8 Ways You Didn't Know You Could Get an Electric Shock or Electrical Burn
Plus, why DIYers and children are at highest risk
You already know not to stick your fingers or tools into electric outlets, and you know to put covers on them to protect kids from electric shocks. But you might not be aware of these surprising ways you or your child could get an electric shock or electrical burn.
Electric shock, by the way, is not the same as electrocution, though many people mix these up, says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at UL. “Electrocution is when the electric current kills you. Getting a shock is different. You touch something and jump back, but you’ve survived. A shock is scary, but electrocution will kill you.”
There are three main causes of electric shocks in the home, Drengenberg says: small appliances, power tools and lighting equipment. “For example, if you’re working with your electric hedge clipper and you cut the power cord or extension cord, you could get sparking and a shock,” Drengenberg says. And those sparks could lead to an electrical burn, which can cause long-lasting damage to nerves, muscles and internal organs, the American Burn Association says.
Shocks are dangerous in themselves but there’s also something called “secondary effects.” “Say you’re up on a ladder and you’re replacing a light bulb or fixture. But you forget to shut the power off, and you do get a shock,” Drengenberg says. “You react instinctively — you jump back or step back, and you fall off the ladder.” Maybe you hit your head, maybe you break a wrist. Those secondary effects could harm or kill you.
To avoid a truly shocking incident, steer clear of these mistakes.
appliances with frayed wires.
Check your appliances regularly for frayed
wires. If you find any, do not use the appliance. Replace it.
2. Walking in a flooded basement. “If your basement is flooded, don’t wade in the water unless you’ve got the power turned off. You might have a washing machine or electric dryer down there, and some of those electric components may be in the water” and can electrify it, Drengenberg says.
3. Touching downed lines. Contact with power lines is a major cause of electricity-related injuries and deaths. “You may think they’re phone lines or cable lines, which won’t electrocute you. But you don’t know if those lines are touching a live power wire down the line,“ says Drengenberg. Assume any downed utility line is “live,” or has electricity running through it. Even if it’s dead, it may be re-energized if the utility company tries to send power back into it. So don’t touch the line, and don’t touch anything touching the line, such as a tree branch or another person. Also, don’t climb utility poles or trees near power lines, and don’t fly a kite near them either.
4. Letting kids play with electrical items. Two thirds of electrical burn injuries happen to children under 12. Don’t let kids near electrical cords, and especially don’t let babies or toddlers bite on them, according to Shriners Hospital for Children.
5. Swimming or staying outside in a lightning storm. Go inside during lightning storms, Shriners Hospital advises. If you’re stuck outside, try to avoid being near tall objects, such as big, isolated trees. Instead, squat down to the ground (don’t lie flat), possibly near bushes or groups of trees roughly the same height. And never go swimming or boating during a lightning storm.
6. Touching anything electrical while you stand in water or touch water pipes. If you’re standing in water, whether it’s a bathtub or puddle, don’t touch anything that uses electricity. And never touch electrical appliances while touching faucets or water pipes. If there is a problem or malfunction in the appliance, you could get shocked. “Your faucets are generally big pieces of metal," Drengenberg says. If you touch the faucet with one hand while you’re using a faulty electric appliance with the other, that will complete the circuit, he says.
7. Touching anything electrical while your hands are wet. “When your hands are dry you can still get an electric shock. But when your hands are wet, the electricity is going to flow through your body more easily,” Drengenberg says.
8. Forgetting to shut off your home power supply before making repairs. A lot of electric shock incidents happen to do-it-yourselfers because they haven’t turned off the power — or they think the power is already off before starting a project, Drengenberg says. Mount Sinai Hospital says working on appliances or electrical installations without proper training can lead to electric shocks and burns.
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