May is Electrical Safety Month
No one in the early 1900s could have envisioned the role that electricity would play in our lives today. Once only available to the wealthiest of private citizens, industry and public utilities for street lighting, today electricity is so integral to our daily lives that it is taken for granted.
But with familiarity comes complacency. When we flip a light switch, pop a slice of bread into the toaster, or kick back and turn on the TV, we give little or no thought to the mechanics behind this invisible power source. You really only notice electricity when it is NOT working or if you would be so unfortunate as to touch a live wire. I’ll save whole home generators and what to do when the electricity goes out for another article; today I want to talk a little about Home Safety and what you can do to protect your family.
Is Your Home's Electrical System Safe?
Today’s homes are wired with 120 – 240 volts, which means that from any “hot” wire to ground there are 120 volts of potential energy and between two “hot” wires there could be up to 240 volts of energy. These voltages are used because they can efficiently power residential appliances and an air conditioning system without being too high to be safely contained within our home’s wiring system. Keep in mind that electricity is transmitted from 8,000 volts up to 500,000 volts in the utility’s distribution lines.
But even 120 volts can stop a heart. When we are wet, such as when we are bathing, soaking in hot tubs, or swimming in a pool, our bodies conduct electricity very well, up to 10 times more so than when our skin is dry. Given the right circumstances, a human heart can be stopped with as little as 50 milliamps, 50/1000th at 120 volts. The Electrical Safety Foundation International reports that “Thousands of people in the United States are critically injured and electrocuted as a result of electrical fires and accidents in their own homes each year. An average of 53,000 electrical home structure fires occur each year, claiming more than 450 lives, injuring more than 1,400 people, and causing more than $1.4 billion in property damage”
Here are some tips on how to keep your family safe from electrical hazards:
- Make sure that you have GFI outlets in your bathrooms, kitchen, garage, attic, outdoors and near any water source such as a pool or hot-tub.
- Check any extension cord before using it, if the insulation is damaged or the ground prong is missing, toss it, it’s not worth your safety.
- Don’t use extension cords as a permanent solution when you need a power source and don’t have outlets within reach.
- Annual Safety checks by a qualified, licensed electrician for your home or business is a good idea.
- Use tamper proof outlets or plastic inserts into outlets where small children play.
- Route extension cords behind furniture, small children, and even your pets could chew on these cords and receive dangerous or even fatal shocks.
- Never use tall aluminum ladders around overhead power lines.