What is a residual current device (RCD)? It’s a safety device that automatically switches off the electricity if there is a fault. It’s far more sensitive than normal fuses and circuit breakers. It can be a lifesaver, reacting as fast as lightning, to prevent electricity causing a fatal shock.
An RCD constantly monitors the electric current flowing along a circuit. If it detects electricity flowing down an unintended path, such as through a person who has touched a live part, it will switch the circuit off instantly, reducing the risk of death or serious injury.
RCDs can help protect you from electric shock in potentially dangerous areas such as bathrooms and gardens. Using electricity when you may be wet significantly increases the risk of electric shock. If you are wet and make contact with the ground, it’s easy for electricity to flow through you. So it’s very important to have RCD protection when using electrical equipment in these areas. If you don’t, a job like mowing the lawn could turn into a deadly disaster should you cut the lead.
RCDs are available as fixed, socket or portable.
Fixed RCDs – are installed into the fusebox and can provide protection to individual or groups of circuits. A fixed RCD provides the highest level of protection. It protects all sockets and connected appliances on any circuit.
Socket RCDs – these replace a standard socket. They provide protection to anyone plugging electrical equipment into that socket.
Portable RCDs – these plug into any standard socket. An appliance can then be plugged into the RCD. These are useful when fixed or socket RCDs are not available. But again they only provide protection to the person plugging electrical equipment into the socket.
Are RCDs reliable?
We’ve found that fixed RCDs are about 97% reliable. This improves if they are tested regularly. If you have fixed RCD protection, it will reduce the risk of electric shock to you and your family. It can also protect your home against the risk of fire caused by faulty wiring or appliances.
Remember – Although RCD protection reduces the risk of death or injury from electrick shock it does not reduce the need to be careful. Have your wiring checked at least once every 10 years to ensure the safety of you, your family and your home. If you find a fault with your wiring, or an appliance, stop using it immediately and contact a registered electrician.
Don’t forget to test – You should test all fixed and socket RCDs about every three months. Manufacturers recommend that portable RCDs are tested every time you use them.
A good tip is to test them regularly, like when putting your clocks forward, or back. Especially as many electric clocks and timers have to be reset anyway.
Beware – If you hold the test button in for a long time and the RCD does not switch off the electricity supply, then get advice from a registered electrician.
The new UK standard for safety – Since July 2008 virtually all circuits in new or rewired homes have been required to include an RCD under the latest edition of BS 7671.
The Electrical Safety Council has electrical safety advice on a range of different areas.