Electrical Shock Hazards in the Home

Written by B. Baird
Updated January 24, 2013
Be careful when attempting to fix any household appliance because you run the risk of electrocution. (Photo courtesy of Angi member James E.)

Electrical dangers come from more than just DIY work.

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Common household equipment can present an electrocution hazard to homeowners. While you may be aware that electrical work itself can be dangerous, you should consider other electrical safety issues. When you know what to look for and what to avoid, you can prevent electrical accidents and injuries.

Household appliances

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published a report on consumer-related deaths due to common household equipment, which showed 17 percent of reported consumer product electrocutions were due to small appliances. Notably, the most common cause for injury or death was consumers attempting to repair these devices themselves.

Be sure to unplug any appliance before you attempt to work on it. Just turning a device off does not provide adequate safety. Power will still be found at the switch. While large appliances present the same dangers, you may not be as likely to attempt repairs.

Kitchen and bathroom circuits should be protected by ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. You can obtain this protection with a GFCI receptacle or circuit breaker. If you notice an electrical shock when touching any appliance, discontinue using it until it is repaired.

Power tools

The same CPSC report showed that power tools accounted for 10 percent of consumer-related electrocutions, the majority of which came from contact with electrical wires while operating the tools. Hazards may come from frayed or damaged power cords. Always check cords before you begin working. If a cord is damaged, don't use the tool until the damage is repaired. You can electrocute yourself by grabbing the damaged portion of a cord while the tool is plugged in.

Avoid working with power tools in wet locations. Be sure to use GFCI protection in any areas subject to moisture. Portable GFCI protection is available for working outdoors if your outdoor circuit isn't already protected.

Electrical danger can come from cutting into an electrical line while operating power tools, including drills, saws and outdoor equipment. The cord for the tool must be kept away from the work area. For example, when using a power trimmer, always be aware of the location of the power cord. You can easily cut through a cord that becomes tangled in shrubbery.

When drilling or sawing on the interior of your home, know what is under, or behind, the area where you're working. Wiring normally runs along studs in the walls. Drilling into a wall to place anchors can involve working near the wiring.

Lighting equipment

Lighting equipment accounted for 9 percent of electrocution deaths for consumers. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), problems with lighting also accounts for 28 percent of fires.

If you want new light fixtures installed, using a qualified electrician is really your best choice. You not only risk electrical shock during installation but improper work can result in a fire. If you install fixtures yourself, double check that the power is turned off on the circuit before you begin working.

If a light bulb breaks, unplug the light or turn the power off at your electrical panel before you attempt to remove the bulb. Trying to remove a broken bulb while the power is on can result in electrical shock. Remember that even if there is no bulb in a fixture, electricity can be present.

This is an edited version of an article orignally published on Jan. 23, 2013

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