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Standard fact sheet.

Electrical safety for plumbers 

Plumbers are at risk of serious or fatal electric shock if they:

  • cut through a water pipe
  • remove a water meter 
  • disconnect the main earth wire from a water pipe.

When working with metallic water services, plumbers can get an electrical shock if there is a fault in the electrical supply system on the premises or in the street. Current will flow in the earth wire and onto the water piping system making it ‘live’ and cause a serious or fatal electric shock.

IMPORTANT – Plumbers should be aware that they could receive a fatal electric shock from a metallic water service if they do not employ safe working principals as outlined in this publication.

Remember – if you employ others, you are responsible for their occupational health and safety.

Working on water pipes

When you work on water pipes follow these procedures:

  1. Locate the main switches on the premises and turn them off where applicable.
  2. Attach a ‘Danger do not switch on’ tag or lock the switchboard to prevent operation until the work is complete.
  3. Fit an approved bridging conductor to either side of the section of the pipe being cut and keep it in place until the work is complete. It is recommended that you use a braided copper lead which will carry a minimum of 70 amps with insulated screw clamps (refer to Australian Standard 3500). 
  4. Make sure the surface of the pipe is clean and in good electrical contact with the clamps of the bridging conductor. The electrical bridging conductor must not be broken or removed until all work on the water service is complete and the continuity of the metallic service pipe is restored.
  5. Contact a licensed electrician if the main earth connection to the water pipe has to be disconnected. They can make the necessary alternations to maintain a safe and effective earthing system.
  6. If a metallic water service is being replaced with a plastic water pipe, the alterations to the earthing system should also be made by a licensed electrician.
Note – The water main and associated piping may still be ‘live’ if an electricity supply fault occurs on the street side of the water meter and the water service is not plastic. In this instance, you cannot eliminate the risk of electric shock by isolating the electrical power at the premises. The primary risk control measure is to attach a bridging conductor.

Safety recommendations 

The following tips are recommended for your safety:

  • If you see electric arcs or experience tingles, there may be a fault in the system. Report the incident to the local electrical network operator.
  • Use a bridging conductor when cutting out sections of water pipe that could carry electricity.
  • Use insulated gloves.
  • Use a safety switch to reduce the risk of shock from your portable tools.
  • Call 1100 before you dig to find out if there are any underground cables.
  • If you are required to work near the overhead electrical connection on the premises you may need to have the supply conductors disconnected. 
QUICK TIP – Before you connect your equipment to the customer’s power point you should use a power point tester to confirm the system has been isolated. You can purchase a power point tester from most electrical wholesalers.

Safety switches - power tool safety

A portable safety switch, also known as a Residual Current Device or RCD, should be used with all your equipment including extension leads. This will help protect you against accidents such as cords being damaged or faulty equipment. It cannot protect you against all faults that might occur on the customer's premises.

For more information contact our Energy and Utilities Unit:
Tel: 02 9895 0722

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