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General Electrical Safety Tips

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

The latest figures from the Electrical Safety Branch indicate that there were 440 total accidental electrocutions in Canada last year, 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 contacting overhead power lines, 12 to garden/farm equipment contacting power lines and running over extensions cords and hitting underground lines, and 9 to lighting equipment.

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, and 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 (GFCI’s)
  • 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 electrician 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. This helps protect the equipment and can help prevent electric shock. Never remove the third grounding prong from a three-prong plug.

How does a polarized plug word? 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.

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.

Can I get more power from an outlet when I use a power strip?

No, they do not provide more power, but do provide more access to the same circuit. It is important to remember to not overload power strips and surge suppressors, or you might overload the circuit.

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.

What should I do with cracked, frayed or damaged electrical cords?

Have cracked, frayed and damaged cords, clearly label them as “damaged and electrically unsafe,” and discard them. We recommend cutting the cord to make sure “scavengers” don’t find the item and take the hazard with them.

Is it ok to run power cords under rugs or furniture?

Never run power cords across traffic paths or under rugs and furniture. Cords need ventilation to prevent heat buildup, which could cause a fire.

Can I nail a cord to a wall?

Never tack or nail an electrical cord to any surface.

How long can I use extension cords?

Never use extension cords on a continuous basis. Remember that they are only temporary solutions. Unplug and safely store them after every use.

Why should I not use halogen lamps?

Halogen desk and floor lamps are fire risks. They should be replaced with lamps that use cooler burning and more efficient fluorescent bulbs.

If an appliance continues to blow a fuse or trip a circuit breaker, what should I do?

Appliances that repeatedly blow fuses or trip circuit breakers should be unplugged and repaired or replaced. In addition, appliances that create shocks should also be unplugged and repaired or replaced.

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 an electrician because you may be have a problem with your electrical system.