Understanding Electrical Safety: A Simple Guide

Most Australian households have embraced the electrical life, but it can pose a serious threat to you and your family. A loose wire or broken electrical component can cause a catastrophe at any time, even when you’re not home. The best way to protect yourself and your property from electrical malfunctions is to take the time to ensure all electrical equipment is maintained and handled correctly.

In this article we take you through the rooms and areas of the average home to help point out some of the most common everyday electrical dangers.

Living room and bedrooms

The living room and bedrooms share a number of common dangers, and unfortunately it’s where we’re usually most vulnerable.

Overloaded adapter

We’ve all probably done this at some point or another. There are so few power points, yet so much needs to be plugged in. So what do we do? We plug in an electrical adapter and jam everything we can onto it. This might seem perfectly fine, but the more wattage passing through an adapter, the hotter it will get; too much electricity and the adapter may catch fire.

What you can do: If you’re planning on loading a lot onto an adapter, it’s in your best interests not to use a poor-quality product. Ideally you should use adapters with built-in safety devices to prevent surges. Of course, turn off any power points if you’re not using them.

Faulty cords and wiringfaulty cord

Poor wiring can increase the chance of fire, power surges, arc faults and other serious consequences. Any exposed or damaged cords lying around the home also pose this same risk.

What you can do: Ensure all electrical work is done by an experienced and licensed electrician (as required by law). Make sure you look after your cables, and ensure they are not being damaged by furniture, pets or anything else. If you’re not using the cable, unplug it and put it away somewhere safe.

Lightbulbs

Yes that’s right – the humble lightbulb poses a threat to your home If not used properly. Lamps, for example, provide recommended bulb wattage specifications, requiring users to install a bulb with wattage of equal or lesser value. If you install bulbs with a wattage capacity way beyond that of the lamp, the lamp could set fire in certain circumstances.

What you can do: Make sure you check the wattage values on anything that needs a bulb and find the closest match you can. It’s uncommon for most modern bulbs to react like this, but it’s best to play it safe.

Curtains

If you have curtains, make sure they are not dangling near any power points. If the power point faults, there is a risk your curtains will catch fire.

What you can do: Simply keep the curtains away from power points – just in case. If this is difficult, consider alternatives like blinds.

Air conditioners

A dusty air conditioner can be a huge fire hazard. Dust is very flammable, and if it settles on the electrical components of your air conditioner, it may ignite and damage your entire system and perhaps your home.

What you can do: Clean out your air conditioner regularly. The more you use it, the more often it needs cleaning. We know this can be a tedious task, so we’ve made an air conditioner cleaning guide to help you get the job done.

Bathroom

The bathroom has historically been responsible for many cases of electrocution. Innovations in electrical safety have seen a fall in fatal electrocutions, but it remains a real threat area.

Water and electricity don’t mix

When you’re in the bathroom, always take extra precautions to keep electrical items such as hair dryers away from the bathtub, basin or shower. If water comes in contact with a strong electrical current, the water will become charged, potentially electrocuting you. Additionally, wet skin reduces the body’s resistance to electricity, increasing the risk even more. Small, battery powered items like phones and electric tooth brushes are unlikely to create a risk of electrocution, though for the interests of maintaining your electronics, it’s ideal to keep them out.

What you can do: It may seem obvious, but keep your appliances away from water. If you are using an electrical item, ensure to switch it off and unplug it when you’re not using it. And double check for puddles of water before putting your appliance down.

hairdryer in water

Kitchen

The kitchen is widely regarded as the most dangerous room in the house, and for good reason too. As well as the flammable oil and sharp utensils, there are a string of electrical hazards putting you and your home at risk.

Electrical appliances

Fridges, kettles, dishwashers, microwaves – they all pose a risk to you and your home if their electrical components are not properly cared for. Small technical faults with the appliances themselves can also lead to catastrophe.

What you can do: Ensure cables are not taking the weight of appliances (i.e. the fridge) and give your appliances adequate breathing space so they don’t overheat. If an appliance repeatedly trips your circuit breaker, then it’s time to throw it out. Additionally keep your eyes out for any product recalls – they are more common than you might think.

Roofs and ceiling spaces

Is your roof leaking? Perhaps you think a possum is stuck up there. Your first response might be to grab the ladder and head on up, but wait! The roof area is riddled with electrical dangers.

Roof

cleaning gutterWe’ve all seen the ads, but unfortunately many people still forget to check for live power lines before they commence work. The power lines feeding electricity to your house have a high wattage and can seriously injure or kill you if you make contact with them.

What you can do: Before even grabbing the ladder, find the electrical cables feeding into your house so you know where to avoid. It’s recommended not to go within two metres of the cable so as to avoid accidently bumping in to it.

Ceiling space

All the electricity fed into your house must pass through the ceiling space, creating a risk of electrocution. This danger is exacerbated by the confined space and lack of light.

What you can do: Before commencing any work in the ceiling space, it’s recommended you turn off the power from the main switchboard. Let anybody else know the power is off so it won’t be turned back on while you’re in the roof.

Solar panel inverter leads:

Inverter leads from solar panels run from the roof and often inside the ceiling space. Though these often don’t carry as much electricity as live wires, they can still cause physical injury.

What you can do: Unfortunately there is no safe or legal way to disconnect solar panels without training. The cables are usually quite easy to avoid, so just keep your eye out for them.

Insulation:

Insulation can be quite flammable, so it’s important to keep it away from all electrical fittings.

What you can do: When you have finished your work in the ceiling space, double check that you haven’t knocked insulation over any wires or electrical equipment. It is quite easy to do without noticing, so it’s worth checking.

Outdoor area

The outdoor area is subject to the elements, so extra precautions should be taken when using electrical equipment outside.

Rain

Electrical equipment should never be left in the rain, even if it’s not live at the time. Not only will this damage your property, but it can result in electrocution. For example, if your electric mower has a pool of rain water stored inside it when you turn it on, it will likely expel the charge through the mower, potentially causing you injury.

What you can do: Simply bring all your cables and equipment under the roof when you’re not using them. If you’re unable to get them inside for it rains, give the equipment a day or so to completely dry off before using it again.

Pets

If you have electrical cables running across the yard, keep an eye on your pet. Fortunately most animals are smart enough not to chew your cords, but an inquisitive puppy might let its curiosity get the better of them.

What you can do: Don’t leave your pets in the yard with live cables unsupervised, especially if your pet isn’t too bright.

What to do in an emergency

In the case of severe electrocution or fire, call 000. In the event of an electrical fire, do not add water as this will only fuel the flame. If you’re unsure if something poses a danger, it’s always best to play it safe. Electricity is a wonderful thing, just so long as we are careful.

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