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clean air - spring 2006


About Home Safety
Here are the facts: According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, between 1994 and 1998 there was an average of 406,700 residential fires per year, approximately 69,000, or 17%, of which were related to electrical distribution or appliances and equipment. Another 42,700, or 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.

The Electrician maintains a current list of frequently asked questions and answers concerning home electrical safety. Areas of concern for most consumers are:

  • Statistics
  • Plugs
  • GFCI's
  • Extension Cords
  • Circuit Breakers
  • Fuses
  • Ligntning

What are the latest statistics on residential electrical deaths and injuries?

The latest figures from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) indicate that there were 440 total accidental electrocutions in the United States in 1999, 170 related to consumer products. Twenty-nine of those related to household wiring, 29 to small appliances, 22 to large appliances, 15 to power tools, 13 related to ladders, 12 to garden/farm equipment, and 9 to lighting equipment.

But that is only part of the story. According to the latest statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there is an annual average of 111,400 home fires caused by faulty electrical distribution systems, electrical appliances and equipment, or heating and air conditioning systems, taking an average of 860 lives, injuring 3,785 and causing nearly $1.3 billion in property damage.

How can consumers help protect themselves from electricity-related injuries?
Consumers should check for problems in their home electrical systems.
  • Check outlets and extension cords to make sure they aren't overloaded.
  • Examine electrical cords to make sure they aren't frayed, damaged or placed under rugs or carpets.
  • Make sure that the proper wattage light bulbs are being used in light fixtures and lamps.
  • Consider installing ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  • One of the most important precautions consumers can take is to test their smoke detectors and to replace smoke detector batteries annually.
  • Consumers should always follow appropriate safety precautions and manufacturer's instructions.

If you have an old house with old wiring, how do you know if repairs are necessary? How extensive and costly can such repairs be?
Electrical systems age and can become overloaded, particularly in older homes. Over the years as more lighting, appliances and equipment are added, the electrical system becomes overburdened and problems can develop. If fuses blow or circuit breakers protecting branch circuits trip frequently, new branch circuits or other repairs may be necessary. Depending on the condition of the equipment and the extent of the repairs, the cost may be nominal or could run into several thousand dollars. A qualified licensed The Electrician service professional can determine if repairs are necessary and can estimate the cost.

How does a three-prong plug work? What's the benefit of using it?
The third prong on a three-prong cord set 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.

How does a polarized plug work? What's the benefit of using it?
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 and reduces the risk of electrical shock.

What is a GFCI?
A ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI, is an electronic device for protecting people from serious injury due to electric shock.

How does the GFCI work?
GFCIs constantly monitor electricity flowing in a circuit. If the electricity flowing into the circuit differs by even a slight amount from that returning, the GFCI will quickly shut off the current flowing through that circuit. The advantage of using GFCIs is that they can detect even small variations in the amount of leakage current, even amounts too small to activate a fuse or circuit breaker. GFCIs work quickly, so they can help protect consumers from severe electric shocks and electrocution.

If the GFCI is working, is there any danger of electric shock?
Even if the GFCI is working properly, people can still be shocked. However, the GFCI can act quickly to prevent electrocution.

Do all GFCIs work in the same manner?
All GFCIs work in the same manner to protect people against ground faults. However, unlike the receptacle GFCI, the circuit breaker type GFCI also provides overload protection for the electrical branch circuit.

If the appliance has a built-in shock protector, is an additional GFCI necessary?
Appliances that have built-in shock protectors, as now required for hair dryers, may not need additional GFCI protection. However, other unprotected appliances still need GFCI protection.

Can consumers install GFCIs?
Consumers are encouraged to use a qualified and certified electrician to install circuit breaker-type GFCIs. Individuals with strong knowledge of electrical wiring practices, who can follow the instructions accompanying the device, may be able to install receptacle-type GFCIs. The portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install.

What is the big plug now found on such appliances as hair dryers?
The large box-like device found on the ends of some appliance cords can be either an appliance leakage circuit interrupter (ALCI), an immersion detection circuit interrupter (IDCI) or a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). They work in different ways, but they are all intended to shut off the power to an appliance under an abnormal condition such as immersion of the appliance in liquid. Just because you have an appliance with one of these devices doesn't mean that it is okay to drop the appliance in water and retrieve it while it's plugged in. If you should happen to drop an electrical appliance in water, shut off power to the circuit into which the appliance is plugged, unplug the appliance, drain the water and retrieve the appliance. The rule that "electricity and water don't mix" still applies.

If the product has a three-prong grounding type plug, is a GFCI still necessary?
GFCIs are necessary even if the product has a third wire to ground it. GFCIs provide very sensitive protection to consumers against electric shock hazards. Under some conditions, a shock hazard could still exist even if a product has a grounding wire.

What size extension cords should a consumer use? How can you tell if an extension cord is appropriate for the intended use?
Before purchasing an extension cord, 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 never be used as a substitute for permanent wiring.

