Electricity is an extremely valuable and versatile form of energy. Like any form of energy, electricity must also be treated with care and respect. If handled carelessly, it can result in serious property damage, injury or death. Every year, electricity-related incidents in Canada cause approximately: 10,000 fires, 50 deaths by electrocution and 500 hospitalizations (for electrical injuries excluding burns).
Electricity makes life much more convenient, comfortable and fun. Refrigerators, air conditioners, microwave ovens, radios, TVs, stereos and computers are all made possible by electricity. However, electricity is continuously seeking all paths to ground through conductors, such as metal, wet wood, water, or your body. Your body is 70% water and therefore an excellent conductor for electricity.
An important rule to remember for your home appliances is that electricity and water don’t mix. Keep appliances, especially hair dryers, away from bathtubs, puddles, sinks and wet hands. Wet skin increases your risk of shock, so always unplug an appliance before cleaning it; even if it is turned off, it can still shock.
Your kitchen and bathroom outlets have a ground fault circuit device (GFCI), a safety device designed to improve safety when electricity is used in and around wet places. The GFCI monitors the flow of electric current. If an imbalance in the flow occurs, the GFCI will stop the current to avoid danger.
Building codes require that GFCIs be installed in the bathrooms, kitchen and garage of new homes, as well as on some of the basement and outdoor outlets. If your home is not equipped with GFCI outlets it would be a good safety precaution to have them installed by a licensed electrician.
Another electrical fire precaution is to keep anything that could burn (e.g. curtains) away from light bulbs, heaters, portable heaters or toasters. If you’ve ever touched a hot light bulb, you know how hot it can get; up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off heating and cooking appliances before leaving home.
Don’t overload outlets. If you must use an extension cord temporarily, match the amperage or wattage limits marked on the cord with your appliance. Don’t use cords that are frayed or have cracked insulation or damaged plugs. Extension cords can be a big help, but if not used properly they can lead to fires.