Electric shock can occur from common items in your home - AmericaNowNews.com


Electric shock can occur from common items in your home

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 3,000 people go to emergency rooms each year suffering from electrical burns.

During a recent three-year period, there were about 60 electrocution fatalities per year associated with consumer products.

Most of these electrocutions involved small appliances, power tools or lighting equipment.

A man was severely burned after receiving an electric shock outside a home in Henrico, Virginia. He was moving scaffolding and was shocked by nearly 20,000 volts of electricity from power lines connected to his home.

"Any time you're working around any type of power lines, you need to be cognizant of where those power lines are at all times," according to Fire Captain James Mellon who responded to the scene.

In addition to power lines, Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Link says there are other conductors of electricity inside your home that can be just as dangerous.

"Sometimes, it's good to go around the house and do a review and make sure everything is protected and in good working order," Link advises. 

You could be electrocuted or receive a serious electric shock from the electricity in a 7.5-watt holiday light, a 12-watt electric shaver, a 75-watt bulb or a 1,400-watt hair dryer.

"Any electric appliance you have needs to be kept away from water," said Link. "In bathrooms, tight quarters, hair dryers would be something that would come to my mind immediately."

New or remodeled homes usually have electrical outlets in the kitchen and bathroom equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI).

The GFCI device will cut the power to the outlet and anything plugged in when it detects a change in the amount of electrical current leaving the circuit compared to the amount of current entering the circuit. This could prevent a fatal electric shock.

GFCI outlets should be tested monthly. You can do this by plugging in a nightlight and pushing the 'Test' button on the outlet to break the circuit. If the nightlight still shines, that means the GFCI device is faulty and should be replaced.

Some appliances like hair dryers have GFCI devices built in to the plug with two buttons; one to test and the other to reset the appliance.

If you press the test button and the hair dryer still works, the GFCI device is defective and you should discard the dryer.

Electrical cords are another major hazard and are especially dangerous if there are children or pets in the home.

"When they bite down on an electrical cord, they can cause some serious injuries, serious burns, horrific burns," Link warns.

Here are some things you should remember about common electrical hazards at home:

  • Never forget - water and electricity don't mix.
  • Don't talk on a landline phone during a thunderstorm. Lightning can travel through the phone line because it can be a conductor for electricity. If lightning strikes the lines outside your home, it could send an electric charge through the phone and into your body.
  • Never place items, especially metal utensils, inside an electric appliance while it is plugged into a wall outlet.
  • Children tend to stick paper clips or other small items they find in electrical outlets. Consider buying outlet covers or child safety wall plates available at most hardware stores.
  • Before placing a ladder anywhere outside, look for power lines and make sure they are not near where you need to work. 
  • If you come across a traffic accident and power lines are dangling on top of a vehicle with someone trapped inside, remember the wires could be live and contact with those wires could kill you. Instead, call 911 and wait for firefighters because they will know the safest way to remove the victim without risking injury to anyone else. 

GFCI circuits are required by most states in the U.S., but not all. For specific details about the electrical codes and standards in your state, go to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) website.  

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information

Click to read an article on eHow.com entitled "How to Test GFCI Breakers" (Source: http://www.ehow.com/how_5899655_test-gfci-breakers.html).

The following information is from a report entitled "2007 Electrocutions Associated with Consumer Products" published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: 

  • There was an estimated average of 60 electrocution fatalities2 associated with consumer products per year over the three-year period from 2005 through 2007, with an estimated 50 consumer product-related electrocutions in 2007.
  • The age-adjusted death rate for electrocutions due to consumer product use was 0.17 per million population for 2007, with the three-year average from 2005 through 2007 being 0.21. Tests indicate that there is no statistical evidence of a trend in the electrocution death rate from 2002 to 2007.
  • Victim age appears to be a factor in electrocution incidents. During the period covered by this report (2002–2007), there were more than twice as many electrocutions to victims 40 through 59 years old than there were to victims 19 years of age and younger, even though the U.S. population in these age groups is roughly equal.
  • There were nearly six times as many estimated consumer product-related electrocutions to males than to females over the years 2002 through 2007.
  • The three most common product categories associated with electrocutions over the three year period 2005–2007 were "Small Appliance," "Power Tool," and "Lighting equipment."

The following information is from "Risk Watch Electric Safety Lesson Plans" published by the National Fire Protection Association (Source: http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files//PDF/Public%20Education/NFPA_RW_ELSP_g78_01.pdf). 

