How to Use RCDs

The French Enlightenment philosopher and writer Voltaire once said “Common sense is not so common". While, of course, most people consider themselves firm practitioners of common sense, everyone is guilty of lapsing once in a while. For example, have you ever needed to iron clothes in a hurry and used an old iron with an exposed wire or faulty plug that you’ve been meaning to replace? Or continued to use a faulty socket because the match is on the TV?

According to the Electrical Safety Council, 2.5 million people receive an electric shock per year in the UK, 350,000 of whom are seriously injured. Switching on to electrical safety can be a potentially life saving exercise, and familiarising yourself with RCD’s (residual current devices) can be a wise place to start.

The role of RCDs

By continually monitoring the electric current in a circuit, RCD’s are sensitive safety devices which automatically cut out electricity in case of a fault. When faults occur, such as a live wire becoming exposed, electricity can leak down inadvertent paths and result in electrical shocks, serious burns, and in extreme cases, death.

RCD’s sit between the electricity supply and devices, and offer more protection than a standard circuit breaker or fuse box. There are two types of RCD: fixed RCD’s which are installed within the consumer unit or fuse box, and a socket outlet or plug-in RCD which can be plugged into a socket. Fixed RCD’s offer the highest protection as they not only take care of all sockets on the circuit but also all connected devices.

Do I have an RCD?

It’s important to establish whether you have a fixed RCD already installed. To check whether there is one installed, take a look at your consumer unit (fuse box) for a button marked ‘T’ or ‘Test’. The test button is a standard part of RCD’s, as all electrical experts advise testing the device every three months.

While a fixed RCD plays an essential role in electric safety, it may not protect every circuit in your home. In order to determine which circuits are covered, pressing the test button will switch off all protected circuits. In other words, any devices which remain powered are not covered by the RCD. If you find that devices or circuits do not switch off, seek advice from a qualified electrician.

Plug-in RCDs

Whether you have a fitted RCD or not, using a plug-in RCD for certain devices such as outdoor equipment will provide additional short-term protection.

However, it is vital to bear in mind that a plug-in RCD will only cover connected devices, and installing a fixed RCD is the safest option in the long term.  Plug-in RCD’s can be found in most gardening and DIY stores and are an affordable interim safety measure.

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