Safety with Electricity and Preventing Electrocution & Fire
Safety with electricity at home
Paramedics often have to deal with the consequences of our failure to manage electricity with the care and safety that it deserves. Electricity is not something to play around with – neglect and thoughtlessness lead to both electrocution and fire at our homes. In this section we will share information on how to work with electricity safely.
Inspections and Maintenance
The best advice to prevent unsafe situations and accidents with electricity is through effective & preventative maintenance:
- Appliances needing repairs or replacement should be attended to immediately.
- In our homes breakages and excessive wear and tear on electrical equipment can occur frequently so we need regular inspections and take precautions to ensure safety.
- If an appliance repeatedly blows a fuse, trips a circuit breaker or gives you an electrical shock, immediately unplug, repair or replace it.
What do we need to inspect?
- Signs of overheating
- Missing parts (screws, covers, switches)
- Faulty appliance controls
- Doors and covers not closely smoothly or adequately.
- Correct labelling when needed (eg. Electricity requirements)
- Loose Fixtures or fittings
It is also important that we test our equipment regularly - switch it on and off and look for possible problems or faulty connections. Taking time to make sure you are using your equipment safely could save your life later on.
Plugs are an essential part of our lives as we depend on electricity for almost everything we do. Therefore, it is important for people of all ages to know how to use plugs safely.
The following tips are for you to use when buying and using plugs.
- Look for the SABS sign and only use SABS approved plugs.
- Do not overload plugs - rather use an adaptor.
Inside the house / Safety with electrical cords and connections
Cords, like plugs, are an essential part of our environment but can also be a safety hazard.
How do we minimise the potential safety dangers caused by electrical cords?
- Use SABS approved electrical wires or cords.
- Do not use frayed cords - Do not join cords with tape!
- Replace worn and frayed cords on appliances immediately.
- Keep cords well away from hot stoves and other hot surfaces.
- Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpets and rugs.
- Make sure that cords are not placed in areas with high traffic where people may trip over them.
- Do not let cords rest on furniture but rather let them run along walls and around furniture.
- Do not run cords through hinges or nail them to walls, floors or any other objects.
- Extension cords should be used on a temporary basis only. They are not a permanent wiring solution.
- Extension cords should have 3 pins (plugs with 2 pins are not earthed and should be used only with double insulated electrical equipment)
- Extension cords should not be used in wet areas – unless specially designed to do so
Plugging into electricity safely and correctly
- Overloading a plug can cause a fire. A multi-plug adaptor will allow you to use as many appliances as needed without the risk of overheating.
- Pulling a plug out by the cord can expose bare wires. Pull it out by gripping the plug itself and make sure the power is switched off.
- Broken plugs or loose wires are dangerous. Always use SABS approved plugs and make sure there are no loose wires.
- Putting electrical wires directly into a socket can cause accidents.
- It is dangerous to plug electrical appliances into light sockets. They should only be plugged into wall sockets.
- Retire, replace or have repaired damaged electrical appliances (i.e. damaged/frayed cords; cracked housing; broken plugs).
- Turn off power points before plugging/unplugging appliances.
- Turn off all appliances such as air conditioners, heaters, ovens and stove tops when leaving your home.
- Maintain exhaust fans in a clean condition, free of lint.
- Ensure appliances have adequate breathing space to prevent overheating.
- Remove all combustible material situated near stoves, heaters and lamps.
- Place lamps on level surfaces, away from things that can burn and use bulbs that match the lamp's recommended wattage.
The deadly combination of water and electricity
Since water is an excellent electricity conductor, it can cause electric shocks or short circuits very easily. The general rule is thus to keep water in and around the home, away from any electrical appliances and any wall sockets.
- Do not use electrical appliances in the bathroom.
- Never touch electrical appliances with wet hands or bare feet.
- Never fill a kettle when it is plugged in.
- Never mow wet grass with an electric lawnmower.
- Never hold an electric appliance in one hand while touching metal objects such as taps, fridges or stoves with the other. This is because our bodies are made up of 70% of water and they thus become very good electricity conductors.
- Never use water to put out an electrical fire if the mains are not switched off. Use a dry chemical fire extinguisher instead.
- Be extremely careful when using appliances connected to power points near wet areas including sinks, baths and swimming pools.
- If an electrical appliance has been immersed in water it must be discarded immediately
- Switch off and unplug after use all portable electrical appliances, such as hairdryers, shavers, etc.
- Don’t use portable heaters in bathroom areas. Instead, you should have either a strip heater installed high on the wall or a ceiling unit installed by a registered electrical contractor.
- Don’t use extension leads or power leads in wet areas unless specifically designed to do so
Outside the house
- Inspect all outdoor connections, appliances and tools for frayed cords, broken plugs and cracked or broken housings.
- When working with any electrical appliance, like power drills, make sure that they are connected properly. Never use them in damp or wet areas.
- Do not enter electrical sub-stations - the voltage is extremely high and very dangerous.
- Do not touch any electrical power lines. Under no circumstances should you ever go near them. All power lines are very dangerous.
- Do not make a fire underneath power lines.
- Never climb onto electric pylons.
- Do not play or build houses under power lines.
- Do not throw stones at insulators.
- Do not cut down trees next to power lines.
- Do not touch power lines that have fallen to the ground.
- Do not carry long objects under power lines.
- Ladders, boat masts and poles should be kept well clear of overhead power lines.
- Look up and keep clear! Power lines can sag in extreme heat and sway in strong winds.
- Pay extra attention and be cautious at times of poor visibility - Power lines are difficult to see at dawn and dusk.
- Plant low growing vegetation near power lines.
- Never use an indoor extension cord for outdoor use. Use an extension cord specifically for outdoors; they are heavier and less likely to be damaged.
Safety of children and the Elderly
Special caution is required where we have young children and the elderly. Children are naturally interested in cords and plugs and their curiosity could lead to serious accidents. The elderly often make decisions based on what appears to be comfortable rather than what is safe.
We need to be the responsible adult and make decisions for the safety of the young and the elderly.
- In homes with small children, make sure your home has tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles.
- When babies start to crawl or walk, extra care has to be taken that they do not harm themselves.
- Children love playing with loose hanging wires and can easily chew on a live wire.
- Teach children not to play with electrical sockets.
- Keep all unused plugs in the house covered with a safety plug. Babies love to stick their fingers into the plug holes.
- Make sure that the cords of your iron and kettle are not left hanging where a child can pull them, thereby causing a hot iron or kettle to fall down and burn the child.
- If you have turned a heater on, watch your child carefully so that he / she do not stick their fingers through the grill and touch the hot bars of the heater.
- Teach your children not to fly kites near power lines or release metallic balloons outside.
- Never allow children to climb electric poles.
- DO not play with children on or near an electrical installation.
There are also specific suggestions on electrical appliances in our living rooms and kitchens:
- To avoid an accident, keep heaters and fans a safe distance from your curtains and furniture - at least 3 feet away.
- Using the correct fuse is important. When you replace a blown fuse, make sure of its size as the wrong one could cause a fire.
- Electricity outlets and switches should always be cool to the touch - if they aren't call a technician to fix it for you and NEVER touch it yourself.
- Unplug any of your small appliances when you are not using them, eg. Toasters, irons, hairdryers.
- Do not use electric blankets with loose wires - they could cause a fire or shock. Do not tuck in or squeeze wires as this is also very dangerous.
- Turn your heating pad off before you go to sleep.
- In case of an accident and your clothes catch fire, don't panic - 'DROP' and 'ROLL'.
General Safety Advice and Suggestions
We are often placing ourselves in danger through our laziness or moments of thoughtlessness. A few moments of safety awareness can prevent a lot of pain:
- Do not pull a plug by the cord - Switch the switch off at the wall socket, before pulling the plug out.
- Do not connect electrical appliances to light sockets.
- Ensure that all wall sockets have their switches in the "off" mode, when not in use.
- Never put bare wires into sockets.
- Do not stick fingers into sockets.
- Never change a light bulb without first making sure that the current is switched off.
- Do not use a fork or a knife or anything that is made of metal to remove toast from a toaster when it is plugged in.
- If you see sparks or smoke from an electrical appliance, it is telling you that something is wrong. Unplug it and call an electrician.
- Keep range hood filters free of grease build-up.
- Clean ovens and hot plates regularly to prevent the build-up of spilled fats and burnt foods.
- Install a ventilation system, flue or exhaust fan in the kitchen to expel fumes while cooking.
- Switch off and unplug your toaster before trying to remove toast, muffins or crumpets that are caught in the body of the unit.
- Safely remove bread crumbs from the toaster regularly as a build- up can be hazardous.
- Never leave cooking unattended. If you must leave the room momentarily take something with you as a reminder that you are cooking (eg. a wooden spoon)
- Do not work on an electrical appliance unless you know exactly what you are doing and make sure it is not plugged in.
Ask an Expert
The general rule of thumb should be - When in Doubt –Don’t!
It is important that we acknowledge that others have done much research on the safety of appliances and there are also qualified technicians who might be better equipped to perform necessary repairs!
- Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for plugging an appliance into a receptacle outlet.
- Use the specified watt light bulb as indicated on the light fixture.
- If outlets or switches feel warm, frequent problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuits, or flickering or dimming lights, call a qualified electrician.
- Be familiar with where your switchboard is located and keep access to it free of obstructions.
- Do not attempt to repair faulty electrical appliances yourself.
- Let repairs or installation work be undertaken by a licensed electrical contractor.
With the above safety suggestions we should all be able to better protect our loved ones in and around our homes.
[A word of appreciation to our road safety partner, Eskom for the safety advice provided]