Electric hazards can be extremely dangerous. Consult a professional before attempting to fix any electrical hazards.
Electricity and circuits are complicated fields of study. For the purpose of this page, there may be metaphors to aid in explanation.
The key to understanding an electrical hazard, how to fix it and how to prevent it, is understanding how electricity in your home works. It is also important to understand how dangerous electrical hazards can be by understanding how they react to different elements and environments.
How does electricity work in a house?
To understand how electricity works in a house, you first need to understand how a circuit works.
A basic circuit allows electricity to flow from a power source, through a conductive material, into an appliance and back to the power source. If something breaks the circuit, the flow of electricity is stopped or diverted.
There are 3main components in an electrical system. The power supply, electrical box and the outlets.
The electricity comes into your house from the main lines outside. This is the power supply.
Electricity flows from outside, into the electrical box. This box regulates the power and feeds unused electricity back into the power supply outside.
From the electrical box, electricity is sent to the electrical outlets and into appliances.
IF anything disrupts the circuit above, they would be considered a hazard.
How do you disrupt a circuit?
Because electricity flows through conductive materials, introducing a new conductor, like water, will disrupt the circuit.
If the circuit is broken by exposing the electrical wires to fire or dust, the flow of electricity will go into the nearest conductor.
It is much easier to understand these processes by looking at examples of actual electrical hazards.
What are the most common hazards and what can I do about them?
If your hands are wet and you use an appliance like a kettle or curling iron, there is a chance that the water on your hands will leak into the appliance itself. Because water is a conductor, it’s possible that the electricity will flow into you rather than the appliance.
To avoid this hazard, be sure to dry your hands thoroughly before using any appliance.
Electrocution stops us from being able to move normally. If you are in a situation where someone is being electrocuted, find a nonconductive object (anything made of wood or rubber) and attempt to hit the appliance out of their hands. Do not make skin contact with the individual, you will be electrocuted as well.
Once the appliance is out of the victim’s hand, seek medical assistance immediately.
Trying to put out an electrical fire with water.
If a fire is started by a faulty appliance, like a toaster, the wiring of the electrical system may be exposed. By adding water to the fire, electricity will flow into flammable materials, like your carpet, and ignite them.
To prevent this hazard, make sure that your appliances are not damaged in any way and that the power outlets in your home are sound.
If an electrical fire has started, evacuate the building and contact emergency services. If possible, cut the power to the building.
Children and electrical outlets.
Small children are usually curious by nature. Toddlers will instinctively try to taste anything they can or poke objects. If a child pokes an electrical outlet with a fork or pours a liquid into it, there is a serious risk of electrocution.
To prevent this hazard, ensure that children are accompanied at all times. It is also possible to child proof your electrical outlets with special equipment.
If a child has been unfortunate, and is being electrocuted, follow the steps in the wet hands hazard.
Old or damaged wiring.
If the wiring in your house is old or has been damaged, it can become exposed. This means that the insulation covering the wires is not able to prevent the flow of electricity from moving into other conductors like water. This can cause fires, electrocution and death.
To prevent this hazard, check all of your appliances for damaged wiring. If the wires are damaged, have them repaired or replace the appliance. If your home 20 years old or more, have an electrical company inspect the building yearly.
Poor ventilation on equipment.
Some appliances, like microwaves and refrigerators generate heat while running. It is important to keep them well ventilated. The heat that they generate can melt the rubber insulation around the wiring and cause the circuit to break.
To prevent this hazard, ensure that you do not cover any ventilation slots on your appliances.
If an appliance has been damaged by heat, there is no way to fix the damage yourself. You will need to replace the appliance or take it to a professional to be repaired.