Electrical Safety at Home
Electricity is a part of our everyday lives. If used improperly, it may cause serious injuries or even death. If treated with respect, electricity can be used safely. The tips below help prevent accidents.
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
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.
- 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 - you could cause a fire. If fuses blow or circuit breakers trip often, contact a qualified repairman.
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.
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 GFCI's for Extra Protection
- Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI's) 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 GFCI's in bathrooms, garages, near kitchen sinks, and outdoors.
- 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.