The use of electricity continues to grow. At the same time, many electrical systems are more than 20 years old, often presenting wiring hazards that are both a major cause of electrocutions and home fires, killing hundreds and injuring thousands of people each year.
Misuse of surge suppressors, power strips and extension cords also threatens users with electrocution or fire. Contact with power lines and major appliances contribute to hundreds more deaths annually, both at home and in the workplace.
The Electrical Safety Foundation International says although the possible causes of electric disasters are numerous, more tools and better technology can make our reliance on electrical power less hazardous. Investing in ground fault circuit interrupters, arc fault circuit interrupters, circuit testers and, where necessary, personal protective equipment can significantly reduce risk.
In the end, it is your awareness and knowledge of potential hazards at home, work and outdoors that can make the biggest difference in staying safe while using the great benefits electricity offers.
Ten Tips to Avoid Indoor Hazards
Potential electrical hazards lurk all around your house. Pay attention to these:
Never overload sockets. Try to use just one plug in each socket. The more cords you plug into an outlet or extension cord, the greater the chance for damage to the house electrical system or for a fire to start.
Make sure all electric cords are tucked away. Pets can chew on the cords and people can trip on one.
Never allow electric wires or cables to trail over kitchen appliances such as toasters or stove tops.
Always avoid mixing liquids and electricity. They should be kept as far apart as possible. Touch your appliances with dry hands only. Do not put water or other liquids on top of appliances.
Avoid taking major electrical appliances into a bathroom. Always check for wire coding on appliances such as hair dryers or radios that are used in bathrooms.
Make sure your children do not walk into the house directly from the rain or your swimming pool. Your home is full of electrical sources and can pose a threat to their safety. Get them to dry off completely as soon as they enter the house.
Don’t yank an electrical cord from the wall. Pulling on a cord can damage the appliance, the plug or the outlet.
Periodically check the condition of plugs and sockets in your home. Pay attention to any burned or frayed wires on appliances. Have a professional electrician fix such problems.
Make it a habit to turn off electric games and appliances when they are not in use.
Never throw water on an electrical fire. Water conducts electricity, so throwing water on the fire can cause it to get larger. Instead, use a chemical fire extinguisher.
Ten Tips to Avoid Outdoor Hazards
Common pitfalls to watch for when working or playing outdoors:
Never use electrical equipment or tools near a pool or other wet areas.
Always look up and beware of overhead power lines when carrying or setting up a ladder or using a long-handled tool. Assume all overhead wires are energized at lethal voltages. Never assume a wire is safe to touch, even if it is down or appears to be insulated.
Fly kites and model airplanes in open areas well away from trees and power lines. Never use metallic material in your kite.
Inspect power tools and electric lawn mowers for frayed power cords and cracked or broken housings. If the product is damaged, stop using it and have it repaired. All tools should be unplugged when not in use and stored in dry areas.
Before trimming or pruning trees or tall shrubbery, look for overhead power lines that may be hidden in the foliage.
Never use electric-powered lawn mowers on wet grass. Use an extension cord designed for outdoor use and rated for the power needs of your mower.
Use appliances and electrical equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Do not use extension cords wrapped in electrical tape or with loose ends. Replace severely damaged cords.
Be certain you use products and equipment approved by independent testers such as Underwriters Laboratories.
Children should never climb the fence around a substation. If a toy or pet gets inside the fence, call the electric utility. They will retrieve it for you.
Occupational Injuries Can Be a Major Problem
Electricity ranks sixth among all causes of occupational injury in the United States. Of the more than 400 electrocutions on average each year in this country, about 180 are related to consumer products, such as large appliances.
Electrocution and injuries from electrical shock do not tell the entire story. Electricity also is the cause of more than 140,000 fires each year, resulting in another 400 deaths and 4,000 injuries on average each year.
Accidents involving wiring hazards, including damaged or exposed wiring and household wiring, together total about 20 percent of electrocutions each year.
Ladders contacting power lines caused 9 percent of electrocutions; in another 5 percent of deaths, victims contacted high-voltage power lines.
Power tools were responsible for another 9 percent of deaths.
Landscaping, gardening and farming equipment cause 7 percent of deaths each year.