30 October 2009

Electrical hazards from roof installation

Earlier this month, a young roof insulation installer was killed when a a staple used to fix aluminium reflective insulation pierced an electrical cable . Another person helping with the work suffered burns and electrical shock. At another installation site in Brisbane, the homeowner got zapped when he leaned against a metal awning on the back deck of his house after a foil reflective insulation was installed . An electrician detected a 240-volt charge running through the insulation to sarking in the roof and walls and the roof gutters, awnings and poles, all because the foil insulation was stapled into a power cable that was switched off at the time.

The federal government's Home Insulation Program  offers ceiling insulation worth up to $1,600 to owner-occupiers, landlords and tenants. [Update: The home insulation rebate has now been slashed to $1,200]

 [Update: This scheme has now been abandoned effective 19 February 2010] If you have had your roof insulated under this scheme, it is best to get it inspected to stay safe.

The subsidies have boosted the amount of roof insulation installed and Australia is moving towards the government's vision of having Energy Efficient Homes. However, the high demand has also attracted a number of inexperience installers to the industry, and their shoddy work is putting homes and lives at risk. Inadvertently, the program seems to be contributing to an alarming spike in roof space fires and electrical risks. Homeowners should be aware of potential electrical hazards that may be caused by unsafe roof insulation and know the ways to protect yourself from these dangers.

Fire Risk from roof insulation

  • Insulation should never be too close to downlights and their transformers, electrical cables or exhaust fans. Though most insulation is heat-resistant to some extent it can still ignite if it directly covers electrical cables or devices and is exposed to the heat generated for long periods of time
  • Minimum clearance required is 50mm around incandescent lamps or 100mm if located next to structural timber, and 200mm for halogen lamps
  • Downlight guards or other physical fire-resistant barriers should be installed before the insulation is put in [Update: Covers on downlights are now mandatory]
  • Blow-in or loose-fill insulation should be secured properly (usually by spraying an adhesive solution) to prevent movement. Else this can jam blades of an exhaust fan, for e.g., and cause overheating
  • A roof fire is not usually detected by a smoke alarm since the smoke is above the alarm. Homeowners are often unaware of the fire until the damage has been done, and embers fall through air-conditioning ducts or the roof collapses. This makes prevention of any potential fire risk even more important

Electrical shock risk from roof insulation

  • This specifically applies to conductive type of roof insulation such as aluminium foil reflective insulation [Update: Government's new safety guidelines include a ban on the use of metal fasteners on foil insulation]
  • Check that the insulator takes adequate care when installing near electrical equipment including cables, light fittings and ceiling fans, etc

Choose a registered roof insulation installer and licensed electrician

  • Select your installer only from the government provided Installer Provider Register  
  • If in doubt or worried about your roof insulation installation, arrange for an inspection by a licensed electrical contractor

Geoff is a registered electrician with over 20 years experience in the industry. He is also licensed to provide data and voice services. Baishakhi is an MBA and looks after the "business" side of Epping Electrical. Read about Epping Electrical here.

Looking for electrical supplies? Check out these bestsellers...

18 October 2009

Stay healthy on the job

Fun run at Meadowglen International Athletic Stadium

You don’t stand in front of a mirror before a run wondering what the road will think of your outfit,
You don’t have to listen to its jokes and pretend they’re funny in order to run on it.
It would not be easier to run if you dressed sexier.
The road doesn’t notice if you’re not wearing lipstick.
Does not care how old you are.
You do not feel uncomfortable because you make more money than the road.
And you can call on the road whenever you feel like it.
Whether it’s been a day or even a couple of hours since your last date.
The only thing the road cares about, is that you pay it a visit once in a while.
Nike. No games…just sports…
from the movie “What Women Want”

Today we went for a 5km "Fun Run" at the Meadowglen International Athletic Stadium. The morning dawned wonderfully bright and clear and we woke up quite early for a Sunday to be in time for the registration and the fabulous pre-run aerobics workout conducted by the YMCA aerobics team. There were smiling volunteers cheering us on along the way and a professional timing company that recorded finish times electronically via an ankle band. At the end of the race there were free fruits, water and even a showbag for everyone. All in all, it was a fantastic way to stay healthy while having fun doing it.

Update: A year on, we have signed on to become the major sponsors of the 10th anniversary of the Meadowglen and YMCA fun run!! :) We at Epping Electrical are immensely proud to be able to take this giant step forward in supporting our local community

As entrepreneurs and small business owners, time is money for us and any time taken off for sickness or injury loses money. So, in quite an important way, health and fitness affects the bottomline of our business. And we do all we can to integrate a reasonably healthy way of living into our lifestyle. In simple terms this boils down to two things:
  • Eat right
  • Exercise
And here's how we do it.

Eat right

Do not skip meals.

Cut down on junk food and sugary fizzy drinks as much as possible. What we do is have an esky or portable fridge in the van  and fill that with sandwiches, fruits and drinks we can have any time on the way.

And yes, do pack your lunch. Just some sandwiches with last night's roast or some deli in rolls not just saves time in driving to a McD but saves a lot of money as well!!


General fitness and exercise is important for everyone but more so for electricians who are likely to undertake a lot of activities on the job that might lead to stress related injury. Electricians may spend long hours cramped in roof spaces or otherwise stooped over at ground or floor level, work with vibrating heavy power tools, lift and pull heavy cables, copper wires and electrical appliances - putting them at a much higher risk than general public for traumatic joint/muscle injury.

