Safety switches are often confused with surge protection devices although they are very different. Both are important to have installed in your home to protect you and your electronics from unwanted, strong electrical currents.
The biggest difference between a safety switch and a surge protector is that a safety switch is in place to protect people from electrocution, while surge protection devices (such as surge diverters or circuit breakers) look after your electrical equipment, wiring and plugged in personal devices.
Because the life-threatening risk of electrocution can bring, by law all newly built homes from 1991 onwards are required to have safety switches inbuilt as standard – this includes any older homes where electrical rewiring has been carried out. Mandatory safety switches will need to cover all power points and lighting circuits to protect you, onsight workers as well as your family.
Older homes might not have any protection.
What Does A Safety Switch Do?
A safety switch detects abnormalities in the flow of electricity. If there are electrical leaks – i.e. there is current missing, or there are unusual differences in the flow of electricity in each direction – it can mean that a charge (known as residual current) has built up in a device or in the wiring due to a fault.
If there is a faulty electrical system, device or appliance in your home there is a risk that a person may be shocked when they come near it – including when they go to plug it in, turn it on or turn it off. A person doesn’t necessarily need to make contact with the plug to receive a jolt of surplus electricity, just being in close proximity is enough in certain cases.
Electrocution disrupts a person’s electrical impulses controlling heartbeats. If the disruption is severe enough it can result in death which is why it’s important to prevent or limit the chance of high impact electrical flow.
How Does A Safety Switch Work?
A safety switch works by monitoring your home’s wiring for residual currents. It is able to detect changes and any energy loss, including when excess energy is escaping through unmonitored pathways – like a human body. It will then switch off power swiftly – usually in 0.3 seconds – before any excess voltage is able to connect and create an electrical flow.
While 300 milliseconds is a fast activation time, in some cases excess electricity looking to be grounded can move faster than this. For this reason safety switches do not offer a guarantee, however, the severity of the electrical shock, duration and fire risk resulting from strong electrical jumps can be greatly decreased even if the shutdown is not fast enough.
In order to make sure that all home circuits are covered you will need to call a licensed electrician to safely install and replace your safety switch.
You still need to exercise care when using electricity, dry your hands before touching power points, turn off unused power points, use child safeguards if you have young family members and always hire a professional, licensed electrician to carry out any electrical work.
While the probability of needing a safety switch is low, it’s a situation that can only be handled in advance so it’s well worth taking the time to understand your options and get some affordable safety devices put in place to make sure the worst-case scenario never happens.