Because May is National Electrical Safety Month, this is a good time to review electrical safety.
Electricity can be dangerous, whether the hazard is a crane contacting an overhead line or a toddler sticking a fork into an electrical socket. The numbers are, well, shocking.
Grim electrical fire and injury statistics
In the workplace alone, there were 166 fatal electrical injuries and 1,900 non-fatal electrical injuries in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. In non-residential buildings, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that over 8,000 fires were caused by electricity, with total losses of $373,400,000.
For homeowners, the numbers are even more grim: an estimated 51,000 fires each year, nearly 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage. In cold weather, almost 40% of all home fires can be traced to electricity in some way.
Mitigating electrical hazards
Homeowners, landlords, and building owners/managers can take many steps to help avoid fatalities and injuries related to electricity.
- Conduct a basic assessment of your home electrical system, electrical cords, extension cords, power plugs, and outlets.
- Inspect extension cords to ensure they are in good condition and NOT running under carpets or in doorways.
- Call a qualified electrician if you notice problems with circuits tripping, warm outlets, flickering or dimming lights, sparks from an outlet, or a burning or rubber smell from an appliance.
- Establish an emergency evacuation plan and practice with your family.
- Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the light fixture.
- Install tamper resistant receptacles in homes with young children to prevent electrical shocks and burns.
- Use extension cords only temporarily, and never with space heaters or air conditioners.
- Avoid overloading outlets.
For extra peace of mind, have your home electrical system inspected by a qualified electrician, and ask if you should add Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs). This is particularly important in older homes.
- Ensure your lockout/tagout and arc flash safety procedures are followed when maintaining and servicing electrical equipment.
- Train your employees on electrical safety.
- Install and regularly test Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) if required. (AFCIs are required in most New York buildings.)
Homeowners and Landlords
- Install additional outlets to reduce the need for extension cords.
- Use a qualified electrician to do all electrical work.
- Install smoke detectors on every level of the home, inside each bedroom, and outside each sleeping area, or as required by code, and test them monthly.
- Use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) as required to reduce shock.
- Use power tools listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Inspect them before use, and store indoors.
- Trim tree branches away from power lines, or contact your power company to request this service.
- Call 811 before you dig to identify the location of underground utilities.