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Knowing about electrical safety means knowing the hazards and how to prevent them. But that isn't all. The third, and perhaps most important thing to know about electrical safety is what to do when prevention efforts fail and you are faced with an electrical fire or electrocution.
Some people only stop to think about electrical safety around the holidays, but the hazards exist year round. Electrocution is the most serious and life-threatening of these hazards. Just as it is possible to drown in one inch of water, the tiniest amount of current can kill a person under the right conditions. Even light bulbs as small as those used to decorate Christmas trees can provide a jolt of electricity strong enough to stop heartbeat and breathing. If the electrical hazards to your body are not enough, consider this: in addition to the hundreds of deaths they cause every year, the blue smoke and ozone smell of electrical fires destroy dozens of homes and businesses, uprooting families and incurring thousands upon thousands of dollars in property damage.
Smart electrical safety practices begin in the home. There is more to it than just keeping water and other conductors as far away as possible from your electrical equipment and outlets. Be on the lookout for worn or damaged electrical wires, and replace them immediately. Do not modify or remove the third, or ground, prong to make your plugs fit into two-hole electrical outlets. Working on a piece of electrical equipment while it's plugged in is a huge no-no. Never try to drag or lift an electrical device by its power cord, either; the most likely result is that the wire's insulation will thin or shift, leading to an increased risk of electrical fires.
Avoid overtasking your wall outlets and power strips by adding doubling extension cords or adding outlet multipliers on top of outlet multipliers. The enormous amount of current required to support all the things you have plugged in comes with a cost: additional heat. The wires in your wall and extension cord are designed to support a certain amount of current and heat. Once that rated current is exceeded, you'll find that you've left the world of electrical safety and entered the far scarier world of electrical fires.
When you are the first to discover an electrocution or electrical fire, know what to do. Call for help and warn others immediately. Oftentimes, electrocution causes a person's muscles to contract, making it impossible for them to let go of whatever it is that is electrifying them. Don't make the mistake of trying to pull them away with your bare hands, as this will just raise the number of electrocution victims by one. Instead, try to get the power shut off quickly, using a wooden broomstick or some other non-conductor to unplug the malfunctioning device from the wall.
Know where your circuit breakers and fuse boxes are as well, in case it is a part of your home's infrastructure that is doing the electrocuting. If you are unable to deenergize the situation, use a leather belt or wooden broomstick--carefully!--to pull the victim away from the electrical hazard. When the victim is safely clear of the hazards, including electrical fires that may have sprung up, check for a pulse and regular breathing. Administer CPR and make sure qualified medical help is on the way.
It's not enough to think electrical safety occasionally. You cannot make your home electrically safe today and then mark it off your list forever. Electrical hazards will always find a way to zap the person who gets too complacent about electrical safety. To keep your home and family safe from electrical fires and electrocution, you need to keep awareness and prevention at the top of your list, wear-round.
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