Freeholders’ Guide to Health & Safety: Safety of Electrical Installations

Freeholders’ Guide to Health & Safety

Freeholders have legal responsibilities with regards to Health and Safety within their block of flats or buildings converted into flats, these responsibilities can affect their freeholders’ insurance. – the UK’s leading provider of freeholder insurance and flats insurance – are aiming to help freeholders by producing a series of guides on Health and Safety issues, specifically for freeholders. These guides will help you increase your awareness, maintain the validity of your freeholder insurance and avoid preventable accidents. Last week we covered Slips and Trips, this week it’s electrical installations.

Freeholders’ Guide to Health & Safety: Safety of Electrical Installations

Second in the series of 1st Sure Flat’s Freeholders’ Guide to Health & Safety relates to the safety of electrical installations in your block of flats or building converted into flats.  Faults in the electrical wiring systems of properties account for the majority of building fires and, in some cases, fatal electric shock accidents.  Furthermore, electrical installations are the cause of around a thousand accidents every year, with approximately thirty of these being fatal.  It is a sobering thought that about 25% of all electrical injury accidents are caused by portable electrical equipment and faulty electrical leads cause around 2,000 fires each year.  So, the consequences of falling short in this area are serious, 1st Sure Flat’s guide will help freeholders understand the key actions required to avoid incidents and thus reduce claims on their freeholders’ insurance and premiums.

Freeholders’ Guide to Health & Safety: Legislation

Freeholders in control of premises have duties under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984.  This states (s2) that the occupier has a ‘common law duty of care’ and then goes on to define that as:

‘A duty to take such care as in the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.’

This clearly extends to managing electrical safety within communal areas in a block of flats or buildings converted into flats that you own or manage.

Also the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) applies to all non-domestic premises and includes the communal areas (i.e. staircases, landings, hallways, internal fire escape routes) of blocks of flats.

Fixed Wiring in Flats

Freeholders are responsible for the overall safety of the electrical installations at their properties (e.g. fixed wiring) and there is a need to manage the risks associated with both the fixed wiring and the use of portable appliances.   Fixed wiring should be subject to inspection and testing by a competent person at least every five years and more frequently if the conditions are extreme (e.g. if the wiring is subject to extremes of heat and humidity or the risk of physical damage is great).   The two most common faults associated with fixed wiring are:

1.  Insulation failure – Electrical insulation protects the wire of cables and can fail for a variety of reasons:

  • Modern wiring is insulated with durable PVC but older rubber cables can become brittle with age and lead to insulation breakdown resulting in short circuits and, in turn, fires in flats
  • Short circuit faults can result in fires caused by the sparks and heat generated under fault conditions
  • Insulation breakdown can also result in metal surfaces which, if not adequately earthed, becoming “live” thus presenting the potential for a fatal electric shock
  • In addition, damage can be caused by vermin, such as mice or rats, who like to chew the insulation which, when exposed, can result in the faults identified above

2.  Overheating

  • Overheating occurs when installations are overloaded (e.g. the use of multi-adaptors or multi-socket extension leads).  These can be used safely to connect several low power items but they do facilitate overloading.
  • If too many appliances are connected to an electrical circuit, excessive heat will be generated in the copper conductors.  Excessive heat can lead to a breakdown of the insulation and a short circuit.

Portable Appliances in Flats

Faults with and misuse of electrical appliances present, statistically, a significant cause of accidents resulting in more claims and higher freeholders’ insurance premiums.  Portable appliances, together with extension cables, present a much greater risk of electric shock than of fire.

Therefore those provided or stored in communal areas in flats such as hallways or shared amenities such as laundry rooms or gyms should also be subject to routine inspection; e.g. daily checks by the user and less frequent inspection and testing by a competent person.   The extent of inspection and testing required will depend upon the equipment and its use.

Installation, Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of electrical installations in your Freehold Flats

Work carried out by unqualified installers or tenants can also lead to the faults as described so it is important to remember that installation, inspection, testing and maintenance of new or altered electrical systems should only be carried out by a competent qualified electrical tradesman or contractor.

The electrical installation must be installed in accordance with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Wiring Regulations 17th edition, now known as BS 7671:2008.

  • The IET Wiring Regulations establish the accepted safe parameters for designers, installers and testers of electrical installations.
  • The IET Wiring Regulations have the status of a Code of Practice and, whilst being non-statutory, may be used in a court of law as evidence of the standard to be achieved.

Visual Inspections should include:

  • Safety
  • Wear and tear
  • Corrosion
  • Damage
  • Excessive loading
  • Age
  • External influences (changes in building/occupancy)
  • Suitability (e.g. of protective devices

Periodic Electrical Tests will include:

  • Verification of effectiveness of earthing system
  • Polarity
  • Earth fault loop impedance
  • Insulation resistance
  • Operation of devices for isolation and switching
  • Operation of residual current devices, over-current circuit breakers and fuses

Furthermore a certificate showing details of the installation within the block of flats and the results of the tests should be issued.

Freeholder’s Key Action Points

  • Ensure that electrical installations and any additions to existing systems are only carried out by a competent person or contractor
  • Ensure that the electrical installation is tested at least once in every five year period or after any additions are made to the system and that a test certificate is issued
  • Ensure that all electrical accessories (switches, sockets, pendants etc.) are of good quality (relevant BS or EN standards)
  • Ensure that all portable electrical appliances provided have at least the ‘CE Mark’ and ideally the British Kite Mark and/or BEAB Approved Mark
  • Ensure any electrical equipment provided is suitable for the location where it is to be used
  • Respond quickly to all reported faults; delay could result in property damage caused by fire or personal injury or death caused by electric shock
  • Simple visual inspections should take place more frequently

Hopefully you have found this second part of 1st Sure Flat’s ‘Freeholders’ Guide to Health & Safety’ useful.  To view any of the guides go to our FAQs.  If you would like any further help or advice regarding freeholders’ obligations or freeholder insurance, then please get in touch and let 1st Sure Flats’ dedicated team help.   You can contact us by calling 0345 370 2842, email us at or if you’d like to get a free quote then just click here.