The same electricity that powers our modern lives causes thousands of injuries every year—and 20% of those injured are children. Many of these injuries could be avoided with education and a quick look around the home for hazards.

May is National Electrical Safety Month, but that doesn’t mean consumers shouldn’t take a few minutes to look around their homes regularly.

Extension Cord and Power Strip Safety

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, 50 people die every year from more than 3,300 fires caused by extension cords. Extension cords can overheat if used inappropriately.

  • Buy cords approved by an independent testing laboratory.
  • Make sure extension cords are appropriately rated for their use—indoor or outdoor—and meet or exceed the power needs of the device being used.
  • Do not plug extension cords into one another. Extending the length of your cord—or daisy chaining—is the most common cause of overheating. It overloads the cord and creates a serious fire hazard.
  • Inspect extension cords before plugging them in. Look for tears along the insulated cord, and check your sockets for bare wiring, metal parts and loose connections.
  • Do not use an extension cord or power strip with heaters or fans, which could cause cords to overheat and result in a fire.
  • Do not staple or nail extension cords to any surface. This could damage the cords. Do not run extension cords through walls, doorways, ceilings or floors. Keep the cords uncovered so heat can escape.
  • Keep outdoor extension cords away from standing water.
  • Never use three-pronged plugs with outlets that only have two slots. Anything in contact with the loose prong could catch fire.
  • Never cut off the ground pin (the third pin on a three-pronged plug) to force your cable to fit a socket. It could lead to electrical shock or worse.
  • Use only surge-protected power strips. This helps prevent fires and protects your electrical equipment from surge-related damage.
  • If your home is littered with extension cords and power strips, hire an electrician to install additional wall outlets.
  • Remember that power strips only add outlets; they do not change the amount of power received from the outlet.

Avoid Overloading Circuits

Do not overload your electrical system. Overloaded circuit warning signs are flickering, blinking or dimming lights; frequently tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses; warm
or discolored wall plates; cracking, sizzling or buzzing from receptacles; a burning odor from receptacles or wall switches; and a mild shock or tingle from appliances, receptacles or switches.

To prevent electrical overloads:

  • Never use extension cords or multi-outlet converters for appliances.
  • All major appliances should be plugged directly into a wall receptacle outlet. Plug only one heat-producing appliance into an outlet at a time.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates more than 50% of electrical fires that occur every year can be prevented by arc-fault circuit interrupters.
  • Use the appropriate-watt bulb for lighting fixtures. Using a larger-watt lightbulb may cause a fire.
Teach everyone in the home to inspect power and extension cords for tears, cracks and fraying before use. Do not use nails or staples to secure cords, as this can cause damage or start a fire.

Watch for Overhead Power Lines

Checking for overhead power lines before starting work on household projects is a fundamental safety measure.

  • Never touch a power line. Contact with an energized line can injure or kill you.
  • If you see a downed power line, stay at least 35 feet away, call 911 immediately and warn anyone nearby of the danger.
  • Always stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines. Do not assume the lines are for cable or telephone service.
  • Tree branches can become electrical conductors. If a tree is in contact with or near a power line, call your utility and make arrangements to de-energize the line before trimming branches.
  • Do not assume a power line is insulated. Often, what appears as insulation is only a soft covering to protect energized metal wires from the weather.
    Carry ladders and other long equipment horizontally to avoid contact with power lines.

Other Home Safety Tips

  • Place safety caps on unused outlets to prevent children from accidentally placing items in the socket, which may cause a fire or injure them. It will also help you save energy by eliminating drafts.
  • Consider installing tamper-resistant receptacles on all outlets.
  • Do not yank electrical cords from the wall. Pulling cords can damage the wall, socket and insulating material surrounding the wire.
  • Make sure your electrical cords are tucked away. Electrical trip hazards can cause fire, electrocution and other injuries.
  • Never stick nonelectrical items in outlets.