The risks associated with voltage testing

If you are an electrical contractor, appliance repairer or self-employed tradesman, chances are you’ll have tested for the absence or presence of voltage before. As with all electrical work, this can be a dangerous job and taking the right precautions is essential.


The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 requires “those in control of part or all of an electrical system to ensure that it is safe to use and that it is maintained in a safe condition.” But if this involves voltage testing, what are the risks involved and how do accidents happen?


To provide answers to these important questions we have pulled together the most relevant information to help you to reduce or mitigate risk when using electrical testing gear. It is important to put these tips into practice wherever possible. Some burns occur in accidents, but others are caused by someone’s negligence in that case you can receive compensation with a burn injury lawsuit.


Risks associated with voltage testing


Even though there is an obvious risk from live electrical circuits, the instrument being used to carry out testing can also be a potential hazard. An unsatisfactory voltage tester can cause serious burns or electric shocks, while arcing or ‘flashover’ from poor test probes can result in more serious injuries. Further flashovers are a distinct possibility if arcs, once drawn, ionise the surrounding air and rapidly engulf the working area.


Thankfully, voltages below 50V AC or 120V DC reduce the risk of electric shocks and arcing is unlikely to cause burns. Therefore, it is recommended to carry out testing at reduced voltages. If this isn’t possible, you should use equipment that is constructed with suitably insulated and shrouded terminals to minimise the risk of short circuits.


In certain environments, you will also need to be aware of chemical burns from things like battery acid or falling from a ladder when working at height.


Reasons for accidents with voltage testing


The reasons why unsuitable test probes, leads, lamps, voltage indicators and multi-meters have caused arcs in the past include:


  • Poorly insulated test probes – For example, having an excessive length of bare metal at the contact end, which bridges a live conductor to unearthed metalwork.
  • Excessive current – Which is drawn through test probes, leads and measuring instruments. This could be because a voltage indicator or multi-meter is set on the wrong function.
  • Incorrect use of equipment – For example, when a multi-meter is applied to conductors at a voltage exceeding the instrument’s capacity.


Other accident causes also include inadequate insulation of test leads or probes, exposed live terminations, leads falling off a terminal, indistinguishable intertwined leads and the use of makeshift equipment.


Examining equipment


In addition to choosing the right voltage tester for the job and taking the necessary precautions before, during and after work, it is also a good idea to examine the condition of equipment on a regular basis.


Keeping records will also help you to decide how often visual inspections or testing is required. Be on the look-out for cracked meter cases, damaged insulation such as abrasion, cuts or perishing, and loose terminals.


For more about staying safe while working with electricity, visit the Health and Safety Executive website. You can also get in touch with Instrotech for advice on choosing and using the right equipment.

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