Contributing Author: Gentle Heron
May is Electrical Safety Month. Being aware of potential electrical hazards is the key to reducing home electrical fires, injuries and deaths.
Research by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) indicates that electricity causes over 140,000 fires each year in the US. Electrical fires result in 400 deaths, 4,000 severe injuries, and $1.6 billion in damage to property. Most of this is preventable.
About half of the homes in the US were built before 1973, and about a third of them were built before many of our modern electronic devices were even invented. These homes and their electrical systems were not made to handle the power needs of many of the appliances and electronics that we use today.
Extension cords are never meant to replace permanent wiring. Having an electrician add another outlet is a lot less expensive than dealing with a home fire. Although half of injuries caused by extension cords are due to tripping over them, improper use of extension cords causes 3,300 home fires each year in the US.
About 400 people are electrocuted in the US each year. Approximately 180 of these electrocutions relate to consumer products, with large appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, and washers and driers leading the causes. Other electrocution hazards include damaged or exposed wiring, ladders contacting power lines, and power tools with frayed cords or contacting water.
Warning signs of electrical hazards in your home include:
- Flickering or dimming lights
- Odor of overheated or burning/melting plastic
- Sizzle or buzzing sound
- Showers of sparks or flashes when unplugging items
- Switch plates or outlet covers that feel hot
- Fuses burning out often or circuit breakers needing to be reset frequently
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) offers many online resources for electrical safety in your home and at work. You can find some very useful information at their website:
- Electrical Safety Checkup
- Extension Cords
- Home Electrical Systems
- Ground Fault Circuit Interruptors
- Seasonal Safety
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Images credit: MorgueFile