The Do’s and Don’ts of Electrical Safety

If you’re a millennial or younger, then it is possible that you have never accidentally experienced an electrical shock. With plastic casings on power tools, grounded plugs, and protective devices built into our circuit breakers, electrical hazards are simply less common than they once were.

In many ways, this is fantastic news – and the statistics related to electrical safety show an improvement over time. However, it remains essential to learn the basics of electrical safety and to schedule regular electrical inspections to ensure your home’s electrical systems are still keeping your family safe.

This article will quickly look at the risks of electrical energy, and then dive into the do’s and don’ts of electrical safety that everyone should know!

What are the Dangers of Electrical Shock?

Electrical shock occurs when current passes through the body. The severity of the shock depends on various factors, including the current’s voltage, amperage, and the body’s resistance. Even the path that the electrical power travels across your body can result in differing degrees of injury – with routes that cross over the heart often proving fatal.

The dangers of electrical shock range from minor discomfort to severe injuries or even death. Some of the risks include:

  • Burns: Electrical current can cause severe burns both externally and internally. A full 5% of all burn victims in hospitals were on the receiving end of a nasty electrical shock!
  • Heart arrhythmia: High voltage shocks can disrupt the normal rhythm of the heart. These arrhythmias can prove fatal, with heart attacks occurring up to 24 hours after electrical exposure.
  • Muscle contractions: Strong electrical currents can lead to involuntary muscle contractions, potentially causing falls or other injuries.
  • Neurological effects: Shocks can affect the nervous system, sometimes resulting in long-term damage.
Graphic showing human body with electrical shock symptoms highlighted.

Why Electricity May Seem Safe

Today it is easy to take electrical safety for granted. Getting a shock from an electrical circuit is uncommon and the biggest electrical fire risks seem to be from lithium batteries and not our home’s permanent wiring. However, this was not always the case and today’s safety is the product of decades of incremental improvements.

Organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have worked to improve safety standards in American homes and businesses, and have achieved dramatic results. Since 1980, workplace deaths by electrocution have fallen by 75% and our homes are safer than ever.

However, despite all of our advancements, electricity still injures 30,000 people per year and 20% of those injuries occur in children. In some ways, the simple fact that electricity currently seems so safe can be a dangerous recipe for complacency.

Basic Electrical Safety Tips for your Home

Do’s

  • Inspect cords regularly: Check for fraying, cracks, or other damage. Discard any cords which show signs of wear.
  • Regularly test GFCI and AFCI outlets: Ground fault circuit interrupters and arc fault circuit interrupters are devices which keep you safe from electrical shock and fire.
    These systems should be tested monthly to confirm they are still working properly.
  • Keep electrical devices away from water: Electricity and water is a recipe for electrocution!
    Don’t operate electrical devices with wet hands or while bathing.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use: This is a simple step to reduce energy consumption and fire risks.
    If the plugs are hard to reach, consider using a power strip with a switch.
  • Hire qualified electricians for installations and repairs: Be sure to work with a licensed and insured electrician. We recommend choosing a local company with plenty of good reviews!
  • Use extension cords properly: Never connect multiple extension cords together and avoid running extension cords under rugs. Ideally, extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis.
  • Get regular electrical inspections: Homes should have their electrical systems inspected every 10 years. Consider more frequent inspections for older homes.
  • Teach your children electrical safety: Children should be taught about electrical safety from an early age.

Don’ts

  • Overload outlets: Plugging too many devices into one receptacle can cause circuits to trip, and may even result in overheating and fire.
  • Use damaged cords: If a cord is fraying or shows any sign of damage, throw it out! Even minor damage can lead to major problems.
  • Modify electrical cords: Never cut off the round ground prong of a power cord. This can result in unexpected electrical shocks.
  • Ignore warning signs: Flickering lights, buzzing sounds, and burning or fishy smells are indicators of an electrical problem like a short circuit which may lead to a fire. Contact an electrician ASAP if you experience these symptoms!
  • Replace fuses with fuses of a higher rating: If a fuse is blown and needs to be replaced, it is essential to replace it with one of the same rating. A higher rated fuse will allow the electrical equipment to pass dangerously high amounts of current before tripping.
  • DIY major electrical work: Without proper training, you risk both your safety and your home’s integrity. We recommend against DIY work on your home’s electrical panels or any high voltage systems. In many jurisdictions, major electrical work must be performed by a licensed electrician in order to meet local code.
  • Neglect child safety: Cover unused outlets, install tamper-resistant outlets, and keep cords out of reach.
  • Touch power lines: Local transmission lines can carry over 10,000 volts of electricity and should never be touched. If you spot a downed overhead line, give it lots of space as the ground around it may be electrified. Never assume a power line is de-energized and always treat them as if they are alive.

The Basics of Home Electrical Safety

It is easier than ever to practice electrical safety – however it still remains important to understand what to do and what not to do! While most of us probably already knew that water and electricity are a bad combo, some safety best practices like improper extension cord usage are consistently overlooked.

To ensure that your home’s electrical system is working as it should, get an inspection every 10 years. A qualified electrician will inspect your home’s key safety features such as GFCI and AFCI protection, verify that your circuit breaker is working properly, and identify any problems before they can become serious!

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