A residual-current device (RCD), or residual-current circuit breaker (RCCB), is a device to quickly disconnect current to prevent serious harm from an ongoing electric shock. Injury may still occur in some cases, for example if a human falls after receiving a shock. These electrical wiring devices disconnect a circuit when it detects that the electric current is not balanced between the energized conductor(s) and the return (neutral) conductor.
RCDs are usually testable and resettable devices. Commonly they include a button that when pressed, safely creates a small leakage condition, and a switch that reconnects the conductors when a fault condition has been cleared. Depending upon their design, some RCDs disconnect both the energized and return conductors upon a fault, while others only disconnect the energized conductor and rely upon the return conductor being at ground (earth) potential.
An RCD does not provide protection against unexpected or dangerously high current when current is flowing in the usual wires in the circuit, therefore it cannot replace a fuse or protect against overheating or fire risk due to overcurrent (overload) or short circuits if the fault does not lead to current leakage. Therefore RCDs are often used or integrated as a single product along with some kind of circuit breaker, such as a fuse or miniature circuit breaker (MCB), which adds protection in the event of excessive current in the circuit. RCDs also cannot detect the situation where a human accidentally touches both conductors at the same time, since the flow of current through an expected device, an unexpected route, or a human, are indistinguishable if the current returns through the expected conductor.
RCDs offer a level of personal protection that ordinary fuses and circuit-breakers cannot provide. Fixed RCDs are about 97% reliable which improves if they are tested regularly.