Electricity can kill you.
We all know that. Our parents told us that when we were kids and we’ve seen the cartoon - Man sticks his hand in toaster. Man flashes up like an X-ray and you can see his skeleton. Man falls over, looking like a very, very well-barbecued chicken.
That’s not quite how it happens. In reality, electricity doesn’t fry you unless you get an extremely large hit of it. It kills you by interrupting your heart rhythm.
Significantly, any electrical device used on a house wiring circuit can, under certain conditions, transmit a fatal current. And every house or place of work has these devices.
And, on top of that, there is the issue of fire. Electrical fires can be caused by heaters placed in dangerous positions or by the fitting of light bulbs with inappropriate wattages to light fittings.
They can also often caused by faulty electrical outlets and old, outdated appliances. Or they can be started by faults in appliance cords, receptacles and switches.
According to statistics from The Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council (ERAC), there were 67 fatalities between 1999 - 2003 resulting from electrical fault in Australia and New Zealand.
And between 2002 - 2007 in Australian and New Zealand, there were 11,260 fires attributed to electrical equipment faults.
Apart from the human cost, the economic cost of these fires and fatalities is estimated to be $489 million per annum.
Thankfully, the number of deaths by electrocution is trending downwards. During the 2000s, there was an average of 25 deaths recorded in Australia and New Zealand each year. During the 1990s, there were, on average, 49 deaths per year.
Of the 28 fatalities in the period 2009-10, seven involved the electricity supply network. (In most cases, death was due to accidental contact with electricity supply overhead conductors). And 21 deaths involved customer’s applications, appliances, or equipment.
So it is important that electrical equipment and devices are used correctly and meet safety standards.
E-commerce is blurring national boundaries in a lot of ways. It has meant that ‘global sourcing’ is becoming more widespread throughout the electrical industry. This has thrown up the issue of non-compliant products finding their way into Australia.
A survey recently conducted by the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA ) shed light on the extent of the problem.
According to the survey, 75% of electrical contractors questioned said that they had come across non-compliant products being used in Australia.
It is important for such contractors to understand their legal responsibilities and obligations in the area of compliance of electrical goods.
Firstly, the liability for products that are found to be non-compliant to Australian standards falls on the manufacturer or importer or the product. On top of that, if it can be proven that the electrical contractor knew that the product was non-compliant, some of the liability will fall on him/her also.
In the case that an electrical contractor purchases a product from overseas (e.g. on the internet), he/she is considered the importer of that product and is therefore liable for damages that arise from its non-compliance.
It is important to note that the above does not cover the incorrect installation of complaint products. Such liability falls not on the manufacturer or importer, but on the electrical contractor.