Electrical Safety

Electricity always seeks the easiest path to the ground.  It tries to find a conductor, such as metal, wet wood, water -- or your body!  Your body is 70% water, so if you touch an energized bare wire or faulty equipment while you are grounded, electricity will instantly pass through you to the ground, causing a harmful -- or fatal -- shock.

The amount of electricity used by one 7.5 watt Christmas tree bulb can kill you if it passes through your chest.  Even if it isn't fatal, electrical shock can easily cause serious falls, burns, or internal bleeding.

At Home

Your Home Wiring is just a number of loops, or circuits.  A "live" wire brings current to a light or an outlet.  A "neutral" wire returns current to its source.  Between inside wiring and outside power lines is a service panel.

Most service panels have a main switch.  Use it to cut all power when changing a fuse or in case of fire or shock.  If you don't have a main switch, turn off all circuit breakers.  Don't tamper with your electric meter.  You'll risk shock, explosion, or fire.

Your service panel contains fuses or circuit breakers which interrupt power to specific circuits in case of a short circuit or overload.  If this happens:

  • Unplug appliances.
  • Switch off power at the main switch.
  • Try to determine the cause of the problem and correct it if possible.
  • Replace the fuse that has a broken metal strip with a new fuse of the same rating - typically 15 amperes.
  • If you have circuit breakers instead, switch the one that's "off" to "on."
  • Restore power.

Never use anything other than a fuse to replace a fuse - you could cause a fire.  If fuses blow or a circuit breaker trips often, contact a qualified repairman.

Grounding:  The Third Prong

When you use a plug with three prongs, the third prong connects insidet he outlet with a "ground wire," which usually connects to a water pipe or a ground rod at the service panel.  As a result, in case of a short circuit, electricity should flow through the grounding system instead of through you.  Never remove the third prong.

Appliance Safety

Remember the most important rule for appliances -- electricity and water don't mix.  Keep appliances, especially hair dryers, away from bathtubs, puddles, sinks and wet hands.  Wet skin increases the risk of shock, so unplug an appliance before cleaning -- even if off, it can shock.  Never put metal objects in live parts of appliances or in outlets.  If an appliance overheats, unplug it and have it checked.  Don't overload outlets.  Use only appliances that are approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories.

At Work

Check Cords and Connections

Before you start work, check electric cords for wear.  If you're outside or in a wet location, be sure tools and extension cords are suitable for outdoor use and circuits are equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GCFIs) which prevent serious shock.  Are cords free of oil, heat, and corrosive chemicals?  Never yank, kink or bend cords.  Unwind them fully before use, and store loosely coiled in a dry place.

Use Power Tools & Equipment Safely

Never carry a tool by its cord.  Be sure a tool is switched "off" before plugging or unplugging - this protects you and the next person who uses it.  When using portable power tools, keep the cord behind you where it can't be cut.  Watch out for energized areas when reaching into equipment.

Lockout/Tagout

Learn and follow your company's lockout/tagout procedure for de-energizing equipment before service or maintenance.  If in doubt, ask a supervisor or qualified electrical worker for help.

Keep Tools Clean and Dry

Dirt and dampness increase the risk of shock.  Keep your tools, work area, and storage space clean and dry.  When cleaning electrical equipment, be sure it's unplugged, and follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions.

Protect Yourself and Others

In your workplace, or working around the house, take these three steps near power lines to be safe:

  • Locate nearby overhead and underground utility lines.  Contact utility companies before starting work.  Some states have one-call systems for locating underground power lines before you start digging.
  • Warn others about nearby power lines and other electrical hazards.
  • Keep your distance.  Make sure booms, poles, ladders, antennae, and other equipment clear lines by at least 10 fee in every direction.  Never use metal poles or ladders near power lines.

If Your Vehicle is Touching a Power Line

If you cannot safely drive away from the line, stay inside and wait for rescue workers.  Warn others to stay away from the vehicle.  If you must get out because of fire or other danger, jump out without touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time.  Shuffle away with very small steps.  Don't try to help others out of the vehicle - you could be shocked.