The Difference Between Circuit Breakers and Safety Switches

Do you know the difference between a safety switch and a circuit breaker? While these devices both promote safety and prevent damage in your home, they’re not the same thing. It’s important to understand the difference between safety switches and circuit breakers and the common misconceptions of the two of them.

What is a Safety Switch?

The biggest problem that stems from the confusion surrounding the difference between safety switches and circuit breakers is that people believe they have both installed when they do not. Safety switches or residual current devices (RCD’s) are devices that must be installed in your switchboard by law. They are designed to provide protection against electrocution and fires caused by electrical faults. They do so by constantly monitoring the current flowing in the live and neutral wires supplying an electrical system or a group of equipment. If a problem is detected that may pose a risk to personal safety, the device will turn the power off within 0.03 of a second (you can read how to test safety switches in our other blog post here).

Even if your home has a safety switch installed, one may not be enough to protect you from electric shock. A safety switch only protects you if it’s on that circuit. You should consider having safety switches installed on all circuits in your home, including power points, lights, air conditioning, oven, hot water and pool equipment circuits, even if they are on a separate tariff. For a simple explanation of why you should contemplate having more than one safety switched installed, take a look at this WorkSafe Queensland video.

Summary: Safety switches will protect you – they are your insurance against electric shocks.

What is a Circuit Breaker?

Circuit breakers or fuses in your main switchboard are there to protect the wiring from overloads. They can be operated manually or automatically, and they are used for switching off an electrical supply to a load e.g. a lighting or power circuit.

Circuit breakers provide short-circuit and over current protection (e.g. when a power point is overloaded). In the modern power system, consumers have to deal with high currents, so electrical engineers place a lot of emphasis on designing the best circuit breaker to safely interrupt the arc produced during operation of the circuit breaker.

While circuit breakers look similar to a safety switch, they are ARE NOT a device that protects an individual from electrocution. They can be distinguished as a circuit breaker does not have a test button.

Summary: Circuit breakers switch off the electrical supply to a load (e.g. lighting), but do not prevent harm to people.

Circuit-Breaker-vs-Safety-Switch image

Sources: Energy Safe Victoria

If you need your safety switches or circuit breakers tested, or if you would like more installed, please contact AMP’D Electrical & Solar on (07) 5522 5222 or email us at

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