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Plug into Electral Safety

Electricity can be a friend, but it can also hurt if you do not treat it with respect. Every day someone loses his or her home or business due to an electrical fire. These tragedies are preventable. Don't be a victim of an electrical accident – practice electrical safety in the home, school and workplace. The following information may save a life.


Plugs | Extension Cords | Receptacles & Switches | GFCI | DO'S | DON'TS



Everyone knows what a plug is. But do you know how a plug works? You should, because, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), plugs and cords are involved in about 32 percent of all home electrical wiring systems fires each year.
Inside the body of the plug, the cord's wires are fastened to blades to enable electric power to pass to the cord from a receptacle outlet. The typical plug includes two blades or prongs, a molded plastic body holding the two blades apart and a blade/cord connection within the plug body. When inserted into an outlet, the blades become energized. Electricity flows through the blades, through the blade/cord connection and through the cord, thus energizing the appliance.


What are the different types of plugs?

Three-prong plugs include a ground pin that connects exposed metal parts of an appliance to the residential wiring system ground. Two-prong plugs do not have a grounding pin. Two-prong plugs are properly used on some appliances, such as "double insulated" power tools that do not rely on grounding to provide protection from shock.

If you are using a three-prong plug in a room with two-conductor outlets, do not cut off the ground pin. Removing this pin could lead to electrical shock.

Plugs also come in "polarized" and "non-polarized" varieties. Polarization helps reduce the potential for shock. Consumers can easily identify polarized plugs; one blade is wider than the other. (Three-conductor plugs are automatically polarized because they can only be inserted one way.)

Older homes may not have polarized receptacle outlets. If not, the receptacles will not accept polarized plugs. A qualified electrician should replace the old receptacles and put in wiring consistent with polarization. Do not risk injury by modifying or forcing polarized plug blades to fit into a non-polarized outlet.




Extension cords are often used in homes and offices. They offer convenience and are easy to use on a temporary basis. But, if used improperly or carelessly, extension cords can be dangerous. The CPSC estimates that approximately 12,000 persons were treated in hospital emergency rooms for electrical burns and shocks, and about 2,500 persons were treated for injuries associated with extension cords.

What are some potential hazards involving extension cords?
Be on the lookout for overloaded, worn, or damaged cords. Don't cover cords with carpets, furniture or appliances. Replace older cords that are non-polarized and that don't have safety closures. Cords without these safety closures can expose young children to shock hazards and mouth burn injuries. Extension cords are intended only for temporary use and not as a permanent substitute for inadequate house wiring. Keep cords out of the reach of children and out of high traffic areas where people might trip over them. Only use extension cords that have been tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as CSA, ITS, or UL.

How do I know what size or type of cord to use?
Make sure the total number of watts connected to the extension cord is no more than the cord rating. Replace overloaded cords with cords of the proper rating or relocate appliances to other outlets. Extension cords used outdoors should be specifically marked for such use. Indoor-use-only cords will not withstand outdoor conditions and could result in a shock hazard. When using three-prong plugs, use only the proper grounding type of extension cord (one with three prongs). Polarized electrical plugs (one blade is wider than the other) should be used only with polarized or grounding type extension cords. Never remove the third prong or cut down the blade of a plug to fit a non-polarized receptacle.




The switch is the point where two worlds meet – human and electrical. Switches are used to turn power on and off. Receptacles are outlets, usually mounted on a wall or in the floor, that supply electricity to appliances through a cord and plug.


According to the CPSC, in 1996 (the most recent year for which data is available), there were about 4,700 electrical switch and receptacle fires. Such fires account for about 10 percent of the total number of electrical distribution system fires for that period.


What are some safety precautions to take with switches and receptacles?

  • All switches and outlets should be checked periodically to make sure they are not hot to the touch. If switches and outlets don't work properly, are hot to the touch, spark or arc when used, or if the switch or outlet blows a fuse or trips a circuit breaker, this could indicate an unsafe wiring condition. Have an electrician check the switch or outlet.
  • All outlets should have a faceplate to help prevent exposure to "live" wiring.
  • If plugs seem to fit loosely in a particular outlet, the outlet may be worn and could overheat; a qualified electrician should check it.
  • Put inexpensive safety covers over receptacle outlets to help prevent children from inserting small objects into the outlets.
  • All outside receptacles, as well as bathroom, kitchen, basement, garage, and crawlspace receptacles or anywhere water and electricity may come into contact should be protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  • Outdoor receptacles should also have weatherproof covers to help protect against shock hazards. Close the covers on all unused outdoor receptacles.
  • If receptacles or switches are wired with aluminum wiring instead of the more traditional copper, write to CPSC, Washington, DC 20207 for a booklet called "Repairing Aluminum Wiring."




If this device were installed in every home in the United States, more than two-thirds of all residential electrocutions could be prevented. The device is called a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI.

What is a GFCI?

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.

How do GFCIs work?

The GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in a circuit to sense any imbalance in the current. If the current going into the circuit differs by even a small amount from that returning, the GFCI switches off power to that circuit.

The GFCI interrupts power quickly enough to help prevent your receiving a lethal dose of electricity. Even with a GFCI, you might be shocked; but the GFCI limits the time you are exposed to the shock and helps protect against serious injury and electrocution. GFCIs should be tested monthly to determine that they are working properly.

Are GFCIs required by law?
In homes built to comply with the present National Electrical Code (NEC), GFCI protection is required for:

  • All outdoor receptacles
  • All bathroom receptacles
  • Garage wall receptacles
  • All kitchen receptacles that serve the counter top
  • Receptacles in crawl spaces and unfinished basements


You should inspect your home to see if GFCI protection is provided in these areas.

What are the different types of GFCIs?

Circuit breaker type GFCIs can be added in electrical panels to replace ordinary circuit breakers. They should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Receptacle type GFCIs can be used in homes protected by either fuses or circuit breakers. A qualified electrician or a consumer knowledgeable about electrical wiring should install them.

Portable GFCIs simply plug into a receptacle and require no special knowledge or equipment to install. They can be used in any receptacle.




  • DO use extension cords only on a temporary basis.
  • DO put safety covers on unused receptacle outlets and extension cords.
  • DO unplug an appliance and call an electrician if the receptacle faceplate feels hot or if there is sparking, smoke, or odor coming from the outlet, plug or appliance.
  • DO examine appliance and extension cords regularly for signs of wear and tear or damage to insulation.
  • DO unplug all non-essential electrical appliances when not in use. DO test GFCIs monthly according to manufacturer's instructions to determine that they are working properly.
  • DO use extension cords that have been listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.




  • DON'T use extension cords as permanent substitute for inadequate house wiring.
  • DON'T use extension cords that are worn or damaged and don't attach extension cords to the wall with nails or staples.
  • DON'T put extension cords under rugs where they might be walked on; don't rest anything on an extension cord.
  • DON'T overload cords with too many appliances.
  • DON'T touch any appliance that has emitted an electrical shock until the appliance has been unplugged.
  • DON'T place electrical appliances where they might come in contact with water. Never reach into water for a plugged-in appliance – turn off power, then unplug it.
  • DON'T place an appliance cord where it might touch a hot surface.
  • DON'T leave any wiring exposed in outlets and switches. Use the correct size faceplate.
  • DON'T ignore switches or outlets that don't work. Obtain the help of a qualified electrician.
  • DON'T let cords hang over countertops where children can pull down an appliance.




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