Stay Clear of Electrical Hazards
June 25th, 2019 by Pam Blair

Warn youngsters not to play around or climb on the green transformer boxes that house underground electrical facilities.
Photo courtesy of Touchstone Energy Cooperatives

Whether at work or play, be aware of electrical safety risks when outdoors

Warm summer weather draws people outside. Whether taking a dip in a pool, boating, playing outdoors, planting flowers or tackling home improvement projects, it is important to remember you are surrounded by electricity.

Practicing good habits around electricity helps ensure your family, friends and neighbors safely enjoy the outdoors.

Below are tips to help reduce the number of electrical deaths and injuries.

Power Lines and Utility Equipment
Before starting any project, identify the location of power lines. Look above for overhead lines. Be aware that some power lines are buried underground.

  • Call 811 before you begin any digging project. A local call center will send out a crew to identify underground lines.
  • Metal ladders conduct electricity, so use wooden or fiberglass ladders outdoors. Keep ladders at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines, and carry them horizontally.
  • Always look up before raising any long piece of equipment—a ladder, irrigation pipe, antenna or pole—to make sure it won’t come near a power line.
  • Don’t fly kites or drones near power lines. Reserve these for flight in wide-open spaces, such as a field or park.
  • Do not attempt to retrieve balloons, kites or other objects stuck on power lines or other electrical equipment.
  • Leave tree trimming to the professionals, particularly when the tree and its limbs are anywhere near a power line.
  • Never play near or touch a power line with any part of your body, a toy, a stick or any other object. Assume all power lines are live and dangerous.
  • Do not climb or play around a utility pole, an electric substation or a transformer box containing underground electrical facilities.
  • Never climb a tree that is close to power lines. Even if lines do not touch the tree, they could touch when more weight is added to a branch.
  • Do not post signs, hang banners, or tie ribbons or balloons onto utility poles or other electrical equipment. This can be dangerous to you and utility workers.
  • Never try to rescue a family member, friend or pet that has come into contact with electrical equipment. Stay at least 35 feet away from downed power lines, and call 911.

Swimming Pools and Boating
Water and electricity do not mix. Inside and outside, electrical devices and cords should be kept at least 10 feet away from pools, spas and other water sources.

  • Have an electrician inspect the pool, spa or hot tub. Make sure all equipment meets local codes and the National Electrical Code, which specifies that all electrical wires and junction boxes must be at least 5 feet away from the water.
  • Use battery-operated instead of cord-connected devices around water.
    Cover all outdoor receptacles to keep them dry. This is especially important around pools and other water sources.
  • Use a ground-fault circuit interrupter on outside outlets, especially those near water. A GFCI will shut off power to the outlet if the circuit is compromised.
  • Make sure all electrical equipment used for swimming pools—even the cleaning equipment—is grounded.
  • Never touch electrical devices when you are wet, either from water activities or from perspiration.
  • Do not swim or hang out near the water before, during or after a thunderstorm. Water and lightning are a dangerous combination.
  • Know the location of all electrical switches and circuit breakers.
  • Post a detailed emergency plan around the pool, spa or hot tub area, outlining what to do if someone is suffering from electric shock.

Boating and Open-Water Fun
Docks and boats carry sources of electricity. Faulty wiring or damaged cords and other devices can cause the surrounding water to become energized.

Just like your home, it is critical a licensed electrician inspects your boat and that you are familiar with its electrical system so you can identify hazards.

  • The National Electrical Code requires marinas and boatyards to have ground-fault protection. Test GFCIs and equipment leakage circuit interrupters monthly. Make sure electrical current is not escaping from the vessel.
  • Check for nearby power lines before boating, fishing or swimming.
  • Never swim near a marina or a boat while it is running. Residual current could flow into the water, putting anyone in the water at risk of electric shock drowning. There is no visible warning. As little as 10 milliamps—1/50th the amount used by a 60-watt lightbulb—can cause paralysis and drowning.
  • If you feel tingling sensations while in the water, swim back in the direction from which you came, and immediately report it to the dock or marina owner.
  • Know where main breakers are on both the boat and shore-power source so you can respond quickly in an emergency.
  • If you see an electric shock drowning in progress, turn power off, throw a life ring and call 911. Never enter the water, or you also could become a victim.

Power Tools, Cords and Outlets
The U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission reports there are nearly 400 electrocutions in the United States a year. About 15% are related to consumer products, with 8% attributed to electrical accidents with electric power tools. Lawn and garden equipment and ladders coming into contact with overhead power lines account for 9% of consumer product-related electrocutions each year.

  • Inspect power tools and appliances for frayed cords, broken plugs and cracked or broken housing. Repair or replace damaged items.
  • Never use power tools near live electrical wires or water pipes.
  • Check that each outlet has its own weatherproof outlet cover, and keep it closed when not in use.
  • Use GFCIs with every power tool to protect against electric shocks.
  • Do not use corded power tools in wet or damp locations.
  • Use tools with insulated grips to avoid the potential of electric shock.
  • Use only extension cords rated for outdoor use. Indoor cords cannot withstand outdoor weather conditions, and may become a fire or shock hazard.
  • Before using an extension cord, inspect it carefully for damage. Discard cords with cracks or exposed wires.
  • Use extreme caution when cutting or drilling into walls where electrical wires or water pipes could be accidentally touched or penetrated.
  • If a power tool trips a safety device while in use, take the tool to a manufacturer-authorized repair center for service.
  • Do not use power tools without the proper guards.
  • Unplug outdoor tools and appliances when not in use.