Electricity Essentials

Photos on this page depict unsafe conditions and can result in serious damage to persons or property. These conditions should not be recreated.

Every one of us should make electrical safety a priority. Electricity always seeks the shortest path to the ground and tries to find a conductor. If you touch a power line, damaged cord, or faulty appliance and the ground at the same time, electricity will flow through you on its way to the ground. You could be badly hurt or even killed. The amount of electricity used by one 7.5-watt Christmas tree bulb can kill you in a fraction of a second if it passes through your chest. Even if it isn’t fatal, electrical shock can easily cause serious falls, burns, cuts or internal bleeding.

  • Make sure cords are in good condition and not covered by rugs or furniture, and that they’re not too close to a heating source where they could become burned or damaged.
  • Make sure extension cords are in good condition and not overloaded.
  • Move small electrical appliances away from water sources.
  • Put childproof outlet covers on electric outlets if you have young children in the house.
  • Keep light bulbs, portable heaters and toasters away from anything that will burn.

Overhead power lines, which are located high off the ground for safety, have no insulation and can carry more than 500,000 volts. Substations and transformers contain live parts that are dangerous to contact. Underground power lines are well insulated but a shovel can damage them and create a shock hazard. Many areas in our county are networked by a series of underground lines. Before digging or starting underground work, call well in advance to locate the underground utilities so you can be sure to dig safely.

Birds on power lines don’t get shocked because they aren’t touching the ground or any other grounded object. But if you, the metal ladder, or pole you are holding touch the same lines, you’ll become the electricity’s path to the ground. When working around your house, keep yourself, your ladder and any equipment at least 10 feet from all overhead power lines. Install or remove an antenna in dry weather only and make sure you keep plenty of space between it and overhead lines - at least twice the length of the antenna. Also, call the District before trimming trees near power lines.

Children’s electrical safety education is a must. Make sure your children know these basic tips:

  • Never climb utility poles.
  • Stay away from substations and other electrical equipment
  • Fly kites, balloons and model airplanes in open areas, far from overhead lines.
  • Climb trees only where there are no overhead lines nearby.
  • Never throw things at or shoot at power lines, power poles, or insulators.
  • If a toy gets into power lines or substation, they should tell an adult to call the District and never try to retrieve it themself.
  • Recognize “Danger - High Voltage” signs and stay away from any equipment containing such warnings. 

Children and adults alike must learn to stay clear of downed power lines. They may not look dangerous, but downed power lines can carry enough electricity to energize the area around them for a great distance. Keep far away and report the line to the District, or place a phone call to 911. If a downed line touches your vehicle, drive slowly away from the line if you can do so safely. If not, stay inside and wait for rescue workers. If possible, warn others to keep away. If you must get out of the car because of fire or other danger, jump out without touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Land with both feet together and shuffle away with small steps. Don’t try to help others out of the vehicle - you could be shocked.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) and three-pronged plugs are safety devices that can help to stop electrical shock before it stops you. When you use a plug with three prongs, the third prong connects inside the outlet with a “ground wire” which usually connects to a water pipe or a ground rod at the service panel. As a result, in a short circuit, electricity should flow to the ground instead of through to you. Never remove the third prong. GFCIs are found in outlets and service panels. They monitor the flow of current to and from appliances. If there is an imbalance in the flow, current may be traveling through you, and the GFCI will quickly cut power to prevent serious injury. GFCIs are often used in the kitchen and bathroom, garage, and outdoors and are required in these areas in newer homes. Electricians can add these as replacement outlets. Portable GFCIs are available. If your outlets don’t have GFCI test and reset buttons, check your main service panel - you may have some ground fault protected circuit breakers.

An important rule for home appliances is electricity and water don’t mix. Keep appliances, especially hair dryers, away from bathtubs, puddles, sinks and wet hands. Even if an appliance is off, it can shock and wet skin decreases your resistance to electricity significantly. Dry your hands before touching cords, appliances or light switches. Never use electrical appliances in wet conditions, as electricity can flow through you more easily if you are standing in water or on a damp floor.

Keep cords and plugs in top condition. Touching a bare wire can be a shocking experience. Check power cords and connections regularly for frays or other signs of wear. Pull on the plug head, never on the cord, and never carry an appliance by its cord. Don’t run cords under rugs or furniture as they could become damaged or overheat. Cord insulation won’t withstand direct heat, repeated yanking, bending or wetness.

The first step is to prevent electrical fires. Turn off heating and cooking appliances before leaving home and don’t overload outlets. If you must use an extension cord, match the amperage or wattage limits marked on the cord and appliance to avoid a fire hazard. Keep light bulbs, portable heaters and toasters away from anything that will burn. If electrical equipment catches fire, unplug it, or turn off power at the main switch. If it’s small, use a fire extinguisher. If you doubt you can put it out, leave and take everyone with you. Tell the fire department it’s an electrical fire. Remember, never use water on an electrical fire.

  1. Install at least one smoke detector on each floor of your home near bedrooms and test monthly. Batteries should be replaced annually.
  2. Keep a multipurpose (Class ABC) fire extinguisher handy.
  3. Have a family fire escape plan. Make sure everyone in the house knows the plan and review it regularly with all household members.

If someone is shocked, don’t touch them if they are still in contact with electricity. You could be shocked too. Unplug the equipment or turn off the power at the main switch. If the victim is touching a power line, stay far away. The ground near the incident could be energized and dangerous. Call 911 and tell them it’s an electrical injury.

Once the victim is no longer in contact with electricity and you have called 911, check the following:

  • Breathing . Use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if needed.
  • Shock. Signs include cold or clammy skin, weakness, shallow breathing, and rapid pulse. Loosen clothing. Keep victim horizontal and warm until help arrives.
  • Burns. Cool minor burns with cold, running water. Don’t touch the burn, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Get medical help. Electrical burn damage may not be immediately apparent.

Plan ahead for power outages. Put matches, candles, flashlights and batteries where they are easily found in the dark. Also, store water, non-perishable food, a first aid kid, and battery-operated radio where others can find them. Turn off all appliances to avoid damage from power surge. Leave on one light to show when the power resumes. Never try to fix a power interruption yourself. Call the District.

If you use a generator, make sure it has a manual or automatic switch that disconnects it from main power lines. If not, use the main switch on your service panel to cut power. A generator that remains connected to main power lines can backfeed power into them, shocking unsuspecting utility workers.