Safety switches - two years on and still no action 

Master Electricians Australia

By Malcolm Richards, CEO
Tuesday, 07 July, 2015


Safety switches - two years on and still no action 

By the end of 2015, another 15 people who could have been saved by the installation of a simple and common safety switch will have lost their lives.

Back in 2011, when we first released our Switch Thinking report, the country had very little understanding of what on earth had led to the deaths of three young insulation installers in Queensland.

But, after finding out the details of each accident, those of us in the electrical industry knew instinctively why they’d died - there were no safety switches installed in the homes.

These deaths were the impetus for a massive MEA fact-finding project to determine just how many people, whose lives could have been saved by safety switches, had been dying in electrical incidents across Australia. It formed the basis of what we decided would become a decade-long education campaign designed to alert the public to the benefits of safety switches, as well as to pressure governments and bureaucrats into taking long overdue action.

After months of research we determined that 15 people were being electrocuted each and every year and 300 were being hospitalised. It was, and still is, an enormous number of preventable deaths.

We compiled these findings alongside an exhaustive history of the issue, safety switch know-how and an in-depth look at each state’s legislation framework. We added case studies of preventable electrocutions (including that of a 15-year-old boy electrocuted by a damaged extension lead socket when he was using a power tool) and combined them with our comprehensive 16-point recommendations list.

The report’s electrical safety recommendations were adopted in full by Coroner Michael Barnes, who handed down his report on 4 July 2013, but fast forward to July 2015 and not one law has been changed across the entire country.

An audit of homes fitted with foil insulation (ordered by the federal government following the deaths) revealed some serious safety faults in 20% of homes (unrelated to the insulation). Such faults are often the result of DIY electrical work and could remain undiscovered for years, but will present a life-threatening situation to any person, tradesperson or otherwise, who comes into contact with them while working in a roof space of a home.

And yet, despite a groundswell of support from Mr Barnes, from Commissioner Ian Hanger who also adopted our recommendations in full following last year’s Royal Commission, from the families of those killed and from a swathe of different media outlets across the country, our state and territory governments are each yet to take action to legislate the installation of safety switches.

So - the Commissioner ruled the three HIP electrocutions could have been avoided through the installation of safety switches, it has been found there are electrical faults to approximately 20% of homes and there are no safety switches installed in 40% of homes. While this appears to be a no-brainer to us, the message is still not getting through.

Safety switches are to electrical incidents what seatbelts and airbags are to car accidents. It took a great deal of campaigning for such inclusions to become standard (and enforceable by law) in our motor vehicles, and we aim for safety switches in homes to follow the same suit.

So we’re calling on each and every one of you to help us continue our campaign (now at the halfway mark) and to work with us at a grassroots level to alert each one of your clients, at every callout, every day. We believe that together, we have the power to enact real, tangible changes in our communities, to prevent any more families having to bury a loved one who was needlessly electrocuted.

Image credit: ©iStock/Nikita Rogul
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