Safety Around Electricity?
People are injured or killed by electricity every year. Statistics tell us that there are over 400 electrocutions and over 4000 non-fatal injuries every year in the United States. That is more than one death each day of the week across the country. And some 40% of those are from or related to products and equipment in the home. Large household appliances account for the largest portion of home-related electrocutions at 10%.
Some startling statistics regarding electrocutions across the country
- Electrocutions from wiring hazards, including damaged or exposed wiring and household wiring together totaled approximately 20%.
- Ladders contacting power lines caused 9% of electrocutions; in another 5% of deaths, victims had contacted high voltage power lines.
- Power tools were responsible for another 9% of deaths.
- Landscaping, gardening and farming equipment cause 7% of electrocutions each year.
- Annually, electrical hazards are listed as the cause of approximately 4,000 injuries.
- Electrical incidents, while only a small portion of those that occur on-the-job, are far more likely to be fatal than incidents away from the job.
- Electricity ranks sixth among all causes of occupational injury in the United States.
- Before the advent of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs), nearly 800 people were killed annually from household electrocution. That number has decreased to fewer than 200 deaths annually from household electrocution.
Not all electrical fatalities are directly from electrocution. Electricity is also the cause of over 140,000 fires each year in the United States, resulting in 400 deaths, 4,000 injuries and $1.6 billion in property damage. Total economic losses due to electrical incidents are estimated to exceed $4 billion annually.
What can we do to better protect ourselves from shock or electrocution? We can reduce our risk by: (1) understanding how electricity works, (2) recognizing potential electrical hazards when we see them, and (3) learn about safety devices that can prevent electric shock. Electricity naturally flows to the earth, or to ground, through anything that will conduct electrical current. There are some substances, like rock, wood, and glass that are not good conductors of electricity. Water, however, is a good conductor of electricity, along with many metals.
Electricity will pass through the human body, sometimes with fatal results, trying to get to ground. With the human body made mostly of water, it increases the risk of shock or electrocution. Fortunately, because often we don’t have a good ground to the earth, we are saved from nothing more than a shock.
However, it doesn’t take much electricity to do significant damage to the human body. It isn’t necessarily the voltage that does the damage; it is the amperage. And only a few thousandths of an amp can be all it takes to cause grave injury to the human body.
Here are some safety tips:
- Check electric cords for fraying or cracking. Replace cords that may be damaged, and don’t overload electric outlets.
- Remember extension cords are intended to be temporary; they are not intended as permanent household wiring.
- Don’t run cords under carpets or rugs and don’t tack or nail cords to walls or floors.
- Keep electric appliances and tools away from water. Never reach for or unplug an appliance that has fallen into water; instead, turn the power off at the breaker before you unplug the appliance or remove it from the water.
- Never put anything other than an electrical plug in an outlet. Use outlet covers or caps to protect children.
- Keep your home’s electrical system in good repair. Contact a licensed electrical contractor if you have flickering lights, sparks, non-functioning outlets, or need wiring repairs or upgrades.
- Never touch downed power lines!
- Always call your local utility or 911 if you see lines down.
- Watch for overhead lines every time you use a ladder, work on roofs, trees, or carry long tools or loads. Keep kites, model airplanes, and metallic balloons away from power lines.
- Know what’s below before you dig. At least 3 days before starting any digging or excavating project, call 811, the National One Call Center, to have underground utility lines, pipes, and cables marked for free.
Complete the Home electrical safety checklist. Keep the results for yourself. Document that you completed this proactive EHS activity in our safety observation survey monkey reporting system.