New safety alerts for foil insulation

The Electrical Safety Office of the Queensland Government has issued two safety alerts that relate specifically to the installation of insulation in domestic dwellings.  Several recommendations seem to address concerns aired by Chris Lehmann in SafetyAtWorkBlog on 12 February 2010.

One safety alert, concerning foil insulation, states:

“To reduce these risks, householders and tradespeople should not enter the ceiling space of a house where foil ceiling insulation is installed.  If access to the ceiling space cannot be avoided, householders and tradespeople should ensure that all sources of electricity supply to the premises are isolated before entry to the ceiling space.  This may include the identification and isolation of all sources of electricity supply to the premises by a licensed electrical contractor.  If there is another source of power connected to the house, such as a solar panel or generator, this must also be isolated before accessing the ceiling space.  Simply turning off all main switches at the switchboard/s may not isolate all sources of electricity supply to the premises.

The Electrical Safety Office considers that the safe removal of foil from the ceiling space provides the greatest level of electrical safety.  Alternatively, householders should consider the installation of safety switches for all final sub-circuits and sub-mains located in the ceiling space by a licensed electrical contractor.”

This is sound advice and it is a positive to see that elimination of the hazard has not been omitted.  The alert says

“If access to the ceiling space cannot be avoided….”

It may be impossible to undertake the work without accessing the ceiling space but it is important that options be considered because it might just be possible.

The other safety alert seems to be aimed at those licenced electricians who are likely to be undertaking inspection of recent insulation installations.  Part of the alert says:

“A number of factors should be considered as part of the electrical worker’s risk assessment before entering the ceiling space or commencing any work on such installations.  These factors include:

  • Electrical cables which may have been damaged during the installation of ceiling insulation e.g. cutting, piercing, nailing or stapling into electrical cables
  • Defective electrical cables e.g. perished or rodent-damaged cable insulation
  • Exposed terminals or conductors of electrical equipment in the ceiling space e.g. behind light fittings, fans etc
  • Longer-term electrical safety risks associated with foil insulation due to the disturbance of the foil, and home maintenance activities which may result in the electrification of the foil insulation.”

Queensland focuses on foil insulation risks as this is the preferred insulation material for tropical climates.

The two alerts are part of the need to clean-up some of the mess from the Federal Government’s now-cancelled insulation scheme but are also likely to form the base for safety requirements in the new scheme proposed for 1 July 2010.

Kevin Jones

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