The ultimate guide to electrical safety around the home
Where would we be without electricity? We rely on it for everything from cooking and bathing to keeping warm and keeping entertained. But electricity is responsible for an average of 70 deaths and 350,000 serious injuries in the UK every year, so it’s important you take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from electrical dangers. Here’s how.
Basic safety checks
Get into the habit of carrying out regular basic safety checks. You needn’t be an electrician to do this! Look for frayed or damaged wires, scorched or broken sockets and at the location of cables. Are they a trip hazard? Are they near water, or by an appliance that produces heat? Could little hands (or paws!) interfere with them? Use common sense to keep hazards at bay.
Plugs and sockets
We use electricity for a lot of things, so most of us will have an extension lead or socket block somewhere in our home. Make sure you use a reputable brand and are careful not to overload sockets – overburdening them can result in an electrical fire. Learn how much energy your appliances use. You might be surprised to know that a kettle will typically use more energy than a washing machine, which can easily affect the load put on a single socket extender.
It’s easier than ever before to replace a fuse on plugs, but make sure you use the right one for the appliance. Using the wrong fuse can cause a cable to overheat and means the appliance isn’t protected against electrical faults. If in doubt, consult the manufacturer’s handbook.
Appliances and electrical goods
Buy appliances from a reputable seller and consult energy efficiency labels before you splash the cash – you want to run your appliance as cheaply (and safely) as possible, after all. Be wary of items purchased outside or imported into the UK, as these don’t always meet national safety standards, and definitely avoid counterfeit electrical goods (such as off-brand hair straighteners), which are the leading cause of electrical shocks and fires.
If you use a foreign appliance, make sure you use it when a suitable conversion plug or adapter, otherwise the socket could overheat and cause a fire.
Turn appliances off at the plug when you’re not using them. Not only does this save you money (as much as £86 a year, in fact!), but it significantly reduces the chances of a fire starting. If your sockets are in awkward places, such as behind the TV, invest in an energy saving extension bar so you can easily turn off all your gadgets with one simple push of a button. This is particularly important for mobile phones, which can be especially dangerous for children and pets if left plugged in. Of course, there are some exceptions – fridges and freezers are designed to be left on.
Using heaters and electric blankets
If you rely on additional appliances to keep warm when the winter nights draw in, pay extra attention to their electrical safety.
- Place heaters on a steady, flat surface.
- Keep heaters away from walls, which could block ventilation.
- Keep heaters away from curtains and never use them for drying clothes.
- Unplug electric blankets before going to bed (unless the guidance explicitly states it’s safe for all-night use).
- Never use electric blankets with a hot water bottle. Electricity and water don’t mix!
In the kitchen
Take extra care with electricity in the kitchen with these important tips:
- Never use switches or equipment when your hands are wet.
- Don’t wrap cables around appliances that are still warm, such as irons or food processors.
- Keep your oven and grill clean. Not only will this help them perform more efficiently, but it reduces the risk of fire.
- Don’t store objects on top of appliances, such as microwaves, as this can block ventilation.
- Never try to retrieve stuck toast while the toaster is plugged in, and never use a metal implement. Invest in a pair of wooden toast tongs for the job.
- Keep flammable items away from sources of heat, so store cleaning equipment away from washing machines, for example.
- Install a smoke alarm and test it regularly.
In the bathroom
Electricity and water can be a deadly combination, so take special care if using appliances such as hairdryers or radios in this room. Better yet, avoid bringing them in altogether. Everyday light fittings are a danger because of dampness and wet hands – a ceiling-mounted pull cord is the safest option.
In the garden
Electrical safety is important outside, too, even though there aren’t any plug sockets around. Lawnmowers and hedge cutters can cut through their own electrical cables, causing a risk of electric shock, so be vigilant when you’re gardening, and never use appliances in the rain or on wet grass. If you have a pond with an electric pump, take steps to make sure the pump doesn’t electrify the water; install it according to the manufacturer’s instructions and keep it well-maintained.
Children and pets
Children and pets have inquisitive, adventurous natures, but unfortunately aren’t yet up to speed with electrical safety, making them prime targets for injuries and shocks. Check out our guides to electrical safety for parents and pet owners for extra peace of mind.
According to uSwitch.com, more than 250 recall notices have been issued in the last six years, but response rates are very low, usually between 10% and 20%. Product recalls are typically issued for products which carry a risk of electric shock or fire, so it’s important you’re up to speed with any products that might present a danger. The Electrical Safety Council has a dedicated page for product recalls.
Installing a residual current device (RCD) can help reduce electrical risks further. This is a device that’s fitted to the fuse box and designed to protect you from serious electric shocks if you come into contact with a live wire. It offers more protection than a standard circuit breaker, and plug-in RCDs can cost as little as £10 (although fixed devices provide even greater safety).
In an emergency
Injuries from electricity are unlikely providing you follow basic safety guidelines and take the time to carry out regular checks, but accidents do happen. Knowing how to administer first aid after an electric shock could potentially save somebody’s life. Check out our comprehensive first aid guide so you’re prepared should the worst happen.