Taking the Ouch out of Outlet Safety

Hairpins are perfect for holding certain hair styles in place, but these slender, metal objects are also easy for children to manipulate, making them the dominant household item improperly stuck into electrical receptacles. Each year, approximately 2,400 children – an average of seven a day – receive emergency room treatment for injuries caused by inserting conductive material into electrical outlets, according to a 10-year report released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). And nationwide, there are approximately 5,000 residential fires reported as attributed to receptacle failure. To help prevent many of these dangers, here are some safety precautions for electrical outlets.

  • Replace receptacles that are broken, no longer hold a plug securely, feel hot to the touch, spark or make noise when inserting or removing a plug.
  • All outlets should have a faceplate to prevent accidentally touching a plug to a live portion of the receptacle.
  • Never alter a polarized plug to make it fit into an old unpolarized receptacle. A polarized plug has one blade wider than the other and can only be inserted one way into the electrical outlet.
  • All unused outlets should be covered with safety covers, especially to prevent children and pet access. Also, the covers prevent dust and static electricity.
  • If plugs seem to fit loosely in a particular outlet, the outlet may be worn and could overheat; a qualified electrician should check it.
  • All outside receptacles where water and electricity may come into contact should be protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs are electrical devices designed to detect ground faults. Ground faults occur when electrical current is “leaking” somewhere outside the path where the current is supposed to flow. If your body provides the path to ground for this leakage, you could be burned, shocked or even electrocuted. GFCIs can switch a circuit off before injury occurs.
  • Outdoor receptacles should also have weatherproof covers to help protect against shock hazards. Close the covers on all unused outdoor receptacles.
  • Avoid overloading a receptacle – fires can occur when wires become hot.
  • If you need receptacles replaced, contact a licensed electrician to install them and consider the new tamper-resistant (TR) option. These types of outlets include a shutter mechanism to protect against harm from inserting foreign objects. The spring-loaded system only allows electricity to flow when you apply equal pressure to both sides of the outlet, as when you plug in an electrical device. During unused conditions, both shutters are closed.  Tamper-resistant receptacles are an important step to make the home a safer place for children. The cost is as little as $2 at some retailers and can easily be incorporated into older homes.

Practicing electrical outlet safety in your home will keep you and your family safe from fire and shock hazards.