RCDs.

But Plug into Safety isn’t our only consumer-facing initiative. The ‘Safer Homes’ campaign aims to make people – particularly those on low-incomes - aware of electrical safety within the home; and to ensure landlords are aware of their legal responsibilities in relation to electrical safety.  As part of this initiative, we produced a new ‘Tenants Leaflet’, for people living in rented accommodation and our Landlords’ Guide to electrical safety has become a respected and popular source of information for responsible landlords.  After the success of the English version of the Landlords’ Guide, in 2009, a revised version for the Scottish market has been produced and achieved similar popularity.

But our portfolio of activities doesn’t stop with campaigning. We also run two grant schemes to support electrical safety. The ESC’s Fire Safety Fund provides a means of engaging with, and supporting, local organisations to undertake fire prevention work - with a particular focus on high-risk and vulnerable groups.  This year, we provided £100,000 of funding to 23 organisations throughout the UK, including regional fire and rescue services, trading standards officers, councils and charities. Successful projects ranged from electric blanket and product testing/replacement events, to training sessions for young carers and a school play. All the schemes are locally based and all are inspired by a specific need in the area. To be awarded funding applicants needed to demonstrate that their projects would benefit those who may not receive help through other funding routes.

Our other grants scheme is designed to help vulnerable people by providing them with a safer home environment, through partnership working at local level. In the last year, 662 households across the UK were able to have urgent, small-scale electrical works carried out by Home Improvement Agencies, which administer the funding we provide. Grants are awarded to members of the community who are householders over 60 years of age and on means-tested benefits, or registered disabled, who cannot afford to pay for the electrical work required to make their homes safe. A beneficial side-effect of our work with these Home Improvement Agencies is the fact that they are now giving a greater focus to electrical safety issues in their own training programmes for health and social care workers.

Regardless of the route we take to increase awareness of the need for electrical safety, the industry itself is one of our best channels for communicating this to the general public. And we believe that it is by working in partnership that we can best serve the interests of the consumer and achieve our overarching objective – to prevent injuries and deaths caused by electricity.

If you would like to obtain a Plug into Safety toolkit, please go to our site and visit the news and campaigns section for industry, where you will find a download available under the plug-into-safety/electricians-guide section.

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