Electrical Safety Devices
There are four electrical safety devices you should know about that can help protect against over-current conditions that could result in fire and shock hazards.
- Circuit Breakers
Circuit breakers or fuses protect against over-current conditions that could result in potential fire and shock hazards.
- Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters
GFCIs protect against potentially lethal shock when they detect even minute, but dangerous ground faults, or “leaks” of electrical current from the circuit. GFCIs may be incorporated into circuit breakers protecting the entire circuit, outlets protecting everything on the circuit downstream from the GFCI outlet, or as portable devices that can be sued at an outlet to give protection for a particular electrical item.
- Three-Pronged Plugs
Three-pronged plugs and outlets and polarized plugs and outlets offer enhanced protection against potential shock when provided on specific products. These measured should never be circumvented by sawing or breaking off the third prong or attempting to widen an outlet slot.
- Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters
AFCIs are relatively new devices that protect against fires caused by the effects of unwanted electrical arcing in wiring. An AFCI will de-energize the circuit when an arc fault is detected.
Electrical wiring in buildings with areas exposed to the outdoors, including circuits in garages, porches, patios and storage areas could benefit from the additional electrical fire prevention features of AFCI devices when incorporated in the branch circuitry.
Use of Electrical Products Outdoors
Make sure that your product is one that is intended for outdoor use. Check the product’s instruction manual, or take note of labels that warn “Not for Outdoor Use” and follow these instructions. Electrical products that are not designed to be water resistant can be destroyed or become an electric shock hazard. Continuous outdoor use products are equipped with heavily insulated cords and molded-on plugs to prevent moisture from seeping in. You should also inspect outdoor electrical products periodically for damaged cords, plugs or wiring. If a cord overheats, turn it off and unplug it. Take damaged products to the manufacturer’s authorized repair center or have a qualified electrician repair it.
Always heed the following tips when using electrical products outdoors:
- Keep outdoor portable electrical appliances plugged in and turned on ONLY when in use.
- Turn off appliances lock into position when being carried or hooked up to attachments like mower baskets or saw blades.
- Store electrical products inside and away from water and excessive heat.
- Use electrical products only when safety guards are in place. Sharp blades and rapidly moving parts can produce serious cuts.
- Never leave electrical products unattended outdoors.
- Never leave electrical appliances plugged in while the power switch is in the “on” position or while being carried or moved.
- Never carry electrical appliances by their cords.
- Never use electrical products near water, or while wet.
Hot Tubs, Spas and Pools
Follow these tips to avoid hazards in your hot tub, spa or pool:
- Keep outlets near hot tubs, spas and pools covered and dry between uses. New outlet covers are available that offer weather protection while a plug is inserted into the outlet.
- Keep cords and plugs away from hot tubs, spas and poles and puddles from wet bathers. Never handle electrical items, plugs or outlets when wet.
- If an electrical item falls into the water, do not reach into the water for it. Make sure you are dry and not in contact with water or metal surfaces, and unplug it immediately or shut off the circuit powering the item.
- Hot tubs, spas, pools, and outlets near them should be protected by a GFCI. Many older swimming pools that predate the introduction of GFCIs in the 1970s should be upgraded to add GFCI protection for branch circuits supplying power to underwater pool lights operating above 15 volts, and outlets within 20 feet of the pool.
When a person is immersed in an isolated body of water, such as a hot tub, the water could become electrified without involving a ground fault as the electric current passes through water (and perhaps a person) from one electrical pole to the opposite pole. In this case, a GFCI may not provide shock or electrocution protection.
Extension Cord Tips
- Use only extension cords marked “For Outdoor Use”. Weather-resistant, medium-to-heavy gauge extension cords have connectors molded onto them to prevent moisture from seeping in, and outer coatings that are designed to withstand being dragged along the ground.
- Outdoor extension cords come in 25-150 foot lengths. Buy only the length you need. Above 100 feet you can lose power, which poses a hazard when using power tools.
- Use three-wire extension cords with three-pronged plugs. The exception is to use extension cords for use with appliances and tools that are “double-insulated”.
- Completely connect plugs. Push them in all the way.
- Do not plug one extension cord into another
- Unwind the cord before using, and do not use it if it is damaged.
- Never walk on, or cover extension cords.
- Never leave an open line on an extension cord (no items plugged into the cord while it is plugged into an outlet). Always unplug them when they are not in use
- Replace outdoor extension cords every 3-4 years if damage is noted.
- Match power needs (amperage) of electrical products with amperage rating of extension cord.
- The extension cord capacity should be as high as, or higher than that of the electrical product attached to it.
Ladders & Electricity
Electrocution can occur when ladders are used near overhead lines to clean gutters, paint houses, trim trees and repair roofs or install outdoor antennas. Here are some tips to help you use your ladder safely:
- Use only a fiberglass or wooden ladder if you must work near overhead wires and do not let it come in contact with the wires.
- If you must use a metal ladder, keep it well away from overhead lines.
- If a ladder starts to fall into an overhead line, let it go. Stay nearby while someone else calls the power company to cut off electricity to the line before you touch or move the ladder that is in contact with the line.
- Never touch a person who is holding a ladder that has fallen onto a power line.
Power Tool Safety
- Hold onto power tools with the insulated gripping surface to avoid electrical shock.
- Use safety goggles and other safety gear, such as a face shield, dust mask, hard hat, ear protection or gloves as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Use a GFCI, wither permanently installed or a plugged-in type.
- Use power tools with a three-wired extension cord if needed
- Use power tools in a dry area away from explosive fumes, dust or flammable materials.
- Never use power tools while wearing loose clothing or jewelry that can get caught in a moving part.
- Never use power tools near live electrical wires or water pipes, especially when cutting or drilling into walls where they could be accidentally touched or penetrated.
- Never use power tools after they have tripped a safety device such as a GFCI. Take the tool to a manufacturer-authorized repair center for service.
Power Line Safety
- Power lines kill more workers than any other electrical source–an average of 133 per year.
- Power lines are not insulated for contact.
- You should stay at least 10 feet away from power lines.
- You can be electrocuted by a power line, even if you are wearing rubber gloves and rubber soled boots.
- If you crash a vehicle into a power pole and your automobile has come into contact with a power line, assume it to be energized and STAY INSIDE THE CAR! If you must get out of the vehicle due to another emergency such as fire, then open the door and jump from the car, landing on both feet. Shuffle away from the car until you are at least 30 feet from the vehicle.
Information Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International