Electrical incidents injure or kill approximately 16 Australians every week – 13 per cent of these occur in children aged 0–14 years. In many cases, these incidents are preventable. Children are commonly injured by poking objects inside appliances or unused power points, or by playing with appliances. Boys aged over nine years are most susceptible. Seventy-seven per cent of childhood electrical injuries happened in the home.
The human body conducts electricity. If any part of the body receives an electric shock, the electricity will flow through the tissues and cause extensive burns. The heart may also stop. Where the principle diagnosis was a burn, the majority (65 per cent) were of the wrist and hand.
The household items most commonly associated with electric shock include:
- Power tools
- Light fittings
- Hair dryers
- Washing machines
- Electric kettles
- Hot pots
Safety switches save lives
A safety switch isn’t the same as a circuit breaker, which is designed to protect household wiring from power surges. A safety switch is designed to save lives by monitoring power flow and making sure it is even. It is estimated that if every household installed a safety switch it would halve the number of electrical injuries occurring every year.
If there is a loss of power, the safety switch assumes it is flowing to ‘earth’ and disconnects the electricity supply in one thirty-thousandth of a second. Make sure your safety switches are installed by a qualified electrician.
Safety around the home
- Hire an electrician to check the household wiring and install an electrical safety switch.
- Don’t piggyback two or more double adapters as this poses a fire hazard. Instead, use a power board.
- Use power boards with built-in safety switches.
- Ensure that electrical appliances are in good working order.
- Throw away any appliance that has a frayed or damaged cord.
- Never attempt do-it-yourself electrical repairs – always hire a registered electrician.
- Always turn the light off before changing a light globe.
- Avoid using electrical appliances in wet areas, such as using the hair dryer in the bathroom.
- Don’t touch electrical appliances, power points or light switches with wet hands.
- Make sure electrical cords don’t drape over hot plates or sit near heaters, since this will melt the insulation covering the wires.
- If water gets into an electrical appliance, turn it off and unplug it immediately. Have it professionally checked before the next use.
- When disconnecting an appliance, first turn off the switch then pull out the plug. Make sure you hold the plug rather than the cord.
- If an electrical appliance catches fire, unplug it if possible. Don’t use water to put out the flames.
- Be aware that electrical cables could be buried in garden areas you wish to dig.
Safety for children
Suggestions to protect your children from electric shock include:
- When appliances are not in use, switch off the power and unplug.
- Close unused power points with plastic plug-in covers. These are available from supermarkets and hardware stores.
- Make sure electrical cords are not dangling from benches or within your child’s reach.
- Use power boards with inbuilt safety switches when plugs are unavoidably within your child’s reach.
- Don’t permit your child to touch or play with electrical cords.
- When they are old enough to understand, explain the dangers of electricity and teach them safety measures including how to use electrical appliances safely.
Safety during a thunderstorm
- Don’t use the landline telephone (except in emergencies).
- Turn off all appliances.
- Turn off and unplug sensitive equipment such as computers and televisions.
- If you experience a power failure, switch off appliances and separate from flammable materials such as paper and curtains.
- Avoid downed power lines.
- Remain in your car if downed power lines are touching your vehicle and don’t touch any metal surfaces until emergency services disconnect the power.
Electric shock first aid
- Disconnect the power supply.
- Check for breathing and pulse. If necessary, start resuscitating the person.
- Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. If you are unsure on resuscitation techniques, the ambulance call-taker will talk you through.
- If breathing and pulse are steady, attend to injuries. Cool the burns and cover with non-stick dressings. Don’t use ointments or oils.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, call triple zero (000)
- Your doctor
- Your electricity supplier
- Energy Australia Emergency Services Line Tel. 13 13 88
Things to remember
- Electrical incidents injure or kill around 16 Australians every week.
- Children are commonly injured by poking objects inside appliances or unused power points, or by playing with appliances.
- Hire a registered electrician to check your household wiring and install electrical safety switches.
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