Residential Safety

Electric Safety
Electricity is a daily convenience that can also injure if you do not treat it with respect. Everyday someone loses their home or business due to an electrical fire. While data is not yet available for San Juan County, the Farmington Fire Department reports that electrical shorts and arcing were the causes of eight fires in homes and businesses for 1996. These tragedies could have been prevented. Don’t be a victim of an electric accident and practice electrical safety in the home, school, and workplace.

Electrical Plugs & Outlets
Plugs and cords are involved in about 20% of all home electrical wiring system fires each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Three-prong plugs include a ground pin that connects exposed metal parts of an appliance to the residential wiring system ground. Two-prong plugs do not have a grounding pin. Two-prong plugs are properly used on appliances that do not rely on grounding to provide protection from shock, such as double insulated power tools. Do not cut off the ground pin on a three-prong plug to accommodate a two-prong outlet. Removing this pin could lead to electrical shock.

Polarized / Non-polarized
Plugs also come in polarized and non-polarized varieties. Polarized plugs help reduce the potential for shock with easily identifiable plugs. One prong is wider than the other and can only be inserted one way.

For older homes without polarized plug-in receptacles, a qualified electrician should replace the receptacles and any wiring not compatible with polarized. Do not risk injury by modifying or forcing polarized plugs into non-polarized outlets.

Extension Cords
There are 3,000 injuries treated annually in hospital emergency rooms are associated with extension cords and that in 1993, about 3,200 residential fires, 50 deaths, and $50.7 million in property damage were linked to extension cords, according to the CPSC.

  • Check for overloaded, worn, or damaged extension cords. Replace older cords that are non-polarized and that don’t have child safety closures.
  • Don’t cover cords with carpet, furniture, or appliances.
  • Keep cords out of reach children and out of traffic areas where people can trip over them.
  • Extension cords are intended for temporary use and not as a permanent substitute for inadequate wiring.
  • Only use extension cords that have been listed by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as CSA, Inchcape Testing Services, or Underwriters Laboratories.
Overloaded Cords
  • Make sure the total number of watts connected to the extension cord is no more than the rating labeled on the cord.
  • Replace overloaded cords with cords of the proper cord rating or relocate appliance to other outlets.
  • Extension cords used outdoors should be specifically marked for such use.
  • Polarized electrical plugs should be used only with polarized or grounding type extension cord.
  • Never remove the third prong or cut down the wider of the two prongs of a plug to fit a non-polarized receptacle.
  • Use special heavy duty extension cords for high-wattage appliance such as portable electric heaters.
Receptacles & Switches
There were about 4,900 electrical fires involving switches and receptacles in 1994, according to CPSC.

Warning Signs
An unsafe wiring condition could exist if switches and outlets don’t work properly. Check for these warning signs: hot to the touch, spark or arc when used, or if the switch or outlet blows a fuse or trips a circuit breaker. Call an electrician if you see these warning signs.

  • All outlets should have a faceplate to help prevent exposure to live wiring. If plugs seem to fit loosely in an outlet, the outlet may be worn and could overheat. A licensed electrician should check it.
  • Child-proof your outlets with inexpensive safety plugs or covers to prevent children from inserting small objects.
  • All outdoor outlets, as well as bathroom, kitchen, basement, garage, and crawlspace outlets, should be protected by ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI’s).
  • Outdoor receptacles should also have weatherproof covers to help protect against shock hazards.
  • Close the covers on all unused outdoor outlets.
  • If receptacles or switches are wired with aluminum instead of copper, write to CPSC, Washington, DC 20207, for a booklet called “Repairing Aluminum Wiring.” The CPSC has received reports of overheating at outlet terminals and connectors associated with aluminum wiring.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
  • If a GFCI device were to be installed in every home in the United States, more than two-thirds of all residential electrocutions could be prevented.
  • GFCI’s are electrical devices designed to detect ground faults. Ground faults occur when electrical current is leaking somewhere outside that path where the current is intended to flow. If your body provides the path to ground for this leakage, you could be burned, or even electrocuted.
  • The GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in a circuit to sense any imbalance in the current. If the current going into the circuit differs by even a small amount from that returning, the GFCI switches off the power to that circuit.
  • The GFCI interrupts power quickly enough to help prevent your receiving a lethal dose of electricity. Even with a GFCI, you might be shocked, but the GFCI limits the time you are exposed to that shock and helps protect against serious injury and electrocution. GFCI’s should be checked monthly to determine that they are working properly.
  • GFCI’s are required by law to be in homes built to comply with the present National Electrical Code. GFCI protection is required for all outdoor receptacles, all bathroom receptacles, garage wall receptacles, all kitchen counter top receptacles, and receptacles in crawl spaces.
Things To Do
  • Use extension cords only on a temporary basis.
  • Childproof unused outlets and extension cords with safety plugs.
  • Unplug an appliance and call an electrician if the receptacle face plate feels hot or if there is sparking, smoke, or odor coming from the outlet, plug, or appliance.
  • Examine appliance and extension cords regularly for signs of wear and tear or damage to insulation.
Things To Avoid
  • Overload cords with too many appliances.
  • Ignore switches and receptacles that don’t work. Call a qualified electrician for assistance.
  • Place electrical appliances where they may come in contact with water.
  • Touch an electrical appliance that gets wet.