Plug Into Safety

While we rely on electricity daily, we cannot take its power and convenience for granted without also considering the potential for fire-related and safety hazards.  May is National Electrical Safety Month and a good time to be reminded of the risks associated with electricity and the things we can do to reduce our risk and keep our living and working areas safe from electrical hazards.

Here’s some tips:

Avoid water and electricity; they are a deadly combination.  Water is an excellent conductor of electricity.  People and animals can be electrocuted when electricity’s path to the ground is through anyone touching water and something electric.  Electricity travels through the water and through the being to the ground.  That is why it’s so important to keep all electrical appliances away from water, to make sure your hands are dry before touching anything electrical, not standing in water when you touch anything electrical, and avoid using electrical power tools outdoors in wet grass or other work or damp areas.  It’s also the reason no one should ever use water on an electrical fire, but should use a multipurpose fire extinguisher instead.

Only plug one heat-producing appliance (coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc) into a wall outlet as at a time.  Each household outlet is rated for a safe amount of current, typically 15-20 amps.  Plugging too many household appliances into the same outlet may cause the outlet to  overheat or overload the circuit, start a fire, or create a shock hazard. Unplug small appliances when not in use.

Like an outlet, do not overload a cord.  A specified diameter of copper wire will carry a specified amount of current before it overheats.  Use too much current through that small cord, and it can overheat, melt down and ignite household furnishings.  Make sure that the appliance hooked to the extension cord does not exceed the rating for the cord.  Today, extension cords either have the rating stamped on a plug, or a tag is affixed telling you what amperage it is rated to support.  Devices that produce heat (hair dryers, curling irons, portable heaters, etc) or power tools that do heavy work tend to be high-amperage items.  Ensure the cord can support the total amperage load you put on it and you should have no problems.

Keep metal objects out of appliances and plugs. If a piece of toast gets stuck in the toaster, never use a metal knife to retrieve it. Unplug the toaster and then use a different tool to retrieve it.

Install tamper-resistant electrical outlets if you have young children. (  If a replacement is not possible, install new protective outlet covers that don’t allow children to insert an object into the wall outlet.

Check all power and extension cords for cracks and fraying.  Those showing wear, are loose, or have tape over cracks should be replaced immediately.  Anytime you breach insulation in a cord, you’ve provided a point for current to travel out.  If current can travel from one wire to a person, they’ll get shocked.  If current can travel from the cord to a metal object, anyone who touches that object can get electrocuted, or the current can ground out creating heat and potentially a fire.  If current travels from one wire to another within the extension cord, you have a short circuit which will trip a breaker if everything works right, and can cause a fire if everything does not work right.

Avoid putting cords under rugs, carpets, or furniture.  They can be damaged or pinched by furniture or foot traffic and make it difficult to determine their condition.

Cords used outdoors should be rated for outdoor use.  The cord jacket protects against rough use, moisture, ozone and gives added flexibility at below freezing temperatures. Further, they have molded-on and bonded vinyl plugs and connectors to resist breaking or pulling off the cord.

Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage for the lamp or fixture.  If unsure, check for a sticker on the lamp or fixture base to see the maximum wattage light bulb to use.  For the new LED bulbs, make sure that there is a way to dissipate heat (

Install arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, and outdoors.  These kind of circuit breakers shut off electricity when a dangerous condition occurs.  AFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Replace worn or broken outlets or switches.  Any that are loose fitting, cracked, have broken parts,  do not function as they should, are hot to the touch, or give shock should be replaced immediately.

Uncoil cords.  Power or extension cords should be fully uncoiled when in use.    A coiled cord generates heat and with enough current running through it, enough heat can be generated to ignite household furnishings.

Turn lights off when not in use. In addition to the cost savings on your next electric bill, this simple task will also help prevent electrical fires from overheated bulbs. Consider installing motion-detecting light switches.

Electrical safety should be a top priority in your home and work area. Awareness of electrical hazards is the key to reducing the staggering number of electrically-related home fires, injuries and deaths that occur every year.


Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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