Each year, electrical failures or malfunctions cause more than 50,000 home fires in the United States, resulting in 450 deaths, nearly 1,500 injuries and more than $1.5 billion in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Workplace electrical incidents result in another nearly 300 deaths and more than 3,500 injuries every year.
Although not the leading cause of workplace fatalities, electrical incidents are disproportionately fatal. For every 13 electrical injuries, a worker dies. This National Electrical Safety Month (NESM), the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is increasing public awareness of electrical hazards in both the home and in the workplace with its “Be in the Know about the New” NESM consumer awareness campaign and the newly released “How Do You Know?” workplace safety awareness program.
ESFI receives funding for the development of new programs and resources from electrical manufacturers, distributors, independent testing laboratories, retailers, insurers, utilities, safety organizations and trade and labor associations. The foundation sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May to increase public awareness of electrical hazards in order to reduce electrical-related fires, fatalities, injuries and property loss.
Be in the Know
ESFI’s “Be in the Know about the New” campaign focuses on emerging electrical technologies and how they relate to existing home electrical systems. Electrical system components can wear out over time, just like a roof or heating system, and may not be ready to support additional new technologies or electrical demands. It is critical that consumers are aware that their home electrical system should be evaluated by a qualified, licensed electrician before installation of any new electrical technology or in conjunction with a significant home renovation. The “Be in the Know about the New” campaign introduces a range of emerging topics, including electric vehicles, solar power, wind power and smart meters, explaining exactly how these technologies work and providing tips for safely integrating them with an existing home electrical system.
According to Ward’s AutoInfoBank, U.S. consumers purchased a record number of hybrid and electric cars in March 2012. As gas prices continue to rise and electric vehicles become more prevalent on the road, educating consumers about electric vehicles has become increasingly important. ESFI’s NESM Toolkit includes comprehensive information about electric vehicles, including the steps that should be taken before installing home charging equipment, as well as what precautions should be taken once the equipment is installed.
Before purchasing an electric vehicle (EV), consumers should have a licensed, qualified electrician perform an electrical evaluation of their home to determine that their home’s electrical system is adequate for EV charging. This evaluation should include a thorough examination of the existing electrical service, electrical panel and wiring system. The licensed electrician will determine if an electrical system upgrade or other improvements are needed to support an EV charging system. Certain cities or counties may require special permits and inspections for EV charging equipment, which can be facilitated by the electrician.
Once a home has passed an electrical evaluation, the charging equipment can be installed. Installation should be performed by a licensed professional in accordance with all applicable local and national codes. Charging equipment must be installed away from combustible and flammable materials in an area without heavy foot traffic. Once the charging system is installed, consumers should take safety precautions such as never using an extension cord to charge the vehicle and regularly inspecting cords and plugs for damage.
To complement the information about electric vehicles in the NESM toolkit, ESFI employed a multimedia approach with the creation of a 3-minute video, Electric Vehicle Safety. The video reveals the information that consumers should consider before purchasing an electric vehicle, including important safety considerations. Among the topics addressed are the different types of electric vehicles and their unique characteristics, how to safely equip a home for an electric vehicle charging station and safety tips for operating a home-charging station. After viewing the video, consumers will have a better understanding about whether going electric suits their lifestyle.
Another residential technology that is seeing dramatic growth is solar power, which was the fastest growing electric source in the United States in 2011, according to recent findings by the Solar Electric Power Association. The first step is to identify the common types of solar power systems. The first type is photovoltaic, which employs solar panels that directly convert solar energy into electrical energy. Next is passive solar technology, best exemplified by greenhouses, which capture sunlight to heat and light buildings and keep energy costs low. The third type is solar thermal energy systems, which concentrate sunlight to heat fluid, which subsequently can be used to generate electric energy through the use of a turbine and generator. Common residential uses of solar thermal energy include electric water heaters and swimming pool heaters.
Along with introducing the common types of solar power systems, the toolkit provides a list of considerations that should be examined before making the decision to purchase a solar power system. Specifically, a home must have an open rooftop space or land that is free of shade for at least 5 hours a day in order to be a suitable site for solar power. Variables such as wind speeds, heavy snow and salt water also can affect the solar array and must be taken into account.
Before installing a solar power system, homeowners must have their home evaluated by a licensed, qualified electrician to ensure the existing electrical system can support this new technology. Once installed, solar power systems present unique safety challenges for fire fighters and first responders. It is vital that local officials immediately are notified about the type of solar panels installed to help protect firefighters and minimize home damage in the event of a fire.
Wind power is another technology attracting the attention of enterprising homeowners. Similar to electric vehicles and solar power, there are a number of aspects to consider before deciding to install a residential wind power application. These considerations include the presence of adequate wind in the area to result in an economical wind system, ensuring local building codes and zoning ordinances allow for wind turbine installations and selecting the appropriately sized wind turbine. Safety concerns related to wind power systems include the potential for blade particle displacement caused by excess wind, fires resulting from lightning or electrical malfunctions and the proximity of overhead power lines, which can be dangerous during installation or maintenance of the turbine.
While these emerging technologies have become increasingly more common in recent years, not all homeowners are interested in being on the cutting edge of residential electrical technologies. ESFI’s “Be in the Know About the New” campaign also highlights other proven electrical technologies, such as arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs). These devices provide enhanced protection for the home against electrical fires, shocks and electrocutions without the need to undertake major home renovations. Although these technologies are relatively new, a licensed electrician can install them at a minimal cost in homes with aging electrical systems. AFCIs, GFCIs and TRRs also are highlighted in ESFI’s new virtual demonstration, “Your Electrical System,” which provides an introduction to the basic home electrical system and provides tips for identifying potential electrical hazards.
How Do You Know?
This National Electrical Safety Month, ESFI is addressing electrical safety in the workplace with the launch of How Do You Know?, a new workplace electrical safety awareness program developed to help employers answer the question, “How do you know if your work force is properly protected from electrical hazards?” Available at no cost on ESFI’s Web site, program elements include the How Do You Know? video series and the Electrical Safety Self-Assessment. The video series features short video modules that reinforce the importance of electrical safety programs and compliance with standards and regulations, while demonstrating how safe electrical practices are vital to the entire work force.
The Electrical Safety Self-Assessment is a resource to help safety professionals review and analyze their company’s electrical safety practices related to facilities, personnel and procedures. The online tool guides users through a series of questions that will help identify areas that may require further examination or improvement to ensure employee safety. Even if a workplace currently has a thorough electrical safety program in place, the Electrical Safety Self-Assessment likely will uncover a few areas that could be improved upon.
After taking the assessment, respondents are directed to ESFI’s comprehensive library of safety resources and links to help them find the information to take the next step in improving the electrical safety of their workplace. With its “How Do You Know?” program, ESFI urges all employees to adopt a proactive approach to electrical safety.
Brett Brenner is president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). More information about National Electrical Safety Month, including the complete 2012 NESM Toolkit and the “How Do You Know?” program can be found on ESFI’s Web site at http://www.electrical-safety.org.
ESFI is a non-profit organization exclusively dedicated to promoting electrical safety at home and in the workplace. Founded in 1994 as a cooperative effort by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), ESFI has become highly regarded by industry, media and consumer safety partners alike by constantly reinvigorating the way electrical safety is addressed. ESFI’s awareness and educational resources are designed to meet the diverse needs of a variety of at-risk groups.