Home Industry News A Shock to the System – Electrical Safety in an Ageing Society

A Shock to the System – Electrical Safety in an Ageing Society

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Electrical Safety First  discuss older people have obtaining insurance and the issues they face from electrical accidents.

Historically, older people’s problems obtaining insurance have mostly related to motor and travel cover and these were addressed by the ‘signposting’ agreement introduced in 2012.

With many older people now choosing to stay in their own homes, sometimes with the health problems that age can bring, there are other issues which may need to be considered.  This is particularly important in relation to home insurance where,  while the vast majority (around 99%) of motor insurance claims are paid, one in five home insurance claims have been rejected.

Electrical safety for older people is rarely headline news, despite the fact that they are at greater risk from electrical accidents and fire than any other age group.  It is particularly important to address this as almost 50% of all domestic fires in Great Britain are caused by electricity and these types of fires also severely injure more than a quarter of a million people each year – significantly higher numbers than those affected by gas and carbon monoxide.

While there are significant benefits when people remain in their own homes for longer, as the home-owner grows older it may mean that  both electrical systems and appliances are aging too and in addition regular home safety checks are forgotten. A report by the charity, Electrical Safety First – Shock to the System: Electrical Safety in an Ageing Society – found that 42% of householders who have lived in their property for 30 or more years are living in dwellings which fail the Government’s Decent Homes Standard.

Older people tend to be owner-occupiers, often living in homes built before 1982 that can lack key electrical safety features, such as a modern fuse box or wiring. Yet critically, quality standards for social housing and the private rented sector do not apply to owner-occupied housing.  [Electrical Safety First’s] Research1 found also, that many of those who have lived in their home for decades have never thought about its electrical safety.

It is important to remember that electrical risk isn’t limited to those who live their later years under their own roof, surprisingly care homes are not legally required to carry out mandatory electrical safety checks either.

The charity recently focused its attention on Scotland, producing the report Age Safe Scotland: Electrical Safety in an Ageing Society.  It noted that while people aged 60 plus in Scotland make up just 18% of the population, they account for 37% of the casualties and fatalities involving electricity. It also found that between 2014 and 2015 there were 81 fires with an electrical source in Scottish care homes and the number of fires in that sector has increased over the last five years.

Having a basic appreciation of electrical safety might  help insurance brokers to advise client in relation to the additional risks they may face.

Electical Safelty Tips

Electrical Safety First recommends that a registered electrician should be used to undertake regular Electrical Installation Condition Reports – usually every 10 years – but even a basic visual check can identify potential risk. So here are the Charity’s top tips for what to look for when considering electrical safety for older people.

Fuse boxes: All fuse boxes should contain a main switch, fuses and/or circuit breakers. All modern fuse boxes will contain an RCD (Residual Current Device), which will rapidly cut the power to prevent an electric shock.  Older fuse boxes often have a wooden back, cast iron switches, or look like a mix of different fuse boxes.

Plugs and sockets: If the house has round pin sockets, braided flex hanging from ceiling fittings, or sockets mounted on skirting boards, then the electrical system could be over 50 years old. Plugs and sockets should not be damaged, show burn or scorch marks, or give out excessive heat or make a crackling sound when in use.

Light fittings: As with plugs and sockets, any overheating, discolouration or scorching is a warning sign. If there are signs of cracking or burn-marks around light fittings, they should not be used.

Cables: These should be in good condition, with no sign of damage, cracking or splitting and should be enclosed in a PVC sheath. Signs of excessive wear and tear on appliance cables should also be checked.  Trailing leads or cables can be very dangerous for older people and should be placed out of the way..


Socket overload:  Overloading sockets can lead to fire – and different types of electrical products use different amounts of power.  Plugging just a toaster and a kettle into an extension lead can overload and making a ‘daisy-chain’ of extension leads can also cause problems.  Electrical Safety First recommends using a multi-way bar extension lead rather than a block adaptor.

Kitchen safety: Fires can be caused by the build-up of fat on electric cookers, microwave air vents being blocked by objects being left on top of them, or by dirt, dust and crumbs blocking ventilation and causing products to overheat.

Bathroom safety: Any electrical work in the bathroom must be carried out by a registered electrician. All light fittings should be enclosed and out of reach of wet hands;  ceiling-mounted pull cord switches are preferable wall-mounted. If there are mains sockets they should be at least 3 metres away from the bath or shower. Water heaters should be fixed and permanently wired, unless powered by a socket at the required distance from the bath or shower.

Safe storage: There is real fire risk if the cupboard where the fuse boxes and meters are located is also used to store flammable items such as coats or cleaning materials. If this is a cupboard under the stairs it is additionally risky as a fire in this area might  cut off an escape route.

Portable heaters:  These cause a significant number of domestic fires each year. To be used safely they should be kept on a level surface well away from combustible material and never left unattended or used while sleeping. They should not be powered via an extension lead, as they can easily overheat and start a fire.

Electrical Safety First has developed a series of tools to enhance electrical safety and reduce risk. In addition to a range of guides, it has produced an app for mobile phones which allow a quick, visual check of home electrics and an online tool to help prevent overloading sockets. For more information, visit the website at: www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk.

Electrical Safety First is a campaigning charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries and damage caused by electricity. It works with industry, NGOs, Westminster and the Devolved Governments, to improve electrical safety. It is currently lobbying for free, five yearly electrical safety checks for all households with one person of pensionable age, as well as mandatory checks in the social rented and care sectors.


  1. A Shock to the System – Electrical Safety in an Ageing Society. Issued Jan 2015 and produced in collaboration with The International Longevity Centre UK


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