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The latest figures from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) indicate that there were 400 total accidental electrocutions in 2000:
But that is only part of the story. The CPSC estimates there is an annual average of 165,380 electrical-related home structure fires, taking an average of 910 lives, injuring nearly 7,000 and causing nearly $1.7 billion in property damage.
Consumers should check for problems with their home electrical systems, and be ever vigilant for electrical hazards around the home and the workplace, like cracked or fraying cords, overheating cords and wall plates, and the presence of overhead and buried power lines when working outdoors. Check outlets and circuits to be sure they aren't overloaded. Make sure to use only the proper wattage light bulbs in light fixtures and lamps. Use extension cords only on a temporary basis, and be sure they are properly rated for their intended use. And always follow appropriate safety precautions and manufacturer's instructions on all electrical items.
Consumers should also remember to test their smoke alarms and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) monthly. Replace smoke detector batteries twice a year. Make sure GFCI protection covers all circuits that come near water sources, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoors, and consider it for whole house coverage. Consider also having arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) installed in your home's electrical panel, particularly for older homes.
Consumers can use ESFI's In Home Electrical Safety Check and Outdoor Electrical Safety Check booklets to conduct an electrical safety audit of their homes. Visit The Electrical Safety Foundation International website for all these and other electrical safety tips.
Electrical systems age and deteriorate just like any man-made product, and as they get older need to be monitored more frequently. As homes grow in their dependence on electricity with the addition of rooms, appliances large and small, and entertainment and computer equipment, electrical systems designed to handle lower electrical demands expected at an earlier point in time can become overburdened and problems can develop. The CPSC and ESFI recommend electrical inspections for the following:
An "electrical inspection" is different from a "home inspection" in that it comprehensively covers only the electrical system, whereas the home inspection goes skin-deep on the structure, plumbing, electrical system and other aspects of the house. Your local city, county or state should have an electrical inspector's office, or a qualified, licensed electrician can do the inspection.
The inspection will help identify problems like frequently blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers, loose connections at outlets, older and deteriorated wiring, and outdated and overburdened electrical service. Repairs could be minor and nominal in cost, such as the cleaning and tightening of connections or the addition of outlets, or more involved running into several thousand dollars, such as the addition of circuits and subpanels, replacement of degraded wiring, or, particularly with older homes, a "heavy-up" - that is, upgrading the electrical service from, for example, 60 amp or 100 amp service to the home to 200 amp service better able to handle today's electric demands. A qualified, licensed electrician can determine if repairs or upgrades are necessary and can estimate the cost.
The third prong on a plug provides a path to ground for electricity that is straying or leaking from a product. This helps protect the equipment and can help prevent electric shock. Consumers should never remove or bend the third prong to fit a two-slot outlet. An adapter may be used safely only if the grounding wire or tab is physically connected to an electrical ground. A safer approach is to find or have installed an appropriate three-slot outlet.
A polarized plug is a plug with one large or wide prong and one narrow one. It ensures that the plug is inserted correctly in a socket for proper flow of electric current, and reduces the risk of electrical shock. Consumers should never force a polarized plug into a non-polarized outlet, or shave the wide prong down to fit. Use an adapter or find an appropriate polarized outlet.
The large box-like device found on the ends of some appliance cords could be an appliance leakage circuit interrupter (ALCI), an immersion detection circuit interrupter (IDCI) or a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Though they work in different ways, they all protect the user against accidental electric shock and electrocution by acting immediately to shut off power to the appliance upon the detection of a "leak" of electric current as may happen when a hair dryer falls into a sink full of water. Even with these devices, if that happens, unplug the device or shut off power to the circuit before reaching in to retrieve the appliance.
Before purchasing or selecting an extension cord for use, consumers should consider how the cord will be used. Make sure the rating on the cord is the same as or higher than the number of watts needed by the product that will be plugged into the cord. Extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis, and unplugged and safely stored after every use. Outside the home, use only cords rated for outdoor use, and consider using a portable GFCI.