Electrical safety

Dangers from electricity should never be underestimated. Poorly maintained equipment or unsafe use present a serious risk of harm through electrocution or fire. The University has a legal obligation under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 to maintain electrical equipment in a safe condition. Regular inspection and Portable Appliance TestingPortable Appliance TestingPortable Appliance Testing (PAT) is necessary to ensure equipment is safe.

Electricity can kill. Do not take unnecessary chances.

Contact with electricity

Electric shock has a variety of effects on the human body. Mild shocks can cause an unpleasant tingling sensation. More severe shocks cause muscle contractions making it difficult to let go of equipment where electricity is present. Severe shocks cause extensive burns and are usually fatal.

Even a very small electric current flowing through your body can kill you. 50mA can cause pain, paralysis of chest muscles and, after a few seconds, upset the heartbeat and cause death (a 40 watt light bulb takes about 150mA).

The higher the current, the more dangerous and quicker the effects.

Advice for students

The University has strict rules on the use of certain electrical items. Please take time to read our electrical safety advice for students, as it will help to ensure you do not have the unnecessary expense of having to replace unsuitable equipment.

Working with electricity

If you need to work with electrical mains systems, or on equipment which may be live for the purposes of diagnostic testing, you will need to demonstrate electrical competence to carry out the work and have safe systems of work in place. Please contact your lead health and safety adviser for further advice.

The University’s Policy and Safety Rules for Safe Working on Low Voltage Fixed Electrical Systems must be complied with. You must also have been confirmed as competent by the University’s Authorised Person, Senior Authorised Person or Authorising Engineer.

Using electrical equipment

Please follow our guidance on safe use and disposal of electrical equipment:

Check equipment

Faulty electrical equipment can cause electric shocks and fires which may cause death, injury or damage to property (.pdf). It is vital equipment is regularly maintained so that it is safe to use.

You can identify the majority of potentially dangerous electrical equipment through simple visual checks (.pdf). If you have any concerns, do not use the equipment; switch it off if safe to do so and immediately contact the person responsible for electrical safety in that area or for that activity.

Persons responsible for areas where there is a potentially higher risk of electric shock may wish to display a Health and Safety Executive poster giving basic emergency advice.

Reporting a concern

Any electrical equipment that is suspected to be faulty must be labelled, 'DO NOT USE', taken out of use and kept secure until it can be examined by a competent person. This must be done so that other persons do not assume the equipment is safe to use.

All incidents or accidents which involve a person coming into contact with electricity must be reported to the Health and Safety Advisory Servicereported to the Health and Safety Advisory Servicereported to the Health and Safety Advisory Service (HSAS) and an appropriate investigation carried out with the aim of preventing any recurrence.

Some types of dangerous occurrences may also need to be reported by HSAS under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations:

Dangerous occurrences - any explosion or fire caused by an electrical short circuit or overload (including those resulting from accidental damage to the electrical plant) which either results in the stoppage of the plant involved for more than 24 hours; or causes a significant risk of death.

Disposal of surplus items

You must dispose of surplus electrical equipment in an environmentally friendly manner and in accordance with consumer protection requirements. Find out more about the purchasepurchasepurchase, use and disposal of all work equipment.

A flowchart (.pdf) provides an overview of how to dispose of University owned, surplus electrical equipment.

Weee symbolUnder the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006, electrical and electronic waste must be disposed of responsibly and recycled where possible. This means that electrical or electronic equipment which cannot be repaired, is uneconomical to repair or is no longer wanted must not be put into landfill via normal waste bins. Equipment covered by these regulations will show a symbol, as shown on the right.

The means of disposal will depend on whether the item was purchased before or after 13 August 2005. See the University’s Waste and Recycling PolicyWaste and Recycling PolicyWaste and Recycling Policy for details. The Government provide information on environmental management waste regulations and retailer and distributor responsibilities.

How to dispose of items

For all campuses, contact the EMS HelpdeskEMS HelpdeskEMS Helpdesk

Reuse or resale of equipment

Electrical equipment which is no longer wanted but may be of value to others is subject to strict laws relating to the safety of goods under health and safety, consumer protection and product liability, as well as trading standards.

Electrical equipment, in a safe or defective condition, owned by the University must not be sold or given away free of charge. Printed, verbal or online advertisements for University equipment which is no longer wanted are also not permitted. This is because it is not possible to exclude liability under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 by means of any contract term or other provision. This in turn means the seller could be sued if a consumer or other person were injured as a result of defective equipment. Examples include unwanted computer or audio visual equipment, kitchen or workshop equipment.

Electrical equipment must either be responsibly disposed of according to WEEE Regulations or formally donated by the University to a registered charity. That organisation would then be legally responsible for the re-sale or use of donated equipment.

