Ways to Prevent Electrical Shock

Electrical shocks can occur when a person comes into contact with an electrical energy source. While most shocks are harmless, some can cause severe injury or even death. Taking proper precautions and following electrical safety guidelines can help prevent electrical shocks in homes, workplaces, and other environments.

Use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)

GFCIs are electrical receptacles or outlets designed to protect against electrical shock. They work by detecting leakage current and quickly breaking the circuit if the current is flowing along an unintended path, such as through a person.

Where to Install GFCIs

Some key areas to install GFCIs include:

  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Laundry rooms
  • Basements
  • Garages
  • Outdoors or other damp locations

Anywhere water and electricity may come into contact, install GFCIs to help prevent shocks.

How GFCIs Protect Against Shock

GFCIs constantly monitor electricity flowing in a circuit. If there is a difference of 5 to 6 milliamps between the hot and neutral wires, the GFCI will quickly (as little as 0.025 seconds) cut off the power. This helps stop the flow of electricity to the person, protecting them from severe shock.

Test GFCIs Monthly

Test GFCIs once a month by pressing the “test” button to ensure they are working properly and will trip when needed.

Avoid Overloading Circuits

Plugging too many devices into one outlet or circuit can lead to overheating and fires. It also increases the risk of shocks.

Signs of an Overloaded Circuit

Some signs your circuit may be overloaded:

  • Frequent tripping of circuit breakers
  • Warm or hot outlets
  • Dimming lights when devices turn on
  • Buzzing, sizzling, or other odd sounds from outlets

Tips to Avoid Overloads

  • Do not plug high-wattage appliances like heaters or air conditioners into extension cords or power strips. Plug directly into the outlet.
  • Check the wattage ratings on devices and add up the total for a circuit. Compare it to your circuit rating (usually 15 or 20 amps).
  • Only plug one high-wattage device into each outlet at a time.
  • Use appropriately rated power strips for lower wattage devices like phones or laptops.
  • Distribute loads over separate circuits to avoid overloading one.

Use Grounding on Appliances

Ensure appliances like dryers, stoves, and refrigerators are properly grounded. This gives electricity a safe path to flow if there is a malfunction, helping prevent shocks.

What Grounding Does

Grounding provides a low-resistance path for electricity to safely flow to the ground. If an appliance becomes energized or a wire comes loose, grounding helps prevent that electricity from flowing through a person who touches the appliance which could result in a severe shock.

How to Check for Proper Grounding

There should be a ground wire (typically green or bare copper) that connects from the appliance to the ground in the electrical box. You can also use a multimeter to test for proper grounding. Consult an electrician if you are unsure or need ground wires installed.

Use GFCI and Arc Fault Circuit Breakers on Home Electrical Panels

In addition to GFCI outlets, you can also install GFCI and arc fault circuit breakers on your main electrical panel. These provide shock protection at the circuit level.

Where to Install Them

Install them for kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and outdoor circuits. Also use for bedroom circuits to protect against electrical fires caused by arc faults or wiring issues.

How They Work

They work similarly to GFCI outlets but provide protection for the entire circuit. If there is a ground fault or arc fault, they cut power at the panel before electricity can flow to the outlet. This adds an extra layer of protection against shocks.

Test Every Month

Test GFCI and arc fault breakers monthly like you would GFCI outlets. The breakers should trip when you press the test button.

Use Non-Conductive Ladders

When working with or near electricity or power lines, use fiberglass or wood ladders rather than metallic ladders. Metallic ladders conduct electricity, greatly increasing shock risks.

Why Non-Conductive Ladders Are Safer

If a non-conductive ladder accidentally came into contact with live power lines, the ladder would not energize and electrify like a metal one would. This helps prevent electrocution from touching the ladder.

Beware Damage that Compromises Safety

Inspect wood or fiberglass ladders before use. Damage such as cracks or holes can allow electricity to pass through if they came into contact with power lines. Avoid using damaged ladders near power lines or electricity.

Position Ladders Properly to Avoid Contact

Also be sure to carefully position ladders away from any overhead power lines. Avoid contact even with non-conductive ladders, as electricity could arc over. Maintain at least 10 feet of clearance.

Prevent Cord and Wire Hazards

Exposed, damaged, or loosely connected cords and wires significantly increase chances of shocks and electrocution.

Inspect Cords and Wires

Inspect electrical cords and power tool wires for any damage like worn insulation or exposed copper. Immediately repair or replace damaged cords.

Secure Cords

Run