Electrical Safety at Home

Electrical Injuries and Deaths are Not "Freak Accidents"

You Can Learn To Prevent Them

Most people think injuries happen by chance or "accident"—a word that implies something that can't be foreseen or avoided. But electrical injuries typically can be both foreseen and avoided. This brochure will show you how electricity works, why it can be dangerous, and how to avoid its hazards.

Did You Know?

Electricity is so easy to use that you probably take it for granted. But you might be surprised to learn that each year, electricity-related incidents in the home cause approximately:

  • 300 electrocutions
  • 12,000 shock and burn injuries
  • 150,000 fires

Sources: NSC, CPSC, and OSH

Electricity In Your Home

Understanding electricity will help you prevent electrical injuries at home.

Your Home Wiring

Your home wiring is just a number of loops, or circuits. A "live" wire brings current to a light or an outlet. A "neutral" wire returns current to its source. Between inside wiring and outside power lines is a service panel.

Turning Power Off

Most service panels have a main switch. Use it to cut all power when changing a fuse or in case of fire or shock. If you don't have a main switch, turn off all circuit breakers. Don't tamper with your electric meter. You'll risk shock, explosion, or fire.

Your Service Panel

Your service panel contains fuses or circuit breakers which interrupt power to specific circuits in case of a short circuit or overload. If this happens:

  • Unplug appliances.
  • Switch off power at the main switch.
  • Try to determine the cause of the problem and correct it if possible.
  • Replace the fuse that has a broken metal strip with a new fuse of the same rating, typically 15 amperes.
  • If you have circuit breakers instead, switch the one that's "off" to "on." Restore power.

Never use anything other than a fuse to replace a fuse or you could cause a fire. If fuses blow or circuit breakers trip often, contact a qualified repairman.

The Shocking Facts

How Shock Happens

Electricity always seeks the easiest path to the ground. It tries to find a conductor, such as metal, wet wood, water—or your body! Your body is 70% water. So if you touch an energized bare wire or faulty appliance while you are grounded, electricity will instantly pass through you to the ground, causing a harmful, or fatal, shock.

It Doesn't Take Much

The amount of electricity used by one 7.5-watt Christmas tree bulb can kill you if it passes through your chest. Avoid shock by learning how electricity travels and how to stay out of its path.

Stop Shock Before It Stops You

Grounding: The Third Wire

When you use a plug with three prongs, the third prong connects inside the outlet with a "ground wire," which usually connects to a water pipe or a ground rod at the service panel. As a result, in case of a short circuit, electricity should flow through the grounding system instead of through you. Never remove the third prong.

Use GFCIs for Extra Protection

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) are found in some outlets and service panels. They monitor the flow of current to and from appliances. If there's an imbalance in the flow, current may be traveling through you, and the GFCI will quickly cut power to present serious injury. Use GFCIs in bathrooms, garages, near kitchen sinks, and outdoors.

Appliance Safety

Remember the most important rule for appliances—electricity and water don't mix. Keep appliances, especially hair dryers, away from bathtubs, puddles, sinks, and wet hands. Wet skin increases the risk of shock, so unplug an appliance before cleaning; even if off, it can shock. Never put metal objects in live parts of appliances or in outlets. If an appliance overheats, unplug it and have it checked. Don't overload outlets. Use only appliances that are approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories.

Electrical Safety For Children

Start Early

Children's natural curiosity can lead them into serious electrical accidents. Teach children never to put fingers or objects into an electrical outlet, toaster, or any other appliance, even if it's off. Keep appliances and cords away from children, bathtubs, and sinks. Use plug covers in outlets.

Outdoor Toys

Electricity can travel down the strings of kites or balloons that contact power lines, and can cause shock or fire. Have children use these toys in open areas, away from overhead lines. Keep metallic balloons indoors, as they are highly conductive. Tell children that if a toy gets into power lines or a substation they should tell an adult to call the power company and should never retrieve it themselves.

Power Lines and Electric Equipment

Teach children to recognize "Danger-High Voltage" signs and to stay away from power lines, substations, and pad-mounted transformers. Don't let kids climb trees near power lines.

Reviewed for technical accuracy by Susan P. Bacer, M.P.H., Co-Director, Injury Prevention Center, Johns Hopkins University

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