Can You Be An Electrician If You Are Colourblind In The UK? (Good And Bad News)

My friend told me today that he wants to retrain as an electrician but he is concerned because he is colour blind. When he asked, “can you be a colourblind electrician?” my immediate thought was no, as I remember having to take a colour blind test before beginning my apprenticeship.

That being said, I never want to give out inaccurate information so I decided to go away and do a little research. This post sums up what I learned as I think it may be useful to a lot of other people with the same question.

Electricians have to use many different coloured cables
Electricians have to use many different coloured cables

Can You Be An Electrician If You’re Colour-Blind In The UK?

Being colour blind is a significant disadvantage for those wanting to pursue a career as an electrician in the UK. However, proactive changes have been made over the last fifty or more years that have proven beneficial for all electrical workers, including a select few diagnosed with specific forms of colour blindness. 

The first thing to understand is that an electrician’s work requires attention to detail and knowing what colour each wire signifies. A colour blind test must have a passing score to register as an apprentice. On the other hand, for anyone self-funding their training or taking domestic installation training, the colour blind test is not required.

That can seem a tad confusing so I’ll break it down a little more. When you register as an apprentice with a training college you will need to pass a colour blind test. There is no such test for those that are trying to get qualified via other routes, such as self-funded adult trainees.

It’s worth remembering though that many employers ask electricians to pass a colourblind test both when they start and on the annual health checkups most employers carry out. Even if someone with colourblindness passes the training to become an electrician, gaining employment may be a tricky hurdle to overcome.

Safety is always the number one factor when dealing with electricity. It is wise always to remember that a faulty wired home or building will have an electrician’s name attached to it. The risks associated with faulty wiring can be fatal and devastating for all those affected.

Is it Safe to be a Colourblind Electrician?

Ultimately, being an electrician is a dangerous career and the potential for harm is very real. Part of the process for not inflicting harm on ourselves or others, is wiring up electrical equipment and circuits correctly. If an electrician cannot clearly identify the colour of each wire then it is not safe.

Groups and pairs of electricians could potentially be successful but may require double the work hours necessary to work on any project. A colour blind electrician with a partner could double-check wire colours before installing, but this can be time-consuming for the partner who is also trying to complete their work.

Each electrician is typically assigned a room, floor, or area to work on when working in teams. Breaking into groups is ideal for covering larger areas in less time. However, if a colour blind electrician is working alone, their work may need to be examined to verify the proper wire colours are installed in the correct circuits.

If the wires do not match their right placements, someone or multiple people will need to fix their work, extending the time of the project and the hours each electrician worked for the day. 

Although there are plenty of examples of what could go wrong should a colour blind electrician work on an electrical project, examples can be found on the electrical forums of electricians that have been diagnosed with at least one form of colour blindness and have been successful for many years in their industry.

Learning what each wire colour and pattern means is vital for the job. Knowing which colours are the most challenging to see and differentiate is a step in the right direction.

Routinely scheduling vision checks and appointments with an eye clinic ensures consistency regarding eye health and proactive or preventive procedures. Some electricians can benefit from colour blind glasses that are explicitly designed to correct different forms of colour blindness and can be worn while driving, working, or during daily tasks. 

What Colours Are Electrical Wires?

Electrical wires come in many different colours. Depending on the project being completed, there can be single wires, triple wires, or even cables with fifty wires. 

Until 1977, there were five colours used for single and three-phase electrical wires. Green was used for the PE or Protective Earth, black was neutral, red was line 1 or the single line, yellow was line 2, and blue was line 3. 

From 1977 to 2003, the PE line was changed to a yellow and green pattern wire, black remained neutral, red remained line 1, yellow remained line 2, and blue remained line 3. 

From 2004 to current, the wire colours went through another change. Protective Earth is still a green and yellow pattern, but blue is now the neutral line, brown has replaced red for line 1, black has been moved to line 2, and grey is line 3. Since the most common form of colour blindness is red and green, this change was made to help electricians differentiate between the wires easier than in previous years. 

electrician holding cable
Electric cables come in a vast range of colours and sizes

Self-funded electricians who are not required to pass a colour blind test will be more likely to be successful in their careers with the current colour coding of the wires, but there are still older structures set up using pre-2004 and pre-1977 wires.

It’s not all good news though, in some ways, changing of the colours had led to more confusion as we try and match up old colours with new ones. For example, if connecting an old neutral cable (black) we must remember to connect it to the new neutral colour (blue), and NOT the new line two (black). Confused yet??

What Is The Colour Bind Test For Electricians?

The most commonly used test to detect colour blindness is the Ishihara Colour Vision Test. The test is easy to take and does not take much time. Circles containing “hidden” numbers filled with coloured dots of various sizes, colours, and brightness are used to determine if there is any level or form of colour blindness. To pass the Ishihara test, a score of 12 out of 14 is required. 

The most common colour blind diagnosis is red and green, meaning it is most challenging or impossible for an individual to see red and green colours. There are four kinds of red and green colour blindness: Protanomaly, Deuteranomaly, Protanopia, and Deuteranopia. 

Protanomaly makes red look like green. Deuteranomaly is the opposite of Protanomaly and makes green look like red. Protanopia is the term used for red being hard to see, while Deuteranopia is when green is hard to see. 

Blue and yellow colour blindness is less common but can make it challenging to identify yellow from red and blue from green. Tritanomaly is when a person cannot see the difference between the four colours red, yellow, blue, and green. Tritanopia is the same as Tritanomaly but includes pink and purple as difficult colours. 

Finally, total colour blindness is when a person cannot see any colours at all!

Where Can I Get A Professional Colour Blind Test?

Some websites (such as the one linked here) offer pre-screening Ishihara tests to prepare an electrician for a colour blind test. The official test does not take long to complete and will be performed in a well-lit room, usually with one eye covered to test each eye individually and with both eyes open testing the eyes together. 

To schedule, an appointment for a professional colour blind test, your local optician can administer the test during a routine visit or a separate appointment. 

Final Thoughts

The answer to the question, can you be an electrician in the Uk if you are colourblind?, is not black and white (if you pardon the pun). There are routes such as self-funding that allow a person to qualify as an electrician without ever having to pass a colourblind test.

That person may then be fortunate and not be asked to take a test by an employer and able to jump into life as a sparky. I guess in this instance, it comes down to self regulation and individual risk, if the electrician feels confident they can carry out their job correctly and in a safe matter.

Safety is the number one factor in everything we do as electricians, after all, if a fault occurs and someone gets injured we will always be asked to explain how we acted and what went wrong.

Dave Nicholas

I have worked as a professional electrician for many years and like to use my experience to help others in any little way I can.

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