Electricity is an important resource we rely on because it powers everything from small household appliances to life saving devices. VMU’s top priority is to provide a safe environment to employees and the public. Using electricity wisely is an important key to maintaining a safe environment. The following information provided will help you and your family learn about ways you can stay safe around electricity.
Tip information is courtesy of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Electrical Safety Foundation, and OSHA.
Use Extension Cords Properly
Extension cords can overheat and cause fires when used improperly, so keep these important tips in mind to protect your home and workplace.
- Don’t attempt to plug extension cords into one another.
- Make sure extension cords are properly rated for their intended use, indoor or outdoor, and meet or exceed the power needs of the device being used.
- Keep all outdoor extension cords clear of snow and standing water.
- Do NOT overload extension cords.
- A heavy reliance on extension cords is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs. Have additional outlets installed where you need them.
- Inspect cords for damage before use. Check for cracked or frayed sockets, loose or bare wires, and loose connections.
- Do NOT nail or staple extension cords to walls or baseboards.
- Do NOT run extension cords through walls, doorways, ceilings, or floors. If a cord is covered, heat cannot escape, which may result in a fire hazard.
- Never use three-prong plugs with outlets that only have two slots. Never cut off the ground pin to force a fit, which could lead to electric shock.
- Buy only cords that have been approved by an independent testing laboratory.
- Do NOT substitute extension cords for permanent wiring.
- Do NOT use an extension cord or power strip with heaters or fans, which could cause cords to overheat and result in a fire.
Don’t Overload Your Home
Overloaded electrical circuits are a major cause of residential fires. Help lower your risk of electrical fires by not overloading your electrical system.
Overloaded circuit warning signs:
- Flickering, blinking, or dimming lights.
- Frequently tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses.
- Warm or discolored wall plates.
- Cracking, sizzling, or buzzing from receptacles.
- Burning order coming from receptacles or wall switches.
- Mild shock or tingle from appliances, receptacles, or switches.
How to prevent electrical overloads:
- Never use extension cords or multi-outlet converters for appliances.
- All major appliances should be plugged directly into a wall receptacle outlet. Only plug one heat producing appliance into a receptacle outlet at a time.
- A heavy reliance on extension cords is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs. Have a qualified electrician inspect your home and add new outlets.
- Power strips only add additional outlets; they do not change the amount of power being received from the outlet.
Home Electrical System Safety
When choosing lighting for your home, it is important to understand that some light switches have more functions than simply turning on lights. These added features such as timers and dimmers can make your home more convenient and efficient. If you are thinking of making a switch, contact a qualified electrician to make sure that the lighting you choose is compatible with your home. And remember, all light switches should be installed by a professional.
Don’t Take These Warning Signs Lightly:
- The wall plate is hot to the touch.
- There is discoloration of or around the switch plate.
- Lights dim and/or flicker without cause.
- You hear crackling, popping, or buzzing from your outlet.
- Often Breakers trip or fuses blow when the switch is turned on.
- You detect an odor when a switch is used.
- The switch leans to one side or feels loose when operating.
- You often experience a shock when operating the switch.
- Lights get brighter or dimmer when other appliances turn on or off.
- The home is over 40 years old and has aluminum wiring, but has not recently undergone a safety inspection by an electrician.
If your lighting control points are characterized by any of the above, have your home’s electrical system inspected by a qualified electrician as soon as possible.
- Save energy and reduce utility costs
- Extend bulb life
- Adjust light levels to meet range of preferences
- LEDs and CFLs need to be dimmer compatible
Remote Control/Smart panels:
- Offer convenient management from phone or remote control
- Some models save preset preference profiles
- Have ability to save energy and reduce utility costs
- Some models allow for remote management from anywhere providing security and peace of mind
- Provide added security while away from the home
- Improve safety for entrance after dark
- Countdown timers prevent leaving lights on accidentally
- Motion Sensors:
- Allows for hands-free convenience
- May save energy and reduce utility costs
- Added security when installed outside
If you want to switch up your lighting controls, contact a qualified electrician to make sure the option you desire is compatible with your home. And remember, all light switches should be installed by a licensed professional.
