Have you ever stopped to think for a moment about things that we do autonomously? Probably not; that’s why we call them “autonomous.”

Think about something that you did today. How about when you needed to charge up your phone? Or make a cup of coffee? Or vacuum the living room? What was first thing you likely did?

You plugged all of these devices into an electrical outlet.

Ah, the lowly electrical outlet. It doesn’t receive any respect. There it resides in a wall, a silent partner in an electrified world. A quiet servant, ready to answer the call for power.

All of the wonderful devices and gadgets that we take for granted today derive their electrical energy from power provided to your home or business by a public utility (i.e. electric company). Therefore, a standardized means for connection that is safe and reliable is necessary. And that, friends, is the electrical outlet.

In North America and some parts of South America, the most common style of outlet consists of a pair of identical openings with two slots parallel to each other and a third opening to accept a ground. Referred to as a duplex, or NEMA Type 1-15, this humble device has been in existence for almost a century.

Now, go back to what you did earlier when you plugged in the phone charger, or the coffee pot, or the vacuum. You just inserted the unit’s plug into the outlet, right? You didn’t think about the energy potential that exists within those openings.

As adults, we (hopefully) know that the electrical energy available at an outlet is dangerous and are mindful not to insert anything other than a plug into it. However, you can imagine the possibility of what could happen if an object such as a paper clip, or fork tine, were inserted by an unsuspecting child. Each day, nearly 7 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for electrical shock or burn injuries caused by tampering with a wall outlet. (Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), 2015)

Tamper-resistant (TR) outlets were developed years ago in response to National Electric Code requirements for pediatric wards in hospitals. They look the same as a regular outlet with the exception of shutters that appear in the slotted openings.

A tamper-resistant outlet permits electrical contact only when a plug is fully and evenly inserted. It is necessary for both plug blades to come into contact with the shutters at the same time in order for them to open. When the plug is removed, the shutters close off the slot openings. The shutters are a safety feature that prevents the accidental insertion of a foreign object that may come in contact with a live electrical circuit.

The 2014 National Electric Code requires all new and renovated dwellings have only tamper-resistant outlets (except where ground fault circuit interrupters are required). If you are interested in making your existing home safer, tamper-resistant outlets can are a way to reduce the potential for children to get shocked or electrocuted from the insertion of a foreign object into an electrical outlet.