A Closer Look: Electrical Safety for 2013 - Part I

Learn more about the top electrical safety tips for this holiday season. More specifically, our experts also will provide insight into how to start the New Year off to a safe start.

20 December 2012

Q. The holiday season is a popular time for purchasing big-ticket items such as televisions and appliances.  What are some tips to make sure these new items are safely integrated into the home electrical system?

Response from Rich Adams, VP of Global Engineering & Certification, Intertek: First and foremost, any electrical product should be inspected to ensure compliance with US safety standards. The easiest way to achieve this is to review the manufacturers label on the product, and to ensure a mark from a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) is present - signifying compliance to the appropriate standards. A list of OSHA accredited NRTLs and approved marks can be found at http://www.osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/nrtllist.html and http://www.osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/nrtlmrk.html respectively.

Response from Brett Brenner, President of ESFI:   The first step is to always purchase electrical devices and appliances from a reputable retailer that you trust.  You should be especially wary when making online purchases, because often if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Check that all electrical items are certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory). 

Have qualified professionals install your appliances to make sure they're properly connected, and be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's instructions before use.  Also, be sure you have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection anywhere electricity and water are within six feet of each other, such as in your kitchen, bathroom and outdoors, to protect against electric shock. Lastly, send warranty and product registration forms for new items to manufacturers in order to be notified about product recalls.  You can also regularly refer to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recall information. 

Q. The beginning of a New Year usually marks a time for improvement.  What are some simple and more advanced measures that can be taken to ensure that people are off to an electrically safe start to the New Year?

Response from Rich Adams, VP of Global Engineering & Certification, Intertek: A quick review around the house should be performed. Look for what seems like fairly mundane items, but can lead to real shock and fire hazards. This items include:  1) ensure that no power or extension cords are run on stairs, under carpets, or across hallways/walkways; 2) double-check that all light bulbs match the wattage and style recommended on the lamp or luminaire (light fixture) and make sure to never use a higher wattage than specified;  and 3) check that all GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interruptors) operate properly. This can easily be achieved by pressing the 'Test' button. You should hear a click, then validate the electrical receptacle power is cut; this can be done by plugging a simple cord-connected appliance  into the receptacle. Be sure to press the reset button when done. If the power does not shut off, or alternatively does not come back on when the reset button is pressed, you should contact a licensed electrical professional to check it out.

Response from Brett Brenner, President of ESFI:  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average home in the U.S. is 37 years old. These homes were built before many of the electronics and appliances we use today were even invented.   If you live in an older home, consider having a qualified, licensed electrician replace your standard circuit breakers with combination-type arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs).  Also, make sure ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are installed in your kitchen, bathrooms, basement, garage, outdoors, and any other areas where water and electricity are likely to come in contact.

Regardless of when your home was built,  you should examine your electrical service panel to make sure circuit breakers and fuses are correctly labeled with their amperage and the rooms, circuits, or outlets they service.   Also, if you have AFCIs and GFCIs installed, you should test them to ensure they are working properly, a process that should be followed monthly.  

Both new and old homes can benefit by the installation of tamper resistant receptacles (TRRs), which provide a simple, permanent solution to help prevent childhood shock and burn injuries from tampering with a wall outlet.    Existing homes can be easily retrofitted with tamper resistant receptacles using the same installation guidelines that apply to standard receptacles, but should only be installed by a licensed electrician. Replacing standard outlets with TRRs can cost as little as $2.00 an outlet. 

Do you have a question for one of our bloggers on this subject? Please leave a comment below and one of our experts will get back to you.

Today's blog post contains two experts on electrical safety. Intertek expert is Rich Adams, who leads the global engineering and certification for the company and is based out of Lake Forest, California. The guest blogger is expert, Brett Brenner, President of Electrical Safety Foundation International and is based out of Arlington, Virginia.