In exceptional circumstances, should a department or individual wish to sell equipment which is owned by the University for revenue purposes, they must seek professional advice on consumer protection requirements. They must contact the insurance office (insurance@essex.ac.uk) to arrange appropriate product liability insurance and seek written approval to proceed from their Head of Department or person responsible for the equipment concerned.

High-value items

Where electrical equipment may have a high value, either as a single item or collective items, contact the Central Procurement Unit who will advise whether and how any revenue might be generated or equipment potentially re-used by a third party. As a guide, a 'high value' would be an item/s worth around £5,000 or more or there may be an intrinsic rather than a financial value. As above, the same provisions for insurance and approval would apply.

Record keeping

Where an inventory of electrical equipment is kept, a note should be made of when equipment is disposed of. This will also help to ensure equipment which is no longer available is not included in future PAT arrangements. Records of maintenance, including test results, should preferably be kept for at least three years after the date when it is removed from the area or responsibly disposed of.

Disposal of personally-owned items

You have a number of ways to recycle unwanted electrical equipment:

  • you can ask the retailer if they'll take products back
  • you can take old appliances to the local civic amenity site
  • you can arrange for your local authority to collect the equipment from your home (some local authorities provide a free collection service and others charge)
  • you can arrange for an electrical retailer delivering new equipment to take away the unwanted one

If you need any other advice, staff should contact the EMS Helpdesk. Students should contact the Accommodation Office.

Prohibited or dangerous electrical equipment

We have strict rules on the use of certain electrical equipment to ensure that everyone is safe from the risk of fire and electric shock.

Dangerous electrical equipment

Dangerous equipment presents a serious risk of harm and will be removed where it is safe to do so, including:

  • equipment in a poor state of repair, showing evidence of exposed inner cables, burning or overheating or cracked or broken housing
  • equipment that has been made or adapted by someone without appropriate electrical knowledge/training
  • travel adaptors that are not fused and/or do not have an earth connection
  • travel adaptors with significant risk of contact with live parts: for example adaptors with removable backs or those multiple pin arrangements, where unused pins could become live
  • equipment for which a safety warning/product recall has been issued for safety reasons

See examples of dangerous electrical equipment (.pdf)

Prohibited electrical equipment

The items below can produce significant heat which could start a fire or cause injury, and so are unsafe if used in certain locations. In addition, the way items are heated or cooked can produce fumes which could activate the fire alarm system.

Prohibited electrical items in University residences

Study bedrooms 

No equipment for heating, cooking, refrigeration or washing may be used in the study bedrooms of University-owned or administered accommodation, except with the prior written permission of the Accommodation Manager.

Prohibited electrical equipment will be removed from study bedrooms where there is evidence such items have been used or where no authority to use has been obtained. Examples include:

  • portable heaters (unless supplied or approved by the Accommodation Manager)
  • toasters
  • halogen lamps
  • sandwich makers
  • microwave or microwave combination ovens
  • refrigerators (unless required for medical purposes and approved by Accommodation Manager)
  • rice cookers 
  • deep fat fryers or other equipment used for deep fat frying
  • cooking stoves
  • electrical wax melters
  • similar equipment which reaches a high temperature
  • washing machines

Residential kitchens

The following will be provided by the University for use in residential kitchens:

  • ovens
  • microwave ovens
  • refrigerators

A limited number of rice cookers or toasters can be used in kitchens provided the following conditions are met:

No other equipment for heating, cooking, refrigeration or washing may be used in kitchen areas unless approved by the Accommodation Manager and undergoes an annual portable appliance test. Please refer to the list under study bedrooms for examples.

Prohibited electrical items in non-residential areas

Non-residential areas include academic areas, study areas, offices, kitchenettes, workshops, laboratories etc. The only exception is use of cooking equipment in commercial kitchens. 

The following electrical items are prohibited from non-residential areas:

  • portable heaters (unless supplied and approved by Estates and Campus Services)
  • toaster
  • halogen lamps
  • sandwich maker
  • rice cookers
  • deep fat fryer or other equipment used for deep fat drying
  • electric ovens
  • microwave combination ovens
  • electrical wax melters
  • similar equipment which reaches a high temperature

Multi-way extension reels may not be used unless they have been fully uncoiled and do not present a trip hazard from the unwound cable.

Please also see personally-owned electrical equipmentpersonally-owned electrical equipmentpersonally-owned electrical equipment.

Travel plug adaptors

University health and safety inspections have found dangerous travel adaptors being used by employees and students, some of which were found to be unfused and others with exposed pins. Dangerous travel adaptors not only present an electrocution risk (which could potentially be fatal) but also have the potential to cause electrical equipment to overheat or spark and start fires.

