Difference Between Safety Switches and Circuit Breakers

Safety Switch 1

Electrical safety is paramount in any household or workplace. While many of us are acquainted with terms like “safety switches” and “circuit breakers,” there’s often confusion about what each does and why both are essential. In this blog, we’ll demystify these crucial electrical devices, focusing on their distinct functions, applications, and why you might need both in your electrical system.

What Is a Safety Switch?

Safety Switch
Source: DMIRS WA


A safety switch, often called RCD (Residual Current Device), is designed to protect individuals from electric shock. It monitors the flow of electricity through a circuit and detects any imbalance. When it senses irregularities—such as current leaking through a faulty appliance or wiring—the safety switch will disconnect the power within a fraction of a second. This quick action can prevent severe injuries and save lives.

Key Features of Safety Switches

  • Monitors electrical flow for imbalances
  • Disconnects power swiftly to prevent electric shock
  • Typically installed in the switchboard or meter box
  • It can be fitted to a specific circuit or the entire electrical system
  • Mandatory for power outlets and lighting circuits in new buildings

What Is a Circuit Breaker?

Circuit Breaker
Source: DMIRS WA


On the other hand, a circuit breaker is geared towards protecting the electrical circuit itself. If there is an overload or a short-circuit—conditions that could lead to electrical fires—the circuit breaker will ‘trip’ and cut off the electrical supply to that circuit.

Key Features of Circuit Breakers

  • Protects against overloads and short-circuits
  • Can be reset manually once the issue is resolved
  • Located in the switchboard alongside safety switches
  • Often used in tandem with fuses for additional protection
  • Essential for safeguarding electrical appliances and wiring

Identifying Safety Switches and Circuit Breakers in Your Home

If you’re wondering whether your home has these devices installed, your switchboard is the first place to look. Usually, an electrician will label fuses and switches to identify their purpose. If you spot a switch with a ‘Test’ or ‘T’ button, that’s a safety switch. Should these markings elude you, it’s advisable to consult a local electrician for an inspection and proper labelling.

The All-In-One Safety Device

Some homes use a combined safety device with a safety switch and a circuit breaker. These dual-function units are space-efficient and are often preferred by many electricians. Consult your local electrician to see if this option suits your needs.

Safety Device
Source: DMIRS WA

Why Both Are Necessary

You might wonder why both devices are needed. Safety switches protect you from electric shock, while circuit breakers shield your home’s wiring and appliances. Having both devices ensures a comprehensive electrical safety net for your property.

Testing and Maintenance

Regular testing and maintenance are crucial for effectively operating safety switches and circuit breakers. Below, we delve into the specifics of each.

Safety Switches

Frequency of Testing: Experts recommend testing safety switches every three months. This ensures they are in optimal working condition and can provide the protection you need.

Method of Testing: Locate the ‘Test’ or ‘T’ button on the safety switch within your switchboard. Pressing this button simulates a fault, and the safety switch should immediately trip, cutting off power to the associated circuit.

Indicators of a Problem: If the safety switch does not trip when tested, this is a sign of a malfunction. Immediate attention from a licensed electrician is crucial.

Additional Checks: Beyond self-testing, it’s advisable to schedule an annual professional check-up. A licensed electrician can conduct more comprehensive tests to ensure the safety switch is in top condition.
Documentation: Record each test, noting the date and any irregularities. This can assist your electrician in diagnosing potential issues.

Circuit Breakers
Source: Electrical Safety

Circuit Breakers

Frequency of Testing: A semi-annual check is generally sufficient, while circuit breakers do not need to be tested as frequently as safety switches.

Method of Testing: Most modern circuit breakers have a ‘Test’ button. Pressing this button should trip the breaker, interrupting the electrical supply to the circuit it protects.

Indicators of a Problem: If the circuit breaker fails to trip or trips frequently, this could indicate an issue that needs addressing. Overloads or short circuits are common culprits.

Professional Inspection: Alongside DIY tests, periodic inspections by a qualified electrician can identify hidden faults or wear and tear that may not be apparent to the layperson.

Upgrades and Replacements: Circuit breakers do have a lifespan. If your home’s electrical system is ageing, a professional evaluation can determine whether your circuit breakers require replacement or upgrading.

Maintaining a schedule for testing and inspections ensures that your safety switches and circuit breakers continue offering reliable protection for individuals and property.

Who Can Install These Electrical Devices?

Electrical installations are not a task for the DIY enthusiast. Installing safety switches and circuit breakers requires specialised skills and should only be carried out by a licensed electrician. Performing such tasks without professional qualification could not only be dangerous but might also void your insurance coverage.

Choose Volt Air for Your Electrical Needs

For a comprehensive, secure, and proficient electrical system, there’s no better choice than Volt Air. Our team of licensed electricians brings expertise and precision to the table, capable of assessing your current electrical infrastructure and recommending any requisite enhancements. 

Specialising in installing both safety switches and circuit breakers, we prioritise your safety and the integrity of your electrical system. Isn’t it time you took proactive steps to maximise the safety of your home or business? Contact Volt Air today for a consultation tailored to your specific needs.

Get a Fast Quote

For a competitive quote, talk to our award winning team of fully certified electricians today.