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Electric Security Fences - Guidelines for Purchasers [Hardfacts]


Electric fences have been around for many years, but many people’s perception of them is limited to one of two extremes; use in farmers fields for simple livestock containment or as a measure to protect military or government establishments.

However, in between these extremes lies a large, and expanding, area of use to protect all sorts of (usually commercial) premises.

This Hardfacts outlines some matters to consider when purchasing an electric security fence system.

What are Electric Security Fences?
An electric security fence consists of a series of careful spaced and tensioned bare metal wires, insulated from the carrying posts/mountings, along which a high voltage short duration pulse of electric energy is passed from a control box/power supply, usually referred to as an ‘energiser’.

If a person in contact with the ground (and thus electrically earthed) touches one of the wires, or touches two or more wires (and ‘shorts’ them out), they will receive an electric shock. Although the shock is designed to be painful, it is not intended (but in any case is not permitted by the governing rules/legislation) to be harmful.

Typical Uses
They are usually used to deter, or failing that repel, unauthorised entry to sites, typically open areas around buildings or storage yards/compounds, etc, and most usually outside business hours. They are most effective when provided with a fence activation sensor (alarm) system; as by this means an alarm can either be sent to on-site personnel or, via a remote signalling intruder alarm or CCTV system, to personnel elsewhere.

Who Should Install Them?
These are specialised products, requiring careful manufacture, design, installation and maintenance to be effective and to ensure compliance with various British/European Standards and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines. One indicator of a good product is one that has some form of external accreditation, e.g. the Secured By Design (SBD) award; but for installation seek companies that belong to trade bodies with binding codes of practice, such as the Fence Contractors Association (FCA) or the European Fencing Industry Association (EFIA).

If planning an electric fence connected to a new, or existing, intruder alarm or CCTV system, ensure that competent alarm/CCTV installers are also used.

The best indicator of alarm/CCTV competence is to use companies with National Security Inspectorate (NSI) or Security Systems & Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) approval; as they are fully audited against British/European Standards for system design, installation, maintenance and monitoring; plus those relating to staff security vetting, training and record keeping. Hardfacts 3015/3004: Intruder Alarms/CCTV - Guidelines for Purchasers provide further information.

Who Should Respond?
Ideally, a human response/intervention is required to all fence activations, which may involve on-site personnel or people called to site.

On-site response can either involve your own (trained) staff or, more usually these days, ‘contracted’, security guards.

When it comes to off-site response to external alarm systems, this will require ‘keyholders’ (either your own staff or personnel from a commercial response company), attending. Only after their arrival can the police, if felt appropriate, be asked to also attend. Where a site has a remotely monitored CCTV system, a routine police and keyholder response may be possible - see Hardfacts 3008: Police Response to Security Systems for further information.

If choosing a contract guarding/response company, undertake your primary selection against the criteria outlined below.

Choosing a Commercial Guard/Response Company
Where response involves a commercial company, whether instead of or in conjunction with any staff keyholders, take care to select an appropriate contractor.

In this regard you should look for a company whose staff hold appropriate Security Industry Authority (SIA) licences; which adheres to recognised training and operating procedures, e.g. BS 7499 - Static site guarding and mobile patrol services or BS 7984 - Keyholding and Response Services; is suitably insured and subject to rigorous third party (external) inspection of their activities.

Suitable adherence with the foregoing advice may be demonstrated by companies enrolled in the SIA Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), but the simplest indicator of full compliance is NSI or SSAIB listing.  

In any event, you should also pay attention to their contract terms and conditions and in particular their likely response times.
Note. Some response companies claim to offer a quicker response to site by storing keys/alarm operating devices in a site key box. This is an undesirable practice and should always be referred to any interested insurer before use.

What Standards Apply?
In the UK various standards and codes of practice exist, which competent companies will observe.

British Standards
The recognised standard to follow is BS1722 Fences: Part 17 - Specification for electric security fences - Design, installation and maintenance. This also calls up, where appropriate, compliance with various British/European Standards for intruder alarms/CCTV systems and electrical safety. Its main security related provisions cover:

  •  Training/competence of installers
  •  Strength/spacing of the conductor wires.
  • Avoiding accidental contact, e.g. by ensuring fence is clearly marked, behind a suitable physical barrier/demarcation zone and clear of vegetation - which could cause false alarms
  •  Avoiding mantraps, i.e. not too close a distance to exist between the electric fence and other perimeter barriers
  • Tamper protection to fence, energiser and control equipment, including battery back up to generate an (local or remote) alarm in the event of power supply failure
  • Zoning of areas (‘Detection Zones’) to help direct any alarm/CCTV response activation
  • Gates into the protected area should be a single detection zone, and have a means of letting legitimate users identify themselves and turning off the current when unlocking and opening the gate
  • Hindering ease of fence climbing, especially at corners/fence posts
  • Commissioning to only take place after full site staff training
  • Maintenance checks at least twice per annum
  • Notification of installation to emergency authorities, e.g. local police or fire brigades

HSE Guidance
The installation of an electric fence needs to be considered from a safety as well as security perspective; the main areas of risk being repeat electric shock or the risk of falling after a shock.

The HSE has issued guidance to its inspectors, which sets out the main controls they’d expect to be in place. Apart from issues of manufacture, design and installation to various UK/European fence, security and electrical safety standards (usually satisfied by use of competent companies), the HSE guidance highlights :

  •  Prevention of accidental contact, e.g. by siting electric fences inside a non-electrified external barrier/fence of a certain height.

           Note. If the fence is to be energised when the premises are in normal use, similar precautions may be required on the inner side of the fence.

  •  Limiting electrical energy to a safe, yet still effective, level - usually expressed as 5 joules
  •  Avoiding mantraps, i.e. intruders must be able to escape after making contact
  •  Posting of suitable warning signs at suitable heights and intervals, such that they are clear to both adults and children

Insurers are likely to regard an electric fence as a positive security feature, but on its own, like many other security measures, may not regard it as an infallible one. For example, intruders may bring with them the means to cut through/breach such fences, or may have the means to climb over the fence without touching it - all of which means that your insurers may, particularly at higher risk/exposure sites, wish to see an electric fence linked to a suitable intruder alarm/CCTV system  i.e. one which can either alert on-site personnel/guards or an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC).   

Key Action Steps
When considering a new electric security fence:

  • Only use competent fence providers/installers.
  • Consider the need for suitable response measures, for both activations and failures.
  • Where a commercial guard/response is required ensure you use a reputable and suitably regulated/licensed provider, e.g. an NSI or SSAIB listed company.
  • Check whether planning permission is required
  • Check whether any interested insurer has any requirements/guidance. Doing this at the planning stage can avoid the need for retrospective changes, which may prove expensive or impractical to achieve.

Sources of Further Information
Other Hardfacts in the Property Protection – Security Series, which are available in our ‘Knowledge Store’ at
British Standards Institution (BSI) - Tel 020 8996 9000 or

Secured By Design (SBD) -

European Fencing Industry Association - Tel 0845 450 4898 or

Fence Contractors Association - Tel 07000 560722 or


British Security Industry Association (BSIA). Tel 0845 389 3889 or see

The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) - Tel 0845 006 3003 or

The Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) - Tel 0191 296 3242 or

The Security Industry Authority -

Next Steps:

  • Source discounted products, available to Aviva insured customers and brokers only, via our Specialist Partners - click here to find out more about the savings you could make
  • View our Tools and Templates
  • Call our Risk Helpline on 0345 366 66 66
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Please Note
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.

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