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Do you know the difference between a safety switch and a circuit breaker?

Most people talk about the two interchangeably, yet they are not the same thing. Yes, both these devices are used to protect you and your home from electrical damage; that’s the one similarity between the two. Even though these devices are a common feature in every household, some misconceptions exist.

Since these components keep you and your family safe, it’s essential to have a basic idea about their usage. This is why we’ve compiled a short guide explaining the difference between a safety switch and a circuit breaker. Let’s begin by understanding them individually. 

What Is A Safety Switch?

Every appliance or machine you use is run on electricity. Well, you already knew this, but there are moments when an abnormal amount of current can flow due to some fault in the system. This can get pretty dangerous and is known to cause burns, shock and even fires. That’s when the safety switch comes in. It shuts off the power to prevent exposure to large amounts of electricity.

Essentially, safety switches prevent you from coming into contact with faulty and harmful electric currents. This device works by detecting electrical leaks in your electrical system at home. The moment it finds the electrical leak, it cuts off the power/electricity in the house. Some safety switches cut the power of the particular room or area affected instead of shutting off electricity in the house. 

If the powerboard is present in the main home switchboard, the electricity goes out for the entire house. And if the fixture is attached to individual power outlets, it will act upon only the faulty areas. 

What Is A Safety Switch

Common Problems With Safety Switches

Safety switches face issues when there is a strain from supplying power to too many devices at once. When many devices are working simultaneously in the house, the safety switch may overload and shut the electricity supply. This phenomenon is called electrical tripping, and it’s a common problem in residential buildings. Switch tripping can also happen due to faulty appliances and water damage.

What Is A Circuit Breaker?

Like safety switches, circuit breakers also detect unusual electric currents in the system and shut off the power immediately. Mainly, this is a safety mechanism installed to protect the circuits you have at home. If there is a fault in wire connections or a leak in the system, there is a sudden increase in power that is strong enough to create fires. 

So, to prevent any mishap due to powerful electricity flow, the circuit breaker finds out when there are excessive amps of electricity. Then it quickly proceeds to cut off the power from the source. 

What Is A Circuit Breaker

Common Problems With Circuit Breakers

Wire damages or incorrect installation can affect your appliances and even damage them beyond repair. You can identify wire problems by checking for flickering lights, smoke from power points, or trouble with appliances. 

Also, if you happen to plug too many devices into one outlet, there may be a chance of circuit overload. Ideally, there is a certain number of amps that any device can handle, but if this number exceeds, you’ll see the effects in your appliances. 

You may not know the correct amount of electricity flowing in your home. But if you notice trouble with devices and electrical appliances, consult a professional to check the circuit board and breakers. 

Differences Between Safety Switch And Circuit Breaker

When it comes down to differences, it’s mainly what or who the device protects that is unique to each one. Safety switches are designed to monitor the flow of electricity and cut off the power the moment a leak is detected. But this device is mainly intended for human safety. Its main purpose is to protect humans from electric shocks, burns and even death. 

And while your home may have a circuit breaker, you need a safety switch for protecting the people in the house/office. 

So what about the circuit breakers? These devices also detect overload in electrical units and act quickly to disrupt the power flow. But they are installed in the switchboards to protect the system and wiring from damage. 

They protect against overload in power points and prevent fires and wires’ burning. But the difference is they do not protect humans from electrocution as a safety switch does. In short, a safety switch controls overload in electricity for human safety, while a circuit breaker does the same job for wire and system safety

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I Use Safety Switches And Circuit Breakers Interchangeably?

While they have similar purposes and functions, they are still quite different, so you can’t substitute one for another. There’s no doubt that circuit boards will cut off the power just the same, but they aren’t switches. So, you cannot use a circuit board as a safety switch and hope for the best.

It can be pretty dangerous if a person comes in contact with a power point without a safety switch. In the same way, don’t get a switch and wrap it up without installing a circuit board, too. While the switch can detect an overload in power, it can melt or catch fire because it cannot protect itself against the damage. 

Also, there’s another significant reason to not use a circuit breaker in exchange for a safety switch. The safety switches are designed to handle frequent uses. This means they can tolerate the on and off action of power several times.

On the other hand, circuit breakers are not prepared to handle such frequent switches between on and off. So, it will eventually break down if you use it too often.

2. How Do You Know If Your Home Has A Safety Switch Or Circuit Breaker? 

In Australia, it’s mandatory to install safety switches in all residential and domestic buildings; thus, if you’ve got a newer home, you probably have one. But you should check, to be sure. In most cases, the devices will be marked and labelled so you can identify them. 

But if you’re not sure, contact an electrician to get it checked so you can be sure both devices are in place and working. If you live in an older home, chances are these devices may not be pre-installed, so hire a professional to get the job done.

3. Can I Install Safety Switches And Circuit Breakers?

Installing and repairing circuit boards and safety switches is not as easy as a DIY project. Only licensed professionals should be dealing with these parts of the switchboard. So, never try to fiddle with these devices on your own if you’ve got any power issues or outages. Call a trained electrician whenever you are in doubt about the power system. 

Circuit Breakers And Safety Switches

Circuit breakers and safety switches are preventive devices that save lives and property. And they are not exactly new inventions either but are indispensable parts of switchboards in your home. For peace of mind, make sure both these devices are in place, protecting your home and family.

So, we hope that this short informative article cleared your doubts about circuit breakers and safety switches. However, if you have further questions about using or installing these devices in Melbourne, get in touch with our team.

 On that note, we’ll take your leave. Stay safe!


Photo of Justin Morris

Justin Morris

Find them on their website: Precision Electrical & Plumbing, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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