Electricity has become such a necessity in our everyday lives that we sometimes forget how dangerous it can be. Data collated by the Electrical Safety Council from the World Health Organisation (WHO), local government in the UK and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) delivers some surprising statistics: on average an electrical shock will affect 12.5% of us, with one person dying as a result, every single week in the UK.
Add to this potentially wet conditions and the risk of injury – or even death – from electricity in the garden can be greatly increased. Follow our key safety points to avoid any unnecessary accidents.
Take steps to avoid an accident
These may sound like obvious ways of avoiding garden accidents with electricity but often the most common causes of electrical injuries can easily be prevented.
- Look after your power tools – check before and after every use for broken parts or fraying leads.
- Never clean, check or adjust any tools while still connected to the electricity supply. Always unplug first.
- Don’t do DIY repairs. If you notice a problem with the electrics of your power tool then, unless you’re a trained electrician, don’t try and fix it yourself. Shop around for a professional repair person instead.
- Water and electricity don’t mix – even if it’s just drizzling, don’t operate electrical equipment in the rain and never immerse or clean equipment with water. Similarly, don’t store your tools in damp or humid conditions.
- Don’t overload multi-plug extensions or run long extension leads from your home into the garden. Electrical surges can cause accidents and start fires.
Be careful with power tools in the garden
As well as ensuring that you respect electricity and look after your power tools, you can avoid nasty accidents by taking care when using your equipment outside. From ensuring you wear protective clothing and good footwear (which will help to keep you ‘earthed’ and avoid electrocution) to being careful when digging in case of buried electrical cables, there are lots of ways to stay safe.
The biggest danger of electrocution, when using your power tools, is accidentally cutting cables when hedge trimming or mowing your lawn. This can be easily avoided by using an RCD (see below) and ensuring that cables are kept behind you at all times, cutting in the opposite direction.
If your mower runs over a foreign object like as a rock then turn it off immediately, unplug it from the mains power supply and make sure that the rotator blades have come to a complete stop before checking to see if any damage has occurred. If it is damaged then don’t just plough on regardless, get it fixed before continuing in case dangerous electrical damage has occurred that you can’t see.
Using an RCD for safety
Even if you follow all of these precautions and consider yourself to be a safety expert, accidents with power tools can still happen. Although most garden power tools simply plug into any mains socket, you can take additional precautions. The Electrical Safety Council recommends the use of a residual current device (RCD), which automatically switches off electricity whenever there is an electrical fault.
Fitting an RCD is easy – you can buy a portable one that you just plug into the mains socket or you can get a registered electrician to provide RCD protection to all the sockets in your home. If you live in a new build then chances are you already have this, as RCD protection is a condition of national safety checks for new electrical installations – check with an electrician if you’re not sure.
When buying a plug-in RCD make sure it meets British Standard 7071, its rated current is 13 amps and its rated tripping current is 30 milliamps. Also regularly press the ‘test’ button of your RCD device and if it starts tripping your electricity for no reason, replace it.
Keep the vulnerable ones away
If you have young children and pets then you need to ensure that they aren’t exposed in any way to the potential electrical hazards of power tools. Make sure children are supervised and kept away from outdoor tools and electrical sources.
If you have a cat, dog or rodent as a pet and they – like many animals – see trailing leads as something they can chase, pounce on and bite, then make sure they’re locked away while you’re using power tools in the garden. An accident harming you or the family pet would be devastating and is easily avoided.
Don’t let the dangers of using powerful electrical tools outside put you off their use though. Take care and it’s completely possible to make the most of these time-saving devices without ever having any accidents or problems. Check out our power tools category for more information on power tools and safety.