February 8, 2014
Many of us have experienced the shocking jolt that comes from sticking a paperclip, fork, or other metal object into an exposed power outlet—I know I did when I was a kid, ‘cause it just seemed like a good idea.
There are plenty of other ways to get electrocuted, however, than just sticking something into a power socket. And, unfortunately, kids (and sometimes adults) don’t often see the dangers that sit right in front of them.
On average, electrocutions kill 400 people each year, and another 4,400 are injured due to electrical hazards. Needless to say, there’s more we could be doing to protect ourselves and loved ones from the harmful effects of electricity.
How Electrical Shocks Happen
Electricity always seeks a path to the ground. Electrical injuries occur when a person accidentally becomes a part of the pathway that gets the electricity to its destination. When this happens, a person is acting as a conductor—a material that attracts electricity and will allow it to flow quickly. Other conductors include metal, water, wet objects, and trees (because of their moisture). Materials used for insulation such as rubber, glass, plastic, and porcelain do not allow electricity to flow freely.
As the use of electrical power grows, electrical hazards do, too. Electricity is almost in constant use, what with laptops, toasters, lamps, etc. staying plugged in when not in use. This, along with aging wiring systems put electrocutions and home fires at a higher risk. Fire hazards are also greater when surge suppressors, power strips, and extension cords are misused.
Protect your Children
When you know how to prevent electrical shocks and burns, you can more easily protect yourself and your loved ones. Check out the following tips from the American Burn Association:
- Avoid letting children play with or near electrical appliances. Keep them a safe distance away from space heaters, irons, hair dryers, etc.
- Use plug covers on any power outlets accessible to small children. Outlet caps that attach to the outlet plate with screws are better protectors than those that simply plug in.
- Make sure plug in caps are a similar color to the outlet so they aren’t easily recognized and pulled out.
- Make sure such caps are not small enough to be a choking hazard.
- Make sure any night lights used in a child’s room do not resemble toys.
- Teach children to respect electricity as soon as they are old enough (usually around age 3). Two thirds of electrical burn injuries happen to children 12 and under.
Children aren’t the only ones at risk, though. Many adults also suffer injuries from electrical shocks each year, whether at home or at work.
Other General Safety Tips
- Unplug appliances by pulling on the plug, not the cord.
- Only use appliances with a three-prong plug in a three-slot outlet. Never force it or remove a prong to make it fit a two-slot outlet. You can find outlet adapters, however, that allow you to use three-prong plugs in two-prong outlets.
- Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If a cord is frayed or cracked, replace it. Replace any tool that causes even the smallest of shocks, or overheats, shorts out, or gives off smoke.
- Never use electrical appliances near water
- Unplug appliances before performing any repairs
- Attach extension cords to appliances/tools before plugging them into outlets
- Keep clothes, curtains, and other possibly flammable items at least 3 feet away from all heaters, whether electric, gas, or kerosene-fueled
- If an electric power line is down on or near your home, keep everyone out of the area and call 9-1-1 or your local electric company.
As a society, we depend on electricity. It works 24/7 to provide us with heat, to keep our security systems working, to keep our unpreserved food cold, and more. While you enjoy the positive results of electricity, don’t abuse or misuse it. Remember, it can have painful—even deadly—effects if you’re not careful.
What do you do in your home to keep your loved ones safe from electrical shocks and burns? Have you ever experienced a major electric shock?