Like metal and water, the human body is a great electrical conductor. Each year in France, 4000 people get serious electric shocks and 100 die, according to the Ministry of Ecology. In the UK someone dies every week in an electrical accident at home, says the Electrical Safety Council. In all, 70 million homes in Europe are electrically unsafe. Fortunately, accidental electrocution is preventable if you know how to identify and minimize your risk.
Common causes of electrocution
Electrocution occurs when your body comes in contact — directly or indirectly —with an electrical current and becomes an unintended path between the current’s source and the ground. This path is called a “ground fault,” which means current is “leaking” —going somewhere (your body) other than where it was meant to (like a toaster).
Every home contains potential electrocution sources. The most common are:
Outlets: Damaged power outlets pose a danger to anybody. Just brushing against an exposed pin or wire can cause an electrical shock. But because of their easy access, outlets — even those without signs of wear—are a particular threat to children. Forty percent of fatalities in electrical accidents at home are children under 9, according to GRESEL. While outlet plugs and covers are often recommended, shuttered sockets are a better solution. These outlets close off the pinholes when a plug is removed so foreign objects can’t be inserted.
Electric appliances: Any appliance with a frayed cord or broken plug can cause an electrical shock when you touch it. Appliances with metal housing such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, and electric stovetops are particularly dangerous if a wire somewhere inside is loose and in contact with the metal. Lamps and light fixtures that aren’t turned off and unplugged before you change a lightbulb or start repairs can also shock and injure you.
Bathrooms Because water is such an efficient conductor for electricity, particular care must be taken in bathrooms. All lighting should be encased and outlets and electrical appliances should be out of reach of showers and bathtubs. Always make sure you’re completely dry before using hair dryers and electric razors.
Add extra protection with a Residual Current Device
The first step to reducing your electrocution risk is replacing any old or worn appliances and outlets. But you can’t always see damaged insulation or loose wires, so for extra protection, you should consider installing a Residual Current Device (RCD).
These devices prevent electrocution by measuring the difference between how much power is flowing into the circuit and how much is flowing out. If an RCD detects an imbalance, it knows some current is leaking and immediately shuts off the circuit.
Residual Current Devices are installed in the electrical panel. They are required by law on any circuits supplying:
- power sockets
- all devices in a bathroom and wet locations
For more information on how to protect your home and your family, visit our electrical safety page.