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What You Need to Know About Your Safety Switch

If there’s one true MVP when it comes to your home’s electrical systems, it’s the humble safety switch. Sure, every component and element of your system plays a vital role in providing electricity to your home. But the safety switch is key to ensuring your electricity works safely and does not put you and your home at risk.

We often take the safety switch for granted, and just assume it simply does what it needs to do when it needs to be done.

But what exactly does it do? How does it work? And how do you make sure it keeps working for as long as possible? We’ll try and answer those questions by exploring what you need to know about your safety switch.

What Does a Safety Switch Do?

A safety switch, also known as a Residual Current Device (RCD), is fitted to an electrical circuit in your home, and is constantly monitoring the current travelling through it. If the safety switch detects an electrical fault in the circuit, it immediately shuts off the supply of electricity passing through that circuit.

This helps to significantly reduce hazards such as fire, electric shock or injury, and death, all of which can be caused by a faulty electrical system. This can happen often when there are too many appliances running at the same time.

There are different types of safety switches available. They include:

  • Switchboard safety switches
  • Powerpoint safety switches
  • Portable safety switches

For optimal safety measures, every electrical circuit in your home, from the lights to the powerpoints, heating, appliances and even outdoor electrical systems, should have its own safety switch connected.

How Does a Safety Switch Work?

We know that safety switches are always monitoring the flow of electrical current running through the circuit. As part of this process, it identifies flow disparities in the neutral and live wires.

This will typically happen when the electrical current is diverted away from its usual circuit and through a different or additional variable, such as a person. This can result in an electric shock, causing injury to the person, or the more fatal electrocution. To minimise the risk of either of these occurring, a safety switch will then shut off the power flowing through that circuit, usually in less than a second.

You will see on your RCD that the switch will trip to the ‘Off’ position when successfully activated. To restore the power to that circuit you simply need to flick the switch back from Off to On.

Of course, if it keeps shutting off, it’s likely doing it for a reason and is an indication that there may be greater problems that need addressing. In this case, you’ll likely benefit from having a licensed electrician come and assess the affected electrical circuit in your home.

Safety Switches and Your Home

Across Australia, in every state and territory of the country, it is a legal requirement that you have a safety switch installed in your home. The specificities of the laws relating to safety switches do differ slightly between the states and territories, usually around the minimum required number of safety switches installed in your home.

However, the common factor among each is that any new home built must have at least one safety switch installed. In some states this has been the law since 1991. Any established home being put up for sale, no matter how new or old it is, must also have at least one RCD switch installed before it goes on the market.

Safety switches are typically installed as part of your home’s electrical switchboard. If you haven’t had a safety switch installed in your home or are unsure if your installation meets the legal requirements of your state, a licensed electrical contractor will be able to get your home up to standard.

What is the Difference Between a Safety Switch and a Circuit Breaker?

You may have heard terms like fuses and circuit breakers and assumed that they were the same as safety switches. And it would be a fair assumption. However, there are differences between them that are worth noting.

Like safety switches, circuit breakers (also known as fuses), can cut the power to your home. Both are typically located in your home’s switchboard as well.

The key difference is that a circuit breaker is designed to protect home electrical systems and wiring by shutting down the power when it identifies an electrical current overload, a short circuit, or a fault. On the other hand, the main purpose of the safety switch is to cut the electricity to protect people from electrical related hazards.

Safety Switch Testing

To ensure the safety switches in your home continue to work and offer the necessary protection, it is important to test them periodically. Generally, twice a year is sufficient – many professionals recommend doing it at the beginning and end of daylight saving.

Safety switch testing is relatively easy. On the device, next to the actual switch, you should see a button labelled with the word Test or just the letter T. Simply press the test button; all going well you should see the switch automatically move to the off position.

If that doesn’t happen, you’ll likely need a qualified electrician to assess your safety switch and take the necessary course of action to fix it. Just make sure you turn off the power while you wait for the electrician to arrive.

All in All …

Maintaining optimal electrical safety in the home is crucial for the health and wellbeing of you and your family, and for the protection of the home itself. A working safety switch is one of the most effective measures of making your home electrically safe. There is certainly a lot worth knowing when it comes to safety switches. We’ve looked at:

  • What they do
  • How they work
  • Legal safety switch requirements for your home
  • Safety switch and circuit breaker similarities and differences
  • Testing of safety switches

With these in mind, it’s clear just how important a safety switch is to you and your home. If you’re in an older home that doesn’t have an RCD installed, or you likely need more in your home, get in touch with an experienced and qualified electrician today.



Published: 2022-12-20

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