Focus on Electrical Safety

The American Burn Association (ABA) has declared this week as National Burn Awareness Week. The theme is Electrical Safety from A to Z (Amps to Zap). In a world driven by technology, Dr. Tait Olaveson, Medical Director of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at EIRMC believes you can never be too careful when it comes to handling electrical devices and appliances.

"If it runs on electricity, it is inherently hazardous," he said. "Electrical product misuse or malfunction can cause anything from electrocution to contact burns and fires. They can be extremely dangerous and cause very severe injuries. So, please use caution when handling electrical products and only use them how they are intended to be used."

Dr. Olaveson recommends the following tips when using electrical products:

  • Never use cords that are frayed or show signs of wear.
  • Ensure that all outlets have faceplates.
  • Never piggyback plugs. There should be no more than one plug in each receptacle and no more than two plugs per outlet.
  • When using heating appliances like coffeemakers, toasters, and space heaters, plug them directly into a wall outlet. They should be the only thing plugged into the outlet during use.
  • Large appliances like refrigerators, washers, dryers, microwave ovens, and air conditioners should be plugged directly into a wall outlet.
  • All light fixtures and lamps should have shades or globes to prevent contact burns and fires.
  • Ensure all light bulbs are tightly screwed in, and they are the proper wattage for the light fixture.

Electrical injuries can happen to anyone in the family, regardless of age. EIRMC treats young patients injured chewing on wires or sticking small objects into outlets too often for comfort. Though not always preventable, there are a few extra steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of electrical injury to little ones.

"The best advice I could give to someone with kids and infants at home is to discourage pulling or chewing on cords and wires. An effective way to do this is tucking cords out of reach and unplugging them when they aren't in use. I would also suggest installing socket covers to help prevent small items from being inserted into live outlets," said Dr. Olaveson.

Another important step toward electrical safety in your home is the installation of circuit interrupters. Of all electrical fires, wiring and electrical distribution account for a majority of them. Circuit interrupters are essential to preventing these types of fire hazards, specifically arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) and ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). AFCIs automatically shut off the electricity under dangerous conditions, such as sparking or arcing due to loose or corroded wires. GFCIs protect against shock hazards, which is why they are normally installed in bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and basements. Working in tandem, these two types of circuit interrupters directly aid in preventing fires and electrical injuries.

"Electrical fires and injuries can be both life-threatening and life-altering. Taking precautions and knowing the signs of an electrical problem can help prevent these types of traumatic incidents from occurring," said Dr. Olaveson. "If you're ever in doubt whether there is an electrical problem or not, quit using the electrical device or appliance immediately and call a professional."

Call an electrician as soon as possible if any of the following apply:

  • Your wall outlets look discolored or feel warm to the touch.
  • Your outlets spark when you plug in or unplug cords.
  • You smell a burning or rubbery smell around your appliances.
  • You experience a tingling feeling when you touch light switches.
  • Your lights frequently flicker or dim for no known reason.
  • You frequently have blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers.