What’s keeping you safe? The importance of safety switches in your switchboard

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Are you protected against electric shock in your home?

The differences between RCDs, CBs and RCBOs might seem minor, but they can be the difference between life and death when you come into contact with electricity in your home.

First off, let’s start with a few definitions.

RCDs (Residual Current Device), also known as safety switches, are the only safety device that will protect you against an electric shock. These devices detect ‘earth leakage current’ and will disconnect power quick enough to prevent injury and death. RCD's detect electricity leaking from a circuit and travelling where it shouldn’t (like through a person!). RCDs are probably the most vital component of all switchboards and are a mandatory requirement in every premises according to the Australian Wiring Rules.

CBs (Circuit Breakers) provide overload protection for electrical circuits. This means that if too much power is being drawn through a circuit the circuit breaker will trip. These devices are designed to prevent cables from overheating and starting a fire. They will also operate if there is an electrical short circuit which could be caused by rodents chewing cables, water getting into a light fitting or someone accidentally cutting/drilling into a cable.

RCBOs are a combination device that incorporates both an RCD and a CB within a single device. This is a relatively recent advancement in electrical safety equipment and they are the best solution for safety and reliability as they provide both over-current protection AND protection from electric shock. They also help to prevent nuisance tripping as every circuit has its own independent RCD unlike some older homes which might have a single RCD covering all the circuits. This means with RCBOs installed, in the event of a fault, you will only lose power to the faulty circuit not the whole house!

Common Problems

At Kenner Electrics, we work on a lot of switchboards! Our electricians frequently find non-compliant and unsafe switchboards in people’s homes. Here are the 5 most common problems we come across:

1. The switchboard has no RCDs (safety switches)

Without safety switches, your switchboard provides absolutely no protection against electric shock. Safety switches are the only device in the switchboard that provide protection from electric shocks to people and animals, and the electrical system in your home is unsafe without them. You can accidentally come into direct contact with electricity at many places in your home, so it's vital that you’re protected from electric shock on all circuits. For example, if the wiring in your oven is faulty it may result in the whole metal structure becoming live; or a cracked light switch could expose live parts. Obviously, we want to make sure that people are never coming into contact with live electricity in the first place, but safety switches are a vital fail-safe in case something goes wrong.

 

2. There is only one RCD (safety switch) protecting multiple circuits

A single safety switch is better than none, but there are a host of other issues that can arise when only one safety switch is protecting multiple circuits. When there is only a single safety switch in your switchboard, it means that all the connected circuits will trip every time it detects earth leakage (or a disruption to the circuit). This may affect power to your entire home! A single RCD drastically increases the chances of nuisance tripping where there may not be a major problem but your device might still trip.

Non-compliant Switchboard
Switchboard with a single safety switch protecting multiple circuits

3. There is a malfunctioning RCD (safety switch)

Safety switches that aren’t operating correctly may cause nuisance tripping, or may not operate at all in the event of a fault. Faulty RCDs should be replaced to ensure you are protected by properly working RCDs.

Burnt RCD in switchboard
Burnt RCD caused by incorrect wiring in a switchboard

4. Poor quality parts

Cheap is never a good thing when it comes to safety equipment. It’s so important that your switchboard and safety devices are good quality to ensure they will last and that they’ll operate correctly in the event of a fault. As a consumer you should demand that your electrician installs good quality RCDs, CBs and RCBOs whenever you get work done in your switchboard. Kenner Electrics will never install devices that we wouldn’t trust in our own homes and this is why we install safety devices from quality manufacturers like Hager, Clipsal, NHP and ABB.

 

5. The switchboard has old-style fuses

There are still thousands of homes in Australia in desperate need of a upgrade which are still relying on old fuse boards that should have been retired more than 20 years ago. Fuse boards may not have safety switches, and so they provide no protection against electric shock. They are also harder to maintain and create a risk of electric shock due to exposed live parts when replacing fuses. These old style fuse boards are no longer compliant with current electrical safety standards and should be upgraded to a modern switchboard with RCDs or RCBOs by a licensed electrician to ensure your home is safe.

Old Style Federal Fuse Board
Old-style fuse boards provide no protection against electric shock

Why Upgrade?

  • Have safety switches or RCBOs installed to keep your family safe from electric shock
  • Have circuit breakers installed to keep your home safe from fire
  • Bring your switchboard up to current electrical safety standards
  • Prevent nuisance tripping, or the loss of power to your entire house when a single circuit trips

Switchboard Upgrade
Upgrade to a modern, compliant switchboard with safety switches to keep your home and family safe

At Kenner Electrics, our electricians frequently find non-compliant and unsafe switchboards in people’s homes. If we find an issue in your switchboard while working at your home or conducting a Home Electrical Safety Inspection, we will always let you know about the issue, explain it to you in easy to understand language (no electrical jargon!) and provide you with options to bring your switchboard up to current safety standards. It’s all part of our service to you.

If you’re unsure about the safety of your switchboard, give Kenner Electrics a call on (03) 9996 0663.