Staying Safe with Electrical Supplies: Helpful Tips and Suggested Practices
Follow these safety tips when dealing with electrical supplies, but don't hesitate to call in a professional if you get in over your head.
On most days, we interact with electrical supplies in some way, whether it’s simple tasks like plugging in cables to access television or video games, attaching an extension cord to solve those short cord issues, or more complex issues like installing switches and connecting or repairing electrical wires. In either case, there is always some kind of safety guideline to follow. The simpler tasks have simpler ones, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Safety should come first and foremost for all—experienced electricians, customers, and homeowners. The same goes for anyone working in maintenance, construction zones, and with machinery (for more details, see Construction Industry Hazards and Safety Regulations).
An electric shock has enough power to be life threatening, so along with following the guidelines, the right protective gear needs to be worn when working with live components. Depending on the project, this can include: dielectric overshoes or boots, earmuffs, face shields, electrical gloves, and rubber sleeves. (for advice on protective equipment for women, see the two-part series covering Hand, Foot and Body Safety and Head, Eyes and Ear Protection). There are also protective tools, such as insulated tools, shock absorbing mats, child-proof covers, and electrical testing devices for accurate voltage readings.
Before getting to the helpful tips and suggested practices, it’s important to understand the risks and hazards that are the reason these preventative measures and recommendations exist in the first place.
Risks & Hazards:
- Live parts are powerful enough to cause electric shock and burns when touched either directly or indirectly
- Electrical injuries can be permanent and fatal
- Faulty wires and appliances can cause fires
Quick Safety Tips
How to Treat Cables:
- They should be insulated with a plastic material
- Make sure they aren't bunched together to prevent overheating
- Invest in a cable organizer to keep them away from children and pets and to avoid tripping—never use staples to get the job done
Extension Cord Care:
- Never run extension cords through walls and ceilings or under furniture and rugs
- Make sure they are rated for the kind of location they are being used in—indoors or outdoors
- Avoid closing a door or window on a cord that’s running through
- Limit the number of appliances being powered by the same cord
- Bring cords inside when they are no longer in use
- For more tips, check out Power and Extension Cords
Attending to Outlets:
- Regularly inspect outlets to make sure they are safely connected to the wall
- Hold the base of the plug when pulling it from the outlet to prevent plug and outlet damage
- It’s better to have an electrician install needed outlets than to overload a power strip
Installing Dimmers and Light Switches:
- The box of the switch has to be large enough for the wires it contains. According to The Family Handyman, “To figure the minimum box size required by the electrical code, add: 1 for each hot and neutral wire entering the box, 1 for all the ground wires combined, 1 for all the clamps combined, and 2 for each device (switch or receptacle) installed in the box. Multiply this figure by 2 for 14-gauge wire and 2.25 for 12-gauge wire to get the minimum box volume in cubic inches.”
- Ask manufacturers about the compatibility of the dimmers/switches and the bulbs chosen
- Be aware of your local electrical code
- Make sure the electricity is switched off
- Electrical tape is not a fix
- Contact an electrician immediately if you notice continuous power stoppages. This can be an indication of a broken wire, which can cause a fire
Even with these helpful tips and suggested practices, proper training and certification comes in handy for the projects that have you in over your head. Reach out to professionals so you can have the peace of mind that the job was done in a correct, safe manner. In the meantime, label the faulty piece or area with a “do not use” label until it can be repaired or replaced.
Another benefit of contacting experienced electricians is that they are more likely to notice any other warning signs and electrical hazards before it’s too late. It’s helpful to have them assess the situation in its entirety. While handling electrical supplies doesn’t always mean there’s building or remodeling taking place, the same contractor questions should apply. While being serviced, ask your contractor these key questions to be aware of every detail, such as the issues that need to be addressed and the budget.
As electronics become more advanced, regulations, equipment, and repair options may change. Stay on top of codes and what you can do to keep your electrical safe and up-to-date. Please note that this is not a complete list. Refer to a professional for more specific situations or ones that require immediate attention.