Protecting your family, home and property is a full time job. Unfortunately, busy schedules often get in the way of making safety a top priority. Since May is National Electrical Safety Month, now is a good time to discuss electrical hazards and review effective safety practices.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), electrical malfunctions are a leading cause of residential building fires. In 2011, there were 26,800 residential building fires caused by electrical malfunctions that resulted in 280 deaths, 1,200 injuries and over a billion dollars in property loss. FEMA reports that residential building electrical fires cause more injuries, death and damage than all nonelectrical residential fires combined.

Steps can be taken to avoid becoming another tragic statistic. For example, since the average home in the United States was built in 1974, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) recommends installing updated home safety devices that are designed to meet today’s electrical demands. The following items, for example, can greatly increase electrical safety.

Tamper Resistant Receptacles

Curious kids and electrical receptacles (outlets) are a dangerous combination. Tampering with electrical receptacles causes an estimated 6 to12 child fatalities and 2,400 severe shocks and burns every year. Those relying on plastic outlet covers to protect their children should know that a Temple University study found that 100% of 2 to 4-year-old children were able to remove plastic outlet covers in less than ten seconds.

A Tamper Resistant Receptacle (TRR) has spring-loaded shutters that cover the contact openings, or slots, of the receptacles. These shutters only open when both springs are compressed at the same time. The shutters will not open when a child attempts to insert an object into only one contact opening, so there will be no contact with electricity. According to the ESFI, the cost of installing TRRs in new homes is about 50 cents more than installing traditional receptacles, and the cost of retrofitting existing homes can be done for about $2 per outlet.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter

A ground-fault occurs when there is a break in the grounding path that may cause the electrical current to take an alternative path to the ground through a person, resulting in serious injuries or death. A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power within as little as 1/40 of a second in the event of a ground-fault. It works by comparing the amount of current going to and returning fromequipment along the circuit conductors. If there is a measurable difference between the two, the GFCI interrupts the current.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter

An arc fault is an unintentional discharge of electricity in a circuit that can be caused by damaged, overheated or stressed electrical wiring or devices. Sparking or arcing caused by loose or corroded wires making intermittent contact generates heat and can damage insulation of the wires, which can trigger an electrical fire. Since arcing may not trip a circuit breaker, an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) is needed to shut off the electricity before a fire can start.

The ESFI also recommends conducting a home electrical safety checkup by asking a number of questions designed to identify potential safety hazards, such as:

  • Are all switches and outlets working properly?
  • Are any switches or outlets warm to the touch?
  • Are any outlets or switches discolored?
  • Do any switches or outlets make crackling or buzzing sounds?
  • Do plugs fit snugly into all outlets?
  • Are any cords cracked, frayed or damaged?
  • Are any cords pinched by furniture, doors or windows?
  • Are cords attached to anything with nails or staples?
  • Are cords placed under carpets?
  • Are any extension cords being used on a permanent basis?
  • Are cords kept tied up while being used?
  • Are appropriate wattage light bulbs being used in all lights?
  • Are all appliance cords placed so they will not come in contact with hot surfaces?
  • Do you have recurring tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses?
  • Are electrical safety devices, such as GFCIs and AFCIs, tested every month?

If potential electrical safety hazards are discovered, the ESFI cautions against taking a do-it-yourself approach and strongly recommends leaving electrical work to the professionals. Nevertheless, the ESFI recommends the following precautions before doing any electrical work:

  • Turn off the power by switching off the correct circuit breaker in the main service panel.
  • Unplug lamps, appliances, etc. that are being worked on.
  • Test wires before touching them to confirm power has been turned off.
  • Never touch plumbing or gas pipes when performing an electrical project.
  • Never attempt a project that is beyond your skill level.

Since completely eliminating the risk of electrical damage is impossible, homeowners and renters should check with their insurance agent to make sure they are adequately protected. In some cases, a personal property floater or ordinance and law coverage may be necessary.

If you would like information about how insurance can play a valuable role in protecting your home from electrical safety hazards, please contact us.

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