Trading Standards in the United Kingdom have advised that travel adaptors need to meet the following requirements. They must:

  • comply with BS5733 and preferably BS1363-3
  • contain an appropriate fuse
  • be designed so that it is not possible to insert one current carrying plug pin into the adaptor, whilst leaving the other exposed (see below image):

Travel adaptor pins

University-approved travel adaptors, which have been checked against the above requirements, are available from Essex Essentials. Staff and students who require a travel adaptor should be encouraged to purchase them from here. Adaptors can also be purchased from the Copy Centre counter on Square 4 at the Colchester Campus.

Some posters have been produced to help with selecting safe travel adaptors:

Action taken if dangerous or prohibited items found


Inspections or checks of work, study or accommodation areas may identify electrical equipment which is prohibited or dangerous. Typically action may be taken by the Head of Department, section, business unit, the person responsible for the area, Estate Management Section, facilities management provider or the Health and Safety Advisory Service team.

One or more photographs may be taken to illustrate the circumstances or environment in which the electrical equipment was found. These could be sent to the appropriate responsible person for further investigation and/or to the owner to illustrate what was found.

Removal of items

Dangerous equipment presents a serious risk of harm and so will be removed where it is safe to do so. Prohibited items in non-residential premises may be removed. If it is not safe to remove the item, one of the University's electricians will be asked to attend and make sure the equipment is safe.

Owners of dangerous or prohibited items will be advised that the equipment must not be used. Reasonable attempts will be made to contact the owner, who will be advised of why the equipment is dangerous or prohibited and will need to confirm that they will not use the item if on University premises, before it is returned to them.

Dangerous travel adaptors

If a student is found to be using a dangerous travel adaptor in University accommodation during room inspections, it will be replaced with a safe one and the student will need to stop using the unsafe adaptor.

Return of dangerous or prohibited items

The individual will need to complete a form like the one below when they collect the item/s, to ensure that the owner is aware that the prohibited and/or dangerous items must not be put back into use. The wording may need to be adjusted according to the circumstances. Retain the original, signed copy in case this needs to be referred to in future. A copy should be provided to the individual on request.

Further information

Please refer to the accommodation Terms and Conditions of Residence (.pdf) for more information on safety in student residences.

Electrical equipment permitted in non-residential areas

The following electrical equipment may be used in offices, staff common rooms and kitchenettes on all campus locations, provided an email is sent to the Estate Management Section (EMS) help desk at ems-helpdesk@essex.ac.uk to notify where these types of equipment are located:

  • microwave ovens (not combination ovens)
  • coffee makers incorporating pressure devices

The EMS electrical team will assess the installation. Approval is required as power capacity is limited in some areas and circuits must be checked to ensure that overloading does not occur. If the item is permitted a member of staff in the relevant area must be nominated as responsible for the equipment and must ensure that:

  • it has been inspected/tested in accordance with the University's Portable Appliance TestingPortable Appliance TestingPortable Appliance Testing (PAT) standard
  • it is cleaned regularly to ensure good hygiene
  • it is installed in a location which does not present a hazard to those using the room or a fire risk

The following items can be used in offices, staff common rooms and kitchenettes without reference to the Estate Management Section or approved facilities management provider:

  • kettles
  • coffee makers (except those incorporating pressure devices)
  • refrigerators

These may be used provided:

  • the equipment has been inspected/tested in line with the University's Portable Appliance TestingPortable Appliance TestingPortable Appliance Testing (PAT) standard
  • appliances are installed in a location which does not present a hazard to those using the room
  • in the case of refrigerators, they are defrosted at regular intervals to maintain energy efficiency

Chargers for e-cigarettes and mobile devices

There has been a significant rise in the number of fires in the UK caused by faulty chargers for e-cigarettes and other electrical devices. Follow the advice below to reduce the risk of a fire, electrical shock or damage to your equipment when recharging e-cigarettes and mobile devices.

  • Use the original charger supplied with your device.
  • If you need a replacement or additional charger, purchase a genuine factory replacement.
  • Avoid cheap unbranded replacements from the internet or market stalls.

Check out the London Fire Brigade's information on chargers, batteries and fire safety.

Use the 6 point safety check below, before turning on power

  • Does it have insulation on the pins?
  • Does it have a CE mark?
  • Does it fit in the socket properly?
  • Does it have a manufacturer’s brand name, model and batch number?
  • Does it have the correct output voltage (V) for your device?
  • Does it have the correct output current rating (mA) for your device?

When charging e-cigarettes

  • Do not leave it charging for prolonged periods.
  • Never leave it on to charge overnight.
  • Do not leave it charging unattended.

Please note: the University’s no smoking policy also applies to the use of e-cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes is prohibited wherever smoking is prohibited.

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