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Electricity Safety Guide

We use electricity from the moment we wake up-to an alarm clock plugged into a wall socket or notification on a phone that's been charging over night-to the moment we go to bed-switching off the bedside lamp and closing our book (or switching off the TV). And largely we take it for granted, despite the nearly £600 the average household will spend on electricity bills each year.

All the volts coursing through our home and into our lights, appliances, and gadgets go unnoticed-until a fuse trips, we need to hire an electrician to install a new socket, a storm downs a power line and plunges us into darkness, or unfortunately, someone sustains a shock or an electrical appliance causes a fire.

Make sure you stay as safe as possible by following the simple steps laid out in this guide.

The risks of electricity

But perhaps we shouldn't be so cavalier about electricity. Direct contact with electricity can cause shock and burns, which can be fatal, and faulty or misplaced electrical appliances can cause fires and explosions. Household electrical accidents, including electrocutions and electrical fires, annually cause around 70 deaths and 350,000 injuries each year in the UK, according to data from the Electrical Safety Council. In fact, nearly half (49%) of all accidental house fires in Britain are caused by electricity.

The ESC has cautioned that millions of us are at risk of death or serious injury because of our ignorance about electricity, or carelessness around it. The ESC has estimated that more than 12 million people in Britain may be knowingly using faulty plugs or sockets and that an additional 1.5 million could be ignoring burning smells coming from an appliance or socket. Untold thousands are covering lamps, using electronic gadgets too close to the bath, and leaving cords where they can be tripped over or chewed by children and pets.

Nearly all electrical accidents are easily prevented with a little education and attention. So how do you keep yourself safe around electricity and electrical appliances at home? Read on.

Tips for Electrical Safety at Home Stay safe in the kitchen

Kitchens are filled with electrical appliances, water supplies, and cooking equipment, which can interact with deadly consequences if you're not careful. And as our kitchen surfaces have become more and more crowded with new electrical gadgets, from blenders to waffle makers, the risk has only increased. To stay safe with electricity in the kitchen, take these precautions:

  • keep electrical leads for appliances away from water and from cookers
  • don't overload sockets: try to use only one plug per socket, especially if the appliance is a heavy-consumer of electricity, like a kettle
  • keep ovens, grills, hobs, and toasters clean: buildups of fat, grease, or even crumbs can cause fires never insert a metal object into the toaster; get wooden tongs to rescue stray toast
  • defrost your fridge and freezer once a year
  • inspect appliances for frayed cords and sockets for scorch marks
  • Plug all large appliances-including washes, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, heaters, and hot water heaters-directly into a wall socket and not into a plug strip, extension cord, or surge protector.
  • keep heat producing electronics, such as toasters, heaters, and coffee makers, away from flammable materials, including curtains, towels, paper towels, and coffee filters
  • keep your extractor fan clear of dust and grease
  • keep anything wet-including sponges and potted plants-away from electric gadgets

DIY with caution

Botched DIY is implicated in nearly half of all electric shocks leading to severe injury in the UK, according to the ESC. And you don't even have to be overly ambitious in your home improvement to accidentally expose yourself to electricity. The most common blunders of hobbyist builders include cutting or sawing through the cords of power cables, drilling or nailing into wires, and trying to repair electrical appliances while they're still plugged in. The ESC has run a campaign called "Don't Die for DIY," encouraging DIY enthusiasts to take care with their weekend projects, to...

  • use a cable detector before drilling, screwing or nailing into your walls, even when doing a simple project like hanging a picture frame or shelf
  • shut off your power at the fusebox if you're doing work near electrical wiring or sockets and use battery-powered tools
  • check power tools for frayed cords and damaged plugs before using them, to avoid electric fires, and keep track of the power lead so you don't accidentally saw through it
  • make sure the cords of power cables can't be tripped over
  • use a residual current device (RCD), either fitted on your fuse box or plugged into the wall. An RCD can switch off the electrical supply in the event of an accident, possibly saving you life.
  • get advice and help from a registered electrician, especially if in doubt or dealing with electrical wiring. If using internet tutorials, check they're from reputable sources and not YouTube videos uploaded by amateurs

Keep electricity out of the bathroom

Water and electricity can be a fatal combination. In the UK, no sockets apart from shaver-supply units are permitted in bathrooms and shower rooms, unless they are at least three meters from a water supply. Because you don't have access to sockets, you probably won't be tempted to bring mains-powered electrical devices like radios, hairdryers, or heaters into the bathroom. But don't try to circumvent building codes by running them on extension cords from other rooms.

Electrical showers should be supplied by their own circuit directly from your consumer unit.

Electrical safety with children

When childproofing your home, pay particular attention to its electrical supply, including sockets and appliances. Curious children can severely injure themselves by prodding at plugs and even biting into power cables. In 2010 and 2011, 60 children under 15 were admitted to hospital in Britain after suffering electrical shocks.

To protect your child from electrical injury, take the following precautions

  • cover all outlets with plug socket guards, which can be purchased cheaply
  • position lamps and cords out of the reach of children, so they can't yank them from sockets or pull them down onto themselves
  • educate your child about the risks of electricity and teach them to never pull or chew on cords or insert things into outlets. Outside of the safety of your home, kids should know to stay away from fallen power lines and electrical substations.