Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reveal just how hazardous electricity can be to your health and household.
Between 1994 and 1998, there were an average of 406,700 residential fires per year, approximately 69,000 (17%) of which were related to electrical distribution or appliances and equipment. Another 42,700 (10.5%) were related to heating and air conditioning systems. These combined to cause an average of 860 deaths, 4,785 injuries, and nearly $1.3 billion in property damage annually.
Additionally, 170 of the 440 total accidental electrocutions in 1999 in the U.S. were related to consumer products in and around the home, and approximately 8,700 people were treated for electric shock injuries related to consumer products in the U.S. in 2000.
As the holidays and colder weather approach, families will bring out their festive lighting arrangements, decorations, and space heaters in order to add color, sparkle, and warmth to their holiday festivities. Following these simple electrical safety steps can help ensure an enjoyable holiday season for you and your family.
Know Your Limits and Inspect Your Equipment
Circuit breakers inside your electrical panel are designed to limit the amount of current flowing on the wires routed within your walls, attics, and crawlspaces. Even with these protective devices, a circuit that is nearing capacity will generate heat. This condition can lead to a potential fire hazard due to arcing, primarily at any loose electrical connections at wall outlets or at extension cord coupling points. Avoid overloading electrical circuits and inspect all wall outlets, power strips, and extension cords to ensure that tight connections are made with any electrical appliance or decoration you intend to use.
If you intend to use portable appliances and electrical decorations outdoors, check them to see if they are rated for such use. Only use lights and other electrical decorations that have been certified by a recognized independent testing laboratory, such as UL, ETL, or CSA. Follow all manufacturer directions when hanging strings of holiday lights, and always replace any blown fuse with one having the same electrical rating.
Avoid Shocking Situations
The 2005 National Electrical Code requires Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) to be installed in areas where a person could more easily receive an electrical shock. These are damp or wet locations. If you are planning to use outside outlets that do not provide this type of protection, consider hiring a licensed electrician to install an inexpensive GFCI breaker or outlet for you. Portable, in-line GFCI devices are also available. These devices plug into a standard wall outlet and provide GFCI protection on all downstream equipment.
Extension cords should be used only on a temporary basis and should be inspected prior to use. Verify that all 3 prongs are present on male cord ends and never modify or break off the third prong to make it useable on a 2-wire outlet. Don’t mount or support light strings or cords in any way that might damage the wire insulation, such as nailing or stapling them down. Keep all outdoor plugs and connections off the ground, away from puddles and snow.
Before energizing light strands, check for bare spots or cracks in the insulation and replace any bulbs that have an exposed filament. Leave any burnt out light bulbs in the socket until you have a replacement, and always unplug decorations when replacing bulbs.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings and Have a Plan
Keep your body, any ladders, and all decorations at least 10 feet away from all high-voltage overhead transmission lines. If you will be using ladders to access the roof or gutters to hang lights, remember that proper ladder setup and use can prevent accidents. Use the three-points-of-contact method when climbing ladders, and keep your waist centered between the rails at all times. Aluminum ladders will conduct electricity and should never be used while handling energized decorations.
Finally, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home. Test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help. And remember to develop and practice your home emergency escape plan.
The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) are the leading organizations representing the electrical industry in Oregon. They work together in an award-winning partnership that provides the local marketplace with reliable, high-quality, state-of-the-art electrical work. For more information visit necaibew48.com.