Are there any benefits to using circuit breakers instead of fuses?
The main difference between circuit breakers and fuses is that circuit breakers can be reset while fuses operate only once and then must be replaced. If your breakers or fuses trip repeatedly, call The Electrician immediately, you may have a problem with your electrical system.

What are some tips for ligntning safety?
Lightning can travel from outside your home to inside your home—and to you—through materials that conduct electricity, including electrical wiring, phone lines, water, and plumbing. These safety guidelines will help minimize your risk.

When you first hear thunder, it's time to take precautions indoors
Inside, you may not see lightning or hear thunder as you would outdoors. If you're inside and you hear thunder or see lightning, it's time to take precautions. Continue your indoor safety precautions for 30 minutes after you see the last lightning or hear the last thunder.

Never touch wiring during a thunderstorm—it’s too late to unplug your electronics if thunderstorms are close.
If you count 30 seconds or less from when you see lightning to when you hear thunder, you missed your chance to unplug your home electronics. If you're in the lightning danger zone, you should not touch any wiring, even just to unplug your home electronics!

Avoid using phones and only use cell phones or cordless phones.
If you need to use the phone corded phones are dangerous during thunderstorms. Lightning traveling through the telephone wires has killed people. Cell phone and cordless phones are a safer choice, but stand away from the cell or cordless phone's power base. Be sure to keep your cordless and cell phones charged; they may not work if your power goes out.

Wait to use any plumbing—sinks, showers, tubs, and toilets
Plumbing can conduct electricity from lightning strikes from outside your home to you.

Stop playing video games connected to your TV
Electronic equipment with handsets, joysticks, and headsets connected by wiring to your TV, computer, or stereo are dangerous during thunderstorms. Stop playing—and stop your children from playing—video games connected to TV during thunderstorms. The wiring creates a path for lightning to reach you from outside your home.

Stay away from windows
Metal window frames can conduct electricity. Windowpanes can break from acoustic shock of thunder, wind-blown objects, or large-size hail.

Keep flashlights, battery-operated lights and radio ready to use
If your power goes out, use flashlights or battery-operated lights instead of candles. Candles are a fire hazard. Have a battery-powered radio available so you can keep updated on conditions.

Outdoor Safety
No place outside is 100% safe from lightning during a thunderstorm. However, there are some precautions you can take to minimize your risk.

There is no reason to be caught off guard by a thunderstorm.
The best way to avoid lightning is not put yourself, family, and friends in danger in the first place. No one should be caught "off guard" by thunderstorms.

Outdoor sports and thunderstorms are a deadly combination.
Lightning in open fields kills more people than any other outdoor place. Outdoor sports activities on large open fields—like soccer, golf, baseball, and softball—usually peak during thunderstorm season in most states. Players, coaches, and staff often push their luck when thunderstorms threaten their safety, hoping to get one more hole in, one more kick off, or one more batter up. The consequences can be deadly.

Know the lightning safety warning program at your outdoor sports facility.
Outdoor recreation. facilities, such as golf courses, should have a formal lightning warning policy that meets these two basic requirements:

  1. Lightning danger warnings can be issued in time for everyone to get to safe shelter.
  2. There is access to adequate safe shelter—such as a clubhouse or locker room.

For more information on lightning safety recommendations for outdoor sports facilities, email us.

Watch for thunderstorms and use the 30/30 rule.
During thunderstorms, no place outside is safe. But lightning safety experts agree that you can minimize your risk if thunderstorms develop or approach by following these steps:
  1. Designate someone from your group to be the storm watcher.
  2. Use the 30/30 rule.
    • When you see lightning, count the seconds until you hear thunder.
    • If this time is 30 seconds or less, quickly go inside a substantial building. If such a building is not available, a metal-topped vehicle is the next best choice.
    • Wait at least 30 minutes after seeing the last lightning or hearing the last thunder before going back outside.

Get off the water, out of open spaces, and away from trees.
The two mostly deadly places you can be are in open spaces or under trees. Avoid open spaces and trees during thunderstorms. Also avoid things that conduct electricity such as water, utility lines, and metal fences. Get to a safe place as quickly as you can. A substantial, enclosed building is the safest place. A metal-topped vehicle with the windows up is the next best alternative if you can't get to a building.
  • Boaters: Get off the water and go to a safe place.
  • Swimmers: Get out of the water and go to a safe place.
  • Players on open playing fields: Get off the field and go to safe place.
  • Golfers: Leave the golf course and go to a safe place, such as a clubhouse.
  • Hikers: Turn around and go back to a building or your metal-topped vehicle.

Your last resort is stay low and stay away from trees and other tall things.
If you're still outdoors and lightning has struck close to you, crouch down into a ball on the balls of your feet. Your goal is to be the smallest target possible with the least contact with the ground. Do not seek shelter under tall or isolated trees or unsubstantial shelters. It's better to be wet from the rain than dead or disabled from lightning.

If someone is struck by lightning
Call 9-1-1 or the emergency service agency in your area. If the victim's heart stopped or they stopped breathing, immediately administer CPR.

    For more information NOAA's lightning safety website features many helpful articles.