An electrician's needs to attain a high fitness level to prevent these kinds of injuries.
  • Do some basic stretching exercises at the start and end of each day to avoid injury to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues
  • Join a team sport, go mountain biking, swimming with family and friends or join a dance class. There are various fun ways to stay fit depending on what you like to do, and doing it with a partner, family or friends makes it so much more interesting
  • Look out for fun events in the neighbourhood, like the "Fun Run" in Epping we went to today.  The summer athletics season has just started and such events should be more frequent the next few months
To find the perfect accessory to support your quest for fitness, check these reviews of fitness accessories
To find fitness centres and options in Victoria, check these Fitness VIC reviews

Geoff is a registered electrician with over 20 years experience in the industry. He is also licensed to provide data and voice services. Baishakhi is an MBA and looks after the "business" side of Epping Electrical. Read our story here.

Looking for electrical supplies? Check out these bestsellers...

14 October 2009

Top 10 safety tips for christmas lights

Houses decorated with Diwali lights - India

In three days from now, we will celebrate Diwali - the festival of lights. Soon it will be time for Halloween and then before we know it, Christmas will be upon us. One of the major activities for all of these festivals is decorating our houses and streets with lights. Unfortunately, thousands of people around the country spend the holiday season in hospital - admitted for a decorating related injury including falls, cuts, electrical shocks and burns.

To stay safe and worry-free this Diwali and Christmas, follow these simple tips and avoid decorating hazards

1Make sure you use "outdoor" (weatherproof) lights for outdoors. The packaging should clearly state whether the lights can be used indoors, outdoors or both. Also use only certified, quality products

2When you unpack that box of lights from last year, first check it for defects - frayed wires, burned out bulbs, loose connections. Replace dead bulbs with bulbs of same wattage as original strand

3Use only plastic clips or hooks to hang the lights. NEVER staple or nail the light strings

4Do not place the lights near sources of heat such as heaters, fireplace, candles or even electronic items that are likely to become hot on use. Make sure none of the bulbs rest on the light string either

5Do not cover the light bulbs with inflammable material such as cloth or paper

6Check the recommended amount of light sets allowed on one string and the rating of the extension cord and power point to see that they are not overloaded. Also use a portable safety switch or connect to a circuit protected by your main safety switch. If in doubt, call a qualified electrician for proper outdoor lights installation

7Do not expose the extension cord to the weather or use it near water. Cover it if it is on a walkway and never place it across a driveway. Always unwind it completely to avoid overheating.

8Do not touch a festival-light display. Turn it off and unplug before you do anything

9Have a sturdy ladder for hanging the lights at heights. Move it as you work instead of leaning out. Check the balance each time you move

10Switch the lights off when you are not home, or are asleep

Have a happy festive season and holiday this year. Stay safe!

Geoff is a registered electrician with over 20 years experience in the industry. He is also licensed to provide data and voice services. Baishakhi is an MBA and looks after the "business" side of Epping Electrical. Read our story here.

Looking for electrical supplies? Check out these bestsellers...

13 October 2009

Nepal through an electrician's lens

Just back from a fantastic trip through Nepal, we are yet to get over the absolutely heavenly natural beauty and amazing history of this tiny Himalayan country. [Check pictures here] Good infrastructure, though, is something the nation is still struggling to achieve. It is a much more difficult goal here than in other places, being prone to all sorts of natural disasters from floods and earthquakes to landslides and of course because of its treachorously mountainous geography. Hundreds of small villages are totally isolated - being accessible only by foot or sometimes on mule. Considerable improvement have been made in the past few years, including innovative simple solutions such as the gravity ropeway by Practical Action, and we do wish them the best in their journey as a new democratic republic.

Here is what we saw through our electrician eyes as we travelled from Pokhara to Kathmandu.

An illegal hookup to the powerline to siphon power
Power theft is a major cause of concern in Nepal and other countries in South Asia. Australia has also seen rising cases of power theft in the past few years as electricity costs have skyrocketed. In Queensland alone, customers siphoning electricity through dangerous illegal homemade hook-ups was estimated to cost about $30 million in 2008. The practice is unsafe and also burdens honest customers with rising prices.

How NOT to connect wires: Dangerous open wiring against the backdrop of a Himalayan mountain
While there, we read stories in the local newspapers of injury/deaths by electrocution through coming in contact with naked live wires or short circuit in a home water pump and so on. Such injuries and fatalities are even more sad being preventable.

Good luck to the electrician who tries to figure out the correct wire in this chaos!!

On the last day of our trip, while we were making the final payment to our travel agent, we suddenly saw some men running past saying something and our agent rushed to the switchboard and turned everything off!! Seeing a lot of people running somewhere, we ran - without understanding anything of course - with them to survive whatever it was they were fleeing from. Then there was a very loud hissing, sparking kind of sound and the crowd ran backwards!! Finally after a minute of running back and forth, the sound died down and we gingerly craned our necks to find the cause. An overhead power wire had just molten and was hanging down. All this while it had been arcing and jumping around from side to side!! Boy are we glad to get back to safer shores!! :)

Geoff is a registered electrician with over 20 years experience in the industry. He is also licensed to provide data and voice services. Baishakhi is an MBA and looks after the "business" side of Epping Electrical. Read our story here.

Looking for electrical supplies? Check out these bestsellers...