Don't dabble with danger in the garden

30 June 2006

Electrical safety outdoors

In a bid to improve safety and cut accidents, the Electrical Safety Council is calling on all gardeners to double check their electrics before plugging in power tools for outdoor and garden work.

Casual use of electrical equipment in the garden, such as not checking old plugs, replacing damaged cables or not making sure that circuits are connected to a power breaker or RCD (residual current device), is not only irresponsible, it can also lead to serious injury - or even death.

Around 300,000 people in the UK visited their accident and emergency departments in 2004 after having an accident in the garden and, says the Electrical Safety Council, a significant proportion of these were injured whilst using electrical equipment.

Emma McCarthy, director of the Electrical Safety Council says: "People are far too casual about using electricity in the garden and we need to raise awareness of the dangers of using electrical appliances outdoors. Simply plugging in your lawn mower and using an extension lead without first checking the condition of the plugs and cables or checking whether you have a power breaker or RCD is simply irresponsible."

The Electrical Safety Council is recommending the use of an RCD at all times when electrical equipment is used in the garden to prevent electric shocks. An RCD is available from most DIY and garden centres and costs less than £10. It works by automatically switching off the electricity when it detects an earth fault, this can happen when a cable is mowed over or cut through.

Using electrical appliances outdoors is particularly hazardous because of the presence of water and damp conditions, especially when the user is not wearing the appropriate protective clothing. In addition, the extremes of weather can also make equipment deteriorate faster outdoors and therefore be more dangerous to use. Even using a lawn mower can prove fatal, says the Electrical Safety Council.

Tough new laws now effectively ban DIY gardeners from installing their own electrics in ponds, sheds, garages and greenhouses. From 1st January last year (2005) all new electrical installation work in the garden needs to be carried out by an electrician registered with a government-approved scheme. The law, introduced under Part P of the Building Regulations, aims to reduce the number of deaths caused by faulty electrics.

Part P applies to garden lighting, pond lighting, pond pumps, swimming pools, and saunas, along with outbuildings such as sheds, detached garages and greenhouses. Local authorities can order the removal or correction of any work that does not comply with these requirements and householders could be fined up to £5,000.

"This law is making gardens safer and is long overdue", continues Emma McCarthy.

Gardeners should be aware of the new law so that they ensure that work is carried out by a registered electrician. With regard to the use of electrical appliances, anyone working in the garden should be aware of the potential dangers of using such equipment when it is not connected via a power breaker or RCD.

Avoid accidents and stay inside the law - follow the Electrical Safety Council's top tips for using electrical equipment in the garden:

  • Never use electrical equipment in wet weather
  • Use a residual current device (RCD) or power breaker on all appliances
  • When buying electrical garden (or DIY) tools, look for the BEAB (British Electrotechnical Approvals Board) Approved Mark or European Community (CE) safety symbol
  • Check cables and flexes regularly for frays and kinks
  • Check plugs to make sure they are firmly wired and not damaged
  • Replace damaged flexes or plugs
  • Fully unwind extension leads before use
  • Never clean or maintain electrical equipment while it is still plugged in 

For further information contact