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Here's Why Your Safety Switch Keeps Tripping

A safety switch that keeps tripping can be frustrating, but it’s effectively doing exactly what it’s supposed to. A safety switch is in your meter box to protect people from electrical shock. If it trips, it has detected a fault somewhere in your home.

You can easily reset the switch and get on with things. But if your safety switch continues to trip over and over, then there’s an underlying issue you need to address to ensure a safe household for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about problematic safety switch trips:

What is a Safety Switch?

An RCD safety switch (residual current device) is a crucial component of every switchboard and meter box that shuts off the power supply to shield people from electrical shock. For example, a faulty appliance or damaged wiring can leak current or send a surge through your electrical work, posing a threat to occupants of the premises.

A safety switch automatically detects these issues, and at 30mA, it shuts off the power within 0.03 seconds (30 milliseconds) before the current can shock people or cause a fire. In short, a safety switch protects people from a raft of electrical hazards.

A safety switch continuously measures the current ‘tripping’ at the sign of irregularities. The safety switches installed come in many shapes and sizes, with all leading electrical brands producing Type 2 switches that are suitable for residential purposes.

Are Safety Switches Compulsory?

In short, yes. Safety switches are compulsory for new homes and rental properties, and require installation before any property sale. The rules differ slightly from state to state, but it’s generally accepted that the more, the better. One safety switch per circuit can help ensure that one faulty appliance doesn’t cause a blackout across the home. So, one safety switch for the lighting, one for the power points, one for large appliances, one for pool equipment, air conditioning, etc.

If a safety switch keeps tripping, you may need to replace it. But it’s far more likely that the switch is working correctly and is responding to reoccurring faults in your electrical systems. So what are the reasons behind a constantly tripping safety switch? Let’s find out!

safety switch example

5 Common Causes of Tripping Safety Switches

Safety switches are designed to trip. If a safety switch keeps tripping, it’s likely just doing its job, and the problem lies elsewhere. The good news is you can do some basic fault finding before deciding it’s time to call in a licenced electrician for RCD safety switches or electrical repairs. Here are the common culprits and advice for a safety switch tripping:

1. A Faulty Appliance

A damaged or faulty appliance can leak electrical current increasing over 30mA, causing the switch to trip. It is pretty easy to detect which appliances are tripping your safety switch. First, unplug all the devices from their power points, then test each one by one until the safety switch trips. Then remove the culprit from use.

2. Nuisance Tripping

Nuisance tripping occurs when several appliances connected to the same electrical circuits generate low levels of current leaking and, when combined, exceed the trip threshold of the RCD safety switch. This tends to occur more when multiple appliances are heating simultaneously – microwave, clothes dryer, kettle – all on the same electrical circuit.

To minimise the risk of danger, you can limit the number of appliances plugged in at one time. Alternatively, upgrading your meter box with additional circuits provides a home with a greater capacity to run appliances simultaneously. Have a licensed electrician take care of the upgrade and fit a safety switch on each circuit so if one goes out, it won’t send the whole house back to the Middle Ages.

power outage

3. Lightning Strike

During electrical storms, there’s potential for lighting to strike the home or nearby power lines and overload your electrical system. Hopefully, the safety switch should trip in time to save the day from electrical faults. Just make sure you wait for the storm to pass before resetting the switch.

There’s a commonly held belief that power boards with built-in surge protectors protect TVs, washing machines and a wide range of appliances from damage. This is untrue. A direct lightning strike can still reach an appliance, causing damage. The safety mechanism in power boards can prevent damage from surges. However, in the event of a storm, remove the plug from each power point to reduce the likelihood of faulty appliances or overloaded power sockets.

4. Faulty Wiring

One of the most significant fire risks in your home is faulty wiring. A combination of wear and tear, rain damage, vermin and careless home renovations can all see wiring fray or come loose. A working safety switch should trip before the damaged electrical wiring can start a fire, but it doesn’t hurt to be on notice for the tell-tale signs.

Flickering lights, buzzing sounds, warm to touch spots and burning smells are all taken as a good indicator that your wiring is not working correctly. As a precaution, shut off the whole electricity supply at the fuse box and call a professional within the electrical industry for a wiring upgrade.

5. Faulty Safety Switch

If none of the above factors applies, and the safety switch stays off, the fault may lie with the RCD itself. This is far less likely than the other causes, but there is always the potential for electrical components to fail or to have not been installed correctly.

Ensure a qualified electrical contractor repairs every wiring issue and safety switch installation. As a result, electrical shock risks will be reduced significantly, and the home’s electrical safety dramatically increases.

How to Test a Safety Switch

Testing a safety switch is easy, and electricians recommend testing each one every three months. Here’s what to do:

  • Firstly, let everyone in your household know that you will test the switches because this should shut off all power within the home.
  • Next, go to the meter box, locate the safety switches and press the ‘T’ or ‘Test’ button on each.
  • If each switch is working correctly, everything will be shut off. This includes the lights, power point circuit and appliances.
  • Check around the home to make sure you’ve switched everything off. If so, then congratulations, your switches are functioning correctly.
  • If the power has not been cut to the connected circuit, your home is not protected. Therefore, it’s time to call in an electrician. They can replace a faulty safety switch with ease. Your on-site expert can also test and investigate for the source of the fault.

After testing, wait two to three minutes before resetting to avoid possible appliance damage.

Safety Switch vs Circuit Breaker – What’s the Difference?

Safety switches and circuit breakers are two prominent features of your meter box that people often mistake for one another, despite having different functions.

As previously mentioned, the safety switch is mandatory for all new systems as it helps protect occupants from electric shock. Circuit breakers protect the wiring and circuitry from surges so they don’t overheat and start electrical fires.

Both are essential, but one protects people while the other protects your electrical system itself.

By using the above information, you’re well on your way to protecting all the appliances and people within your home from electrical hazards.

Should you require emergency repairs or scheduled maintenance, consider making Metropolitan your port of call. We’re your local electrician group providing a wide range of electrical services and your safety is our top priority.

References

Government of South Australia
Work Safe Queensland


Published: 2020-03-30

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