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How To Use Electricity Safely

Aug 29, 2007
When safety procedures are not followed, life can be a series of painful should have's and could have's.

Such was the case for California parents who should not have let their seven-year-old and nine-year-old daughters play in a filled bathtub near a hair dryer, especially when the dryer should not have been plugged in, and the outlet should have had a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Both children died when the dryer fell into the bathtub.

According to the National Safety Council, more than 500 deaths occur in the United States each year as a result of home electrical fires and electrocutions. Here are some very important actions you should take to protect your family.

Get Your Home Up To Code

* Signs of problems include: blown fuses; tripped circuit breakers; dim or flickering lights; buzzing sounds; odors; hot switch plates; and switches or outlets that don't work. Get professional help immediately!

* The Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends an inspection by a licensed electrician every 10-40 years, and when you buy a house. Also consider an inspection when you add high-wattage appliances or renovate.

* Use a GFCI where appliances will be used near water, and in all outdoor outlets. The GFCI protects the body from shock by switching off power to a malfunctioning circuit.

* Test the GFCI monthly and after a major electrical storm. Use a plug-in device, e.g., a night light, and turn it on. Depress the "Test" button. If the light turns off, the outlet is working. If the "Reset" button pops out but the light stays on, the GFCI is not working. Press "Reset" and call a licensed electrician. You can also buy a special GFCI tester.

* Consider installing arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI). They can prevent fires due to bad wiring.

An Important TO DO List

* Buy only electrical products, preferably double-insulated, certified by a nationally recognized testing lab such as UL, CSA, ITS or Met Labs.

* As a general rule, do not plug appliances into the same outlet if the combined wattage exceeds 1500 watts. If the wattage is not on the product, multiply the amps by 125.

* No more than one heat-producing appliance (microwave, toaster, coffee maker or waffle iron) should be plugged into an outlet.

* Unplug immediately any appliance that sparks or stalls.

* To replace a blown fuse, use the same size as the original.

* If a lamp's wattage is not marked, use a 60 watt or less bulb.

* Keep electrical appliances away from water. Be sure your hands and feet are dry before you touch any plugged-in appliance.

* When you finish using small appliances or power tools, unplug them. They can electrocute if they fall into water, even if turned off.

* Despite Hollywood, never use a telephone, even a portable, in a bathtub, shower or swimming pool.

* During an electrical storm, avoid bathing, touching an appliance or using a telephone or computer.

* Don't tuck in or cover an electric blanket. It may overheat and catch fire.

* If you smell gas, do not use a phone or electrical product, including a light switch. A spark can ignite gas. Evacuate immediately, and call the gas company or fire department.

* Use one-piece "safety caps" on unused wall and extension cord outlets, particularly if kids are around.

* Call in an expert to work around power lines.

* If someone is shocked, do not touch them if they are still in contact with the electrical source. Turn off the power and seek help.

Plugs And Extension Cords

* A polarized plug has one blade wider than the other. If it doesn't fit, use an adapter. Don't try to force it.

* To avoid overloading a cord, add up the wattage of the products plugged into the cord, and compare it to the cord's wattage rating.

* Never use extension cords to replace permanent wiring. The longer a cord is used, the greater the fire hazard due to heat buildup.

* Unplug and safely store extension cords which are not in use. The unplugged end in a child's mouth can lead to death or serious injury.

* To pull a plug from an outlet, grip the plug. Don't yank the cord.

* Keep cords off steam pipes, heaters or other hot surfaces.

* Don't run cords under rugs or furniture. Untangle twisted cords. They can overheat and start a fire.

* Insert plugs fully into extension cords so the prongs are not exposed.

* Discontinue using a cord that is hot or very warm to the touch.

* Only use cords outdoors that are marked for outdoor use.

* Avoid using extension cords with high wattage appliances such as air conditioners, heaters and irons. If you must, use a heavy-duty cord.

* Check all electrical cords at least once a year. Cracked or frayed cords are a principal cause of fires. Also check appliances for cracks that could lead to overheating.
About the Author
John Myre is the author of the award-winning book, Live Safely in a Dangerous World, and the publisher of the Safety Times Reproducible Articles..
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