  • If you talk on the phone (not cordless phone) during a lightning storm you can be electrocuted through the phone lines. Landline phones in homes work with electricity. It is better to stay off the phone during an electrical storm. The point is that the phone line is a potential conductor for a lightning strike.
  • You may be shocked by sticking a metal utensil into a toaster. You may become the path of least resistance to the ground. If the toast gets stuck, unplug the toaster before attempting to remove the stuck item.
  • Outlet caps are not 100% "toddler proof." Electricity continues to flow through the wires in the walls. Children have been known to try to suck on the outlet caps-plugged into the wall! The best solution is to constantly watch the children.
  • A pet that chews on an electrical cord may be electrocuted. Once the insulation is broken, the raw electricity can escape. Some pets are born chewers. Rabbits, puppies, and kittens are notorious for chewing on cords. Keep cords out of reach of pets and children.
  • An iron that is left on and sitting upright all day will not necessarily start a fire. Some irons today have a shut-off feature that will make the iron turn off if not used in a certain amount of time.
  • You can overload the multi-plug extension power strips. Check to be certain the ones in place at home have a circuit breaker built into the power strip. This will shut off the power strip if too much voltage is demanded.
  • Holiday lights did not have the cool feature prior to the 1980s. The electricity flowing through the bulbs made it hot enough to catch items on fire. Also, the insulation on the cords of the older lights cracks and wears out. It pays to replace old holiday lights.
  • If an appliance smells funny or doesn't work exactly right, tell an adult. It is not "OK." Slower heating or signs that the product does not perform like it used to may be signs of an electrical problem.
  • Ground fault circuit interrupters are to be used in bathrooms and kitchens near the sink, as well as for outdoor outlets. GFCIs detect electrical current leakage and immediately shut off the power so no one is injured.

The following information is from the website Answers in an article entitled "How may electricians die each year from electric shock on the job?" (Source:  http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_electricians_die_each_year_from_electric_shock_on_the_job).

  • Each year about 3,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with electricity. Almost 10,000 fires result from damaged or overloaded cords and plugs each year.

The following tips are from CableOrganizer.com in an article entitled "10 Easy Ways to Prevent Home Electrical Hazards" (Source: http://www.cableorganizer.com/articles/preventing-home-electrical-hazards.html).

1. Never mix water and electricity. Always keep electrical appliances away from water and moisture. Whether it's on or off, if a plugged-in appliance falls – or is accidentally dropped – into water, do not attempt to retrieve or unplug it. Go immediately to your home's panel board and shut off power to the corresponding circuit. Once that's done, the appliance can be safely unplugged and removed from the water. Once the device has dried thoroughly, have an electrician evaluate whether or not it's fit for continued use.

2. Pay attention to what your appliances are telling you. When an appliance repeatedly trips a circuit breaker, blows a fuse, or gives you shocks, it's not just a coincidence – these are signs that something is wrong. Prevent further – and possibly more dangerous – malfunctions from occurring by immediately unplugging the appliance and discontinuing use until a professional electrician can inspect it, make repairs, and ultimately declare the appliance safe.

3. Install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI). In new construction homes, GFCI receptacles are a requirement anywhere that electrical outlets and water will be in close proximity to one another. GFCIs detect current leakages (or ground faults) in electrical circuits – such as would occur when a powered device made contact with water. The GFCI then shuts off power to that receptacle almost instantaneously, preventing electrical shock, burns, and electrocution. If you live in an older home that didn't come standard with GFCIs, installing them in place of traditional outlets in your bathroom, kitchen, and garage is an easy way to prevent severe electrical injuries – and at very little cost.

4. Make sure you're using the right size circuit breakers and fuses. If fuses and circuit breakers aren't the right size and wattage rating to match the specifications of their circuits, they're going to fail right when you most need them to perform. Read packages carefully when shopping for replacements. If you're not sure which size to buy, have an electrician take a look at your panel box and label it with the circuit breaker or fuse size needed (for easy future reference). And as long as you're making a trip to the hardware store, stock up with a few extra – you'll be happy to have them on hand when the next need arises.

5. Protect kids with outlet covers. Outlet covers prevent babies and small children from sticking their fingers and other objects into unoccupied receptacles, protecting them against shock and electrocution. You can either use the plug-in type, or opt for special child safety wall plates, which feature built-in, retractable covers that automatically snap back into place when outlets aren't in use

6. Avoid cube taps and other outlet-stretching devices. Cubes taps – those little boxes that allow you to plug several appliances into a single outlet – may seem like a major convenience, but they can actually put you on the fast track to circuit overload, overheated wiring, and even fire. If you absolutely must use one, do the math before plugging in. Know the maximum power demand that the cube-tapped receptacle can handle, and be certain that the collective pull (power requirement) of the devices you're plugging into it doesn't exceed that rating.

7. Replace missing or broken wall plates. They're not just there for the looks – wall plates also protect your fingers from making contact with the electrical wiring behind them. Broken wall plates, or the absence of them altogether, can be especially dangerous in the dark – when trying to locate a switch by touch, you may end up being shocked or electrocuted if you miss the mark and end up hitting live wires instead.

8. Keep electrically powered yard-care tools dry. Whether it's raining, just finished raining, or you've recently run the sprinklers, never attempt yard work with electrically powered tools in wet conditions. Protect yourself from shock and electrocution by keeping your electric hedge trimmer, weed whacker, and lawnmower safely unplugged and stowed away until precipitation has stopped, grass and foliage is dry, and puddles can be easily avoided.

9. Match the light bulb's wattage rating to the lamp. Whenever choosing light bulbs to use with a lamp, be sure to consult that lamp's maximum wattage specifications (they're often printed right around the light bulb socket). Always opt for a light bulb with wattage that's equal to or less than the maximum wattage listed on the lamp – too strong a bulb can lead to overloaded lamp wiring, as well as fire.

10. Be kind to you cords. Take care to treat power cords gently – never nail or tightly tack them down, and regularly check to make sure that they're not pinched between or underneath furniture. Excessive pressure on power cables can damage insulation (exposing the conductor), or compress the conducting wire, which can lead to overheating and put you at risk for an electrical fire.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

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