Townsville floods spark electrical safety warnings

Monday, 11 February, 2019

Townsville floods spark electrical safety warnings

After severe weather caused significant flooding in Townsville, Queensland, last week, Master Electricians Australia (MEA) has issued several warnings about electrical safety.

About 20,000 homes were impacted by flood waters across the city, and although the worst of the flood appears to be over, many home owners are now struggling with the aftermath of it.

While the initial concern was around submerged household appliances and solar panels, attention has now turned to the safety threat of general testing and reconnection. The overarching message is to avoid taking shortcuts and contact a qualified electrician to prevent the risk of injury or voiding insurance policies.

As well as electrical appliances, MEA CEO Malcolm Richards said: “If you’re a flood-affected home owner and your switchboards or internal electrical fittings have been inundated, ensure that they are properly tested by a licensed professional before they are used again.”

Solar panel installations were an area for concern, as Richards said solar panels continue to produce electricity during a flood event, even if the power supply has been cut off and the panels turned off at the switchboard. He said it has the potential to cause death or serious injury if people come into contact with the wiring to the panels.

“Even if the network supply is turned off, solar panels still produce electricity and the associated wiring is also live.

“Flood-affected residents can use the shutdown instructions to safely turn off the isolation switches located next to the solar inverter and these instructions are usually located on the switchboard.

“Where a solar PV system has been flood inundated, an electrician can check the system and safely isolate water-damaged components.

“It is vital that residents ensure that the system is electrically safe before it is recommissioned,” Richards said.

MEA is working with the Queensland Government and Ergon Energy to develop electrical service support. It has launched a free hotline, 1300 889 198, to connect home owners with local electricians to help them get back on the grid quickly and safely.

The organisation warned residents to be wary of scammers masquerading as qualified electricians, and invited licensed electrical contractors in the Townsville region to register with them if they were able to assist with the inspections. While MEA was not charging for the referral service, home owners would be required to pay the electricians for performing the checks and any necessary repairs.

“People with appropriate insurance cover may be able to reclaim the cost of having an electrical contractor perform the checks and any necessary repairs,” Richards said.

Power has been reconnected to 15,000 homes out of 17,000 that lost power, but MEA Vice-President John Horan said some homes may require some rectification work before the power can be switched on.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford recently signed the declaration lifting the disaster status, the remaining people in evacuation centres are being rehoused and $4.02 million in hardship payments had been made to 23,631 people. However, it is still a long road to recovery and MEA said electrical safety should be a top priority.

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