RCDs, Smoke Alarms and Electrical Safety - Compliance Alert Reminder

RCDs and smoke alarms: Your rights and obligations

In March 2018, a young Perth girl was electrocuted after touching a garden tap which had become live because of an electrical fault. The incident left her with catastrophic brain injuries. Although the cause was likely a fault with the way the house was wired, the accident underscores the dangers of electricity in residential properties.

One of the best ways to protect your family from similar electric shock injuries is to install residual current devices (RCDs) in accordance with government regulations.

What is an RCD?

An RCD is a safety device designed to prevent electrocution by cutting the power to a circuit in the event of earth leakage. It can also provide some protection against electrical fires caused by faulty wiring or appliances. Installing two or more RCDs allows the property’s circuits to be divided evenly reducing the load. This ensures some light and power remains operational if one RCD operates. For example, the lights stay on if the toaster malfunctions and activates the RCD. Multiple RCDs avoid nuisance operation, and allows you to isolate problem appliances quickly and safely.

RCD regulations in WA

Depending on the layout of the property, Western Australian state law requires every dwelling to have a minimum of two RCDs installed before the property can be sold or rented. In Western Australia, all properties constructed after 2000 should already have two RCDs fitted.

RCDs must be installed in accordance with the Electricity Regulations 1947 WA.

Prior to the settlement of a residential property, RCDs must be installed to protect all power and lighting circuits that supply socket outlets and lights. Penalties of up to $15,000 ($100,000 for corporations) apply if RCDs are not fitted in accordance with the regulations.

The only exception is where a property is to be demolished. In this case, the seller is not required to install RCDs prior to settlement if the buyer provides written notice to the seller stating that the property will be demolished within six months of transfer. If the property is not demolished within that time, the buyer must install the required RCDs. Failure to do so means they are in breach of the regulations.

As of August 2011, landlords must ensure all rental properties have at least two RCDs installed.

Understanding smoke alarms

According to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, we lose our sense of smell when we’re asleep. A working smoke detector replaces our sense of smell and provides us with early warning in the event of a fire.

Types of smoke detectors

There are two main types of smoke detectors designed for home use: ionisation and photoelectric.

Ionisation smoke detectors are, in general, more sensitive to small particles. These tend to be produced in greater quantity by flaming fires, which spread quickly and consume combustible materials rapidly.

Photoelectric smoke detectors are usually much faster at detecting smoke from smouldering synthetic material, meaning residents are alerted before a danger has turned into a possible disaster.

All Australian state fire authorities now recommend photoelectric smoke alarms. Ionisation smoke detectors are prone to false alarms. This nuisance factor can lead to occupants removing batteries or covering the units to disable them. Both practices are extremely dangerous as it leaves the home unprotected.

Smoke alarm regulations in WA

Western Australia has adopted Australian Standard AS 3786, meaning new or existing dwellings must be fitted with smoke alarms that comply with AS 3786:2014 (Incorporating Amendment No. 1) – Smoke alarms using scattered light, transmitted light or ionisation. In addition, smoke alarms which are no longer working or are more than 10 years old must be replaced with compliant alarms.

Western Australian Building Regulations require owners to install compliant mains powered smoke alarms in residential dwellings prior to the transfer of ownership (regulation 56); prior to being rented under a residential tenancy agreement or made available for such rental (regulation 58); or when being made available for hire (regulation 59). Smoke alarms must comply with AS 3786:2014, be in working order, and be less than ten years old.

An owner who rents their dwelling under a residential tenancy agreement, or hires their dwelling, is required to have compliant mains-powered smoke alarms fitted prior to making the dwelling available for rent or hire.

Failure to comply with the smoke alarm regulations can lead to a $750 infringement notice for any premises without a smoke alarm, while the seller or landlord could face a fine of up to $5000.

Buyers – your rights

RCDs

Regulations in WA place the onus on the seller to install RCDs and smoke alarms but they make no requirement for the seller to provide the buyer with evidence that the installations are compliant.

Therefore, we recommend buyers include in their offer a clause requiring the seller to provide evidence that RCDs and smoke alarms are installed and comply with regulations.

If you discover after settlement that RCDs are not installed correctly, contact the seller and ask them to fit RCDs to comply with the law.

If the seller fails to fit the RCDs within a reasonable time, you can ask Building and Energy (formerly EnergySafety) to investigate the matter for you. Include a copy of the letter requesting the previous owner to fit the RCDs, a copy of the title for the property (showing the date of transfer of the title), and a photograph of the main switchboard (where the RCDs should be located).

Once Building and Energy receives this information, they will arrange for the installation to be inspected and, if RCDs are required to be fitted, they will issue a Compliance Order.

The buyer will have to pay for the installation. You may seek reimbursement from the seller for the costs through civil court action.

Smoke alarms

As with RCDs we recommend the inclusion of a clause in the contract which compels the seller to provide you with evidence that smoke alarms have been installed and comply with regulations.

If you have recently purchased a property which does not have smoke alarms fitted you do have options. You can contact the seller and ask them to rectify the situation. Alternatively, you can install the smoke alarms to meet the requirements and, if the transfer of ownership has occurred within the last 12 months, recover reasonable costs in court from the previous owner. Once again this is a civil matter. Prevention is better than cure.

Action against the previous owner can also be taken by your local council where a fine of up to $5,000 can be imposed. As the new owner, if there are no smoke alarms installed when you take ownership of the property, you will be required to fit them within 12 months or risk being in breach of the regulations.

Summary

  • RCDs operate by cutting the power to a circuit in the event of earth leakage. For FAQ click here.
  • A minimum of two RCDs and at least one hard-wired smoke alarm must be installed before a property in WA can be sold or rented.
  • Photoelectric smoke alarms are usually much faster at detecting smoke from smouldering synthetic material and are now recommended by all Australian state fire authorities.
  • Smoke alarms must comply with AS 3786:2014 (Incorporating Amendment No. 1) – Smoke alarms using scattered light, transmitted light or ionisation. For FAQ click here.
  • Failure to comply with smoke alarm regulations can result in a $750 infringement notice and/or a fine of up to $5000.
  • Penalties of up to $15,000 apply if individuals fail to install RCDs in accordance with WA legislation.

Image by Giovanni Collazo via Flickr.