Electrical Safety Outside Your Home
Electrical hazards are not only present indoors, but can also occur outside. Follow this guide to outdoor safety to help prevent common outdoor hazards:
- Always keep yourself and your equipment at least 10 feet away from a power line. Electricity can jump to nearby objects.
- Before planting trees near a power line, conduct research or speak with a professional to ensure there’s enough space for it to grow. If you suspect that a tree is too close to power lines, report it to your local utility.
- Power lines are also underground. Call 811 before you dig.
- Have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) installed, which automatically cut power when a plugged item comes in contact with water or begins to “leak” electricity. Portable GFCIs are also available for use with traditional outlets.
- Install weatherproof electrical boxes or covers on outdoor outlets.
- Between 1999 and 2012, 79% of the 931 carbon monoxide fatalities were associated with generators.
- 24% of the CO fatalities known to have involved generators occurred when it was used inside an attached garage or shed.
- Make sure your home is properly equipped with carbon monoxide alarms and test them monthly.
- Position the generator outside the home and away from doors, windows and vents.
- Do not plug generators directly into a home outlet without a transfer switch to prevent backfeed, which could harm utility line workers making repairs.
- Make sure your generator is properly grounded.
- Extension cords are meant to provide a temporary solution and should not be used long-term or permanently.
- Never use an indoor extension cord outdoors. Outdoor cords will be labeled “For Outdoor Use” and are often orange.
- Never attempt to extend the length of an extension cord by connecting it with another extension cord.
- Be sure the amperage rating for the extension cord is higher than the amperage of the electrical product being used.
- Only use extension cords that have be approved and tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL, Intertek or CSA.
- Store fuel in approved containers and away from any potential heat sources, like a furnace or space heater or even direct sunlight.
- When storing electrical products in your garage, use containers to prevent exposure to water or damage caused by animals.
- If you have a swimming pool, spa, or hot tub, avoid electric shock drowning by having an electrician inspect and upgrade your pool, spa or hot tub in accordance with applicable local codes and the National Electrical Code® (NEC).
Prevent electrical fires. What is an Arc-Fault?
An Arc-Fault is a dangerous electrical problem caused by damaged, overheated, or stressed electrical wiring or devices. Arc-faults can occur when older wires become frayed or cracked, when a nail or screw damages a wire behind a wall, or when outlets or circuits are compromised.
The National Fire Protection Association reported 47,700 home fires involved some type of electrical failure or malfunction in 2011. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than 50% of electrical fires that occur every year can be prevented by Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs). Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters are available as:
- Branch / Feeder AFCI Breaker:
- First generation AFCI breaker protection. AFCI protection originally required by the 1999 National Electrical Code (NEC).
- Moderate fire prevention.
- Trips when a parallel arc between hot and neutral conductors is detected.
- Combination Type AFCI Breaker:
- Branch / Feeder AFCI breaker were phased out as of January 2008 and replaced with Combination Type AFCI breakers.
- Enhanced fire protection.
- Provides the same protection as Branch / Feeder AFCIs and detects lower level series arcing in both branch circuits and power cords.
- AFCI Receptacle:
- Provides protection from Arc-Faults beyond branch circuit wiring extending to appliances and cords plugged into the receptacle.
- Enhanced fire protection.
- Protects all downstream wire and appliances from both parallel and series arcs, and also protects from series arcs upstream in the wiring between the source of the circuit and the first outlet of the circuit.
AFCI Breakers and receptacles should be tested monthly:
- All electrical systems should have an electrical inspection if the home is older than 40 years or has had a major addition, renovation, or large appliance added. AFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician.
Decorating your home safely
Follow these steps to ensure you decorate your home safely during the winter holidays.
- Make sure all extension cords and electrical decorations are marked for proper use.
- Outdoor electrical lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs).
- Inspect all lights, decorations, and extension cords for damage before using.
- Exercise caution when decorating near power lines. Keep yourself and your equipment at least 10 feet from power lines.
- Turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving home or going to sleep.
- Avoid overloading electrical outlets with too many decorations or electrical devices. They can overheat and cause a fire.
- Never connect more than three strings of incandescent lights together.
- Water your Christmas tree daily.
- Keep all decorations at least 3 feet away from heating equipment or an open flame.
- Purchase electrical decorations from reputable retailers and that are approved by a national recognized testing lab such as UL, Intertek, or CSA.
There are many safe practices that can help prevent fires and promote electrical safety through your home.
Follow these tips to keep your bedroom safe from electrical and fire danger:
- Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TRRs) should be installed in all bedrooms. This device allows only plugs to be inserted while preventing access to foreign objects, like hairpins.
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep.
- If using a heating pad or electric blanket, do not place anything on top of them and don’t leave them on unattended or while sleeping.
- Do not sleep with devices that are charging, such as phones, under your pillow.
- Never wrap or bundle cords together. This prevents the heat from dissipating, leading to a fire hazard.
Follow these tips to keep your kitchen safe from electrical and fire hazards:
- Keep all countertop appliances and their cords away from the sink and heat sources, like the stovetop.
- Unplug all countertop appliances after use. Do so by pulling on the plug, not the cord, to avoid damage to the cord.
- The outlets in your kitchen should have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protection. Remember to test GFCIs monthly to ensure they are functioning properly.
- Check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recent recalls of any appliances in your home.
- Never leave food that is cooking unattended.
Garage/Utility Room Safety
Keep your garage / utility room safe with these tips:
- GFCI protection should be used in areas where electricity could come in contact with water, including bathrooms. GFCI receptacles, breakers and portable options are available.
- Store electrical equipment in dry areas that are inaccessible to children and animals.
- NEVER use a generator inside a garage or any other enclosed space, even with the door open. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide could accumulate.
- Store all flammable materials in approved containers and away from any potential heat sources, including direct sunlight.
- Use only extension cords marked “for outdoor use” when needed for work outside.
Living Room Safety
Keep your living room safe with these tips:
- Cords should not run under rugs, through walls or be pinched by furniture.
- Never attempt to extend the length of an extension cord by connecting it with another extension cord.
- To avoid damage, never nail or staple cords to the wall or baseboard.
- Use surge protection devices to protect your television and other electronic equipment from damage.
- To avoid counterfeit or dangerous products, only buy electronics that bear the mark of a nationally recognized testing laboratory sold by reputable retailers.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters have saved thousands of lives since their introduction in to the National Electrical Code in the 1970s. Make sure your home is properly protected against ground faults with the correct installation of GFCIs.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 50% of home electrocutions have been prevented by the introduction of GFCIs. GFCI protection is required for outlets installed in:
- Balconies, decks, and porches.
- Kitchen countertops.
- Within 6ft of a sink.
- Laundry areas.
- Within 6ft of a bathtub or shower.
Steps to test a GFCI:
- Push the RESET button.
- Plug in a nightlight or similar device.
- The nightlight should be ON.
- Press the TEST button on the GFCI.
- The nightlight should turn OFF.
- Push the RESET button again.
- The nightlight should turn ON.
- If the device does not turn on, contact a qualified electrician to inspect the outlet.
Ladders and Electricity Don’t Mix
If you must use a metal or wood ladder, follow these precautions:
- Make sure the ladder is clean and dry.
- Carefully check the location of all overhead wires before using a ladder. Any power line (including the line running from the street to your house) can permit electricity to flow into a piece of metal or other object, such as a wet tree branch, that touches it. Please Note that power lines and phone lines often appear similar. Assume all overhead wires carry electricity. Some overhead power lines are coated to extend the life of the line. The coating is not intended to protect against electrocutio
- Lower the ladder when carrying or moving it, to avoid touching an overhead wir Since long ladders can be unwieldy, have someone help carry and set up the ladder.
- Never work on a windy day; a gust of wind can cause the ladder to shift and touch an overhead wir
- Never place a ladder where it could slide into an overhead lin Make sure the distance to the nearest overhead line is at least twice the length of the ladder.
- Place the ladder’s feet on solid, level ground before climbing it. When the ground is not level or is soft, put a flat piece of wood under one or both feet of the ladder to provide a solid, level ba If possible, tie off the ladder to prevent it from moving. Wood ladders should be clean and dry to reduce the possibility of electrical conductivity.
- If the ladder should start to fall into an overhead line, let it go. Never try to move it. Do not leave the ladder unattended so that no one will unknowingly touch it. Have someone call the power company and ask them to cut off electricity to the line before you move the ladder. If someone is holding the ladder when it contacts the overhead line, never try to pull them away with your hand Use something that does not conduct electricity, such as a long piece of dry wood or rope, to push or pull them loose.
Downed Power Lines
In the aftermath of a major storm, be aware of hazards presented by downed power lines. Downed power lines can carry an electric current strong enough to cause serious injury or even death. If you come across a low or fallen line, adhere to the following safety tips:
- If you see a downed power line, move away from it and anything touching it. The ground around power lines – up to 35 feet away – may be energized.
- You cannot tell whether or not a power line is energized just by looking at it. You should assume that all downed power lines are live.
- The proper way to move away from the power line is to shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This will minimize the potential for a strong electric shock.
- If you see someone who is in direct or indirect contact with the downed line, do not touch the person. You could become the next victim. Call 911 for help.
- Do not attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it by using an object such as a broom or stick. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth, can conduct electricity if even slightly wet.
- Be careful not to touch or step in water near where a downed power line is located.
- Do not drive over downed power lines.
- If your car comes in contact with a downed power line while you are inside, stay in the car. Honk your horn to summon help, but direct others to stay away from your car.
- If you must leave your car because it is on fire, jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and avoid contact with both the car and the ground at the same time. Shuffle away from the car.
Portable Generator Safety
Before use, learn about the potential dangers associated with portable generators, such as their production of carbon monoxide (CO). CO is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless poisonous gas that is called the “silent killer” because it is virtually undetectable without the use of technology like CO alarms. Follow these tips to generate power AND safety when using a generator:
- NEVER operate a generator INSIDE your home or in other enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces, including GARAGES.
- A generator is a TEMPORARY power source and should never be used as a permanent solution.
- NEVER connect generators directly to household wiring without first installing a TRANSFER SWITCH. This prevents back-feeding which could electrocute utility workers making repairs.
- Make sure your generator is properly grounded and used with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).
- Use only extension cords that have a THREE-PRONGED plug and are rated for the intended load.
- Your home generator should be installed by a QUALIFIED ELECTRICIAN and bear the mark of a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL, Intertek, or CSA.
- Install battery-operated CO ALARMS or plug-in CO alarms with a battery backup.
- Do NOT OVERLOAD the generator.
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends generators be positioned at least 20 FEET from doors, windows, and vents to prevent CO from entering the home.
Lighting Myths and Shocking Facts:
- Myth: If it’s not raining or cloudy, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: If you can hear thunder, lightning is nearby. Lightning often strikes over 10 miles from the center of a thunderstorm
- Myth: A lightning strike victim carries a charge and should not be touched.
Fact: Lightning travels at about 220,000,000 miles per hour and will have exited the body by the time you approach. Check for a pulse and render first aid if possible. Call 911 immediately.
- Myth: In the event of a lightning strike, the rubber in a car’s tires protect occupants from being harmed.
Fact: If struck, it is the metal frame of the car that provides protection.
- Use the 30/30 rule. When you see lightning, count until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within 6 miles of you and is dangerous. Immediately seek shelter indoors or in a hardtop vehicle and remain until you have not heard thunder for 30 minutes.
- Do not touch concrete surfaces, including those in a basement or garage. Lightning can travel through the metal wires in concrete walls and flooring.
- Stay off corded phones and plugged in electronics.
- Avoid plumbing and water, including bathing or doing laundry.
- Never seek shelter under trees, poles, or other tall structures as they are more likely to be struck by lightning.
Protect your Property:
- Unplug appliances and other electrical items, such as computers and televisions, to prevent damage from surges caused by lightning strikes.
- Surge Protection can help prevent damages to your electronics. There are two types of surge protection:
- Point-of-Use Surge Protection protects only the items that are directly plugged into the device from most electrical surges.
- “Whole Home” Surge Protection is located at your main electrical panel or base of the electric meter, this device provides protection for your entire electrical system.
However, neither type can safeguard against a direct lightning strike. If you live in an area prone to lightning, consider a lightning protection system.
Electric shock drowning
Docks and boats carry sources of electricity. Faulty wiring or the use of damaged electrical cords and other devices can cause the surrounding water to become energized.
Never swim near a marina or near a boat while it’s running:
There is no visible warning to electrified water.
- Electric current in the water causes the paralysis of muscles which results in drowning.
- The 2017 National Electrical Code now requires marinas and boatyards to have ground-fault protection to help prevent water electrification. Check to see if your marina, and the boats in the marina, have proper GFCI protection.
- As little as 10 milliamps, 1/50th the amount used by a 60 watt light bulb, can cause paralysis and drowning.
What to do if you see electric shock drowning taking place:
- Turn power off.
- Throw a life ring.
- Call 911.
- Never enter the water – you could become a victim too.
Flooding can occur anywhere, but water and electricity don’t mix. Because electrical hazards may linger after flood waters recede, it’s important to take precautions before, during, and after flooding takes place.
Know the Danger:
- On average, more deaths occur due to flooding each year than from any other severe weather related hazard.
- In the past 5 years all 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods.
- A car can easily be carried away by just two feet of floodwater.
- Nearly half of all flood fatalities occur in vehicles.
- Those living outside of mapped “high-risk” flood areas file nearly 25% of all flood insurance claims and receive 1/3rd of Federal Disaster Assistance aid.
- From 2003 to 2012, total flood insurance claims averaged nearly $4 billion per year.
- An area’s risk of flood can change over time due to new construction, changes in levee classification, or other environmental factors.
Reduce the Risk:
- Follow any directives to turn off utilities. If you’re advised to switch off the main power source to your home, flip each breaker and THEN turn off the main breaker. You may also need to shut off the main valve for your home’s gas and water.
- DO NOT go near any downed power lines especially if there is standing water nearby.
- If your home experienced flooding, keep the power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.
- Have an electrician inspect electrical appliances that have been wet, and do not turn on or plug in appliances unless an electrician tells you it is safe.
- A trained professional may be able to recondition some devices while others will require replacement
- Do not touch a circuit breaker or replace a fuse with wet hands or while standing on a wet surface.
Hurricane Safety tips
- Unplug your appliances and power cords from outlets to protect them from power surges.
- If you plan to use a portable generator, ESFI recommends a licensed electrician install it to ensure it will operate safely.
- Test your home’s carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms to ensure they’re functioning.
- Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass.
- Use flashlights as a source of light. Candles are a fire hazard.
- Never operate a generator inside your home or in other enclosed or partially enclosed spaces, including garage.
- Use a battery operated radio to stay informed about important safety update.
- If flood waters reached the level of electrical outlets, contact a licensed electrician before attempting to use electricity in the home.
- Prior to use, have a qualified service repair dealer determine what electrical equipment should be replaced and what can be reconditioned.
- Never touch a fallen power line or drive through standing water if a downed power line is nearby. Report downed power lines to local authorities.