As power cuts may hit the UK this winter, learn how to minimise the disruption, and stay compliant and safe.
With the world in turmoil, there have been dire predictions of the UK being plunged into darkness this winter, possibly on a rolling basis to save energy. If the worst does happen, if you’re a business owner or safety manager, you should have a plan of action.
Before a Power Cut – Knowledge Businesses Should Have
The practical impact on employers will vary widely depending on their sector and activities, as well as the frequency, duration and notice of any rolling outages. Ensuring the resilience of IT servers and systems will be a priority for many. Manufacturers will face challenges, such as keeping production lines and refrigeration systems running, while retailers and hospitality may not be able to provide their usual services, or even remain open at all.
The widespread move to remote and hybrid working may create additional challenges for employers. Workforces that increasingly rely on electronic communication and collaboration may struggle to work effectively – or at all – during power cuts. Although, as the plan is for rolling blackouts in different regions, it is possible that only some rather than all homeworking employees will be affected at the same time.
Some practical steps that employers can take to minimise the impact are:
Consider adjusting working times, shift patterns or opening hours to accommodate a planned blackout. The ability to change working hours at short notice will depend on the wording of the contract, and this may not be possible for some employees who have commitments such as childcare or other caring responsibilities.
Investing in standby generators to maintain power supply for critical equipment or facilities.
Encourage employees to keep their devices fully charged while working in the office or from home, particularly if they have received prior notification of a blackout.
Advise employees on how to use their mobile phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot (assuming they have available data, and the mobile phone network isn’t affected by the blackout). Employees may also be able to download or print out key documents in advance to work on without access to the internet.
Ask homeworking employees who are affected by a blackout to come into the workplace, if the workplace remains unaffected and transport is still running (which should be the case). This may not be possible for some employees who work from home for reasons such as childcare or other caring commitments.
Taking Care of your Premises, Equipment and People
Whilst one circumstance is planned outages, which should come with advance warning, there can be other factors that trigger power cuts, especially in winter. You don’t necessarily need detailed technical knowledge of electrical systems to get through a power cut, but this might help you provide some pointers for someone who does, and some of the actions are the same, whether a planned outage or not.
So, with that in mind, here are the main things you need to know before a power cut:
What needs to be turned off if an outage happens
A solid plan of evacuation if the outage renders the building unsafe (for example in total darkness during winter)
Can you reset the power yourself if an unplanned outage does occur?
Do you know the procedures for how to do so safely?
If not, who’ll be doing the job instead?
It’s a good idea to have a list of emergency numbers of individuals or organisations you might need to call. For example, it could be the building’s owners or the electricity network operator.
Many people don’t know they should contact their local electricity network operator if they have a power cut. They often mistakenly call the electricity supplier they pay their bills to.
That’s why the electricity network operators have introduced 105 – for an easy-to-remember number to call that will put you through to the local people who can help.
It’s also useful to know where your electricity meter and service entrance is, even if you’re not familiar with your building’s power distribution system. If a professional does arrive to deal with the problem, you can then point them in the right direction. Having torches and other portable lighting is a good precaution, too.
How To Act During A Power Outage
If the worst does happen, here’s what to do in a power outage:
Turn off everything that needs to be turned off
If necessary (such as in the case of completely dark buildings), evacuate everyone calmly from the building via the pre-arranged route, using torches and other emergency lighting
Don’t let anyone go off on their own to collect personal belongings
It’s handy to be able to consult a list of equipment to be turned off during an outage, then reset when the power is restored. This includes things like laptops and computers, as they can sometimes be prone to damage when the power gets restored. To be safe, it’s always worth unplugging these systems when an outage occurs, then turning them back on sequentially. Not doing this can potentially damage them, sometimes beyond repair. It might be an unnecessary precaution, but you’ll never regret not taking it!
Meanwhile, depending on your industry, you should have a company policy about what to do in the event of a power cut. You may assume it’s common sense, but even the most sensible people sometimes have different definitions of that term. To avoid people taking to darkened stairwells or frying brand-new company laptops, have a plan already firmly set out about how to behave in the event of a power cut. It’s another tip that will be well worth the extra effort, especially for larger companies.
So that’s your business premises taken care of, what about you and your family at home?
How to Prepare for a Power Cut at Home
Keep your electricity supplier’s emergency number handy – near the phone or stored on your mobile, or call 105.
A torch with charged batteries or a wind-up dynamo torch. You can also buy battery-powered lights that plug into a power socket and come on automatically during a power cut.
Candles – these are useful but be careful where you put them and keep them out of the reach of children.
At least one phone that doesn’t run off the mains supply, i.e., an analogue telephone or mobile.
A fully charged power bank, so you may be able to receive updates on the incident via your mobile phone.
A warm blanket.
Stock your cupboard with food and drink that don’t need electricity to prepare them.
Portable heaters – they act as a good alternative to heating systems which often don’t work during a power cut. However, take care where you put them and never leave children alone with them.
Keep a battery powered radio, as you may be able to receive updates on the incident.
Know how to use the manual option on electrical garage doors and gates.
Try to keep your vehicle’s fuel tank at least half-full – service stations may not be able to pump fuel.
Generators – If you have a generator, be sure that it’s installed safely – if not, you risk damaging your property and endangering lives.
Try to keep mobiles and laptops fully charged.
What to Do During a Power Cut
Have your neighbours lost their supply?
Are the streetlights out? If not, the problem could be with your electrical installation.
Check your trip switch, if you have one.
If it has operated, switch off all your appliances and reset the switch.
Unplug sensitive appliances such as TVs, satellite equipment and computers.
Switch off and unplug appliances especially items such as fires, cookers, irons and hair straighteners in case you forget they’re on when power is restored.
Leave a light switched on so you know when power is restored.
Avoid opening your fridge or freezer more than necessary.
Check on elderly or vulnerable neighbours to ensure they are safe and comfortable.
Street lighting may also be off, so take care outside.
During cold weather, dress warmly using several layers of clothing.
Many central heating systems and water heaters will not work. Portable heaters are a good alternative but take care where you put them.
Limit the use of your laptop or smart phone to save battery power.
When power is restored turn your appliances back on one at a time.
Safety – Fallen Power Lines
If you see electrical cables on or near the ground, please keep clear of them. They could be live and able to conduct electricity through damp ground or metallic objects. If they are in a public place, dial 999, tell the police and help keep passers-by well away until they arrive.
Call 105 urgently if you see any of the following, and they will make the equipment safe:
Damaged equipment or lines.
Overhead lines on the ground or low enough for people or vehicles to come into contact with them.
Sparking overhead wires twisted or pushed together by broken tree branches.
Broken substation fences or damaged electricity manhole covers which leave live equipment exposed.
Electricity meters and associated equipment that are not secure or waterproof.
Have you created workplace risk assessments related to power outages? Call us for no-obligation discussion regarding how AssessNET can support you with managing risk assessments compliantly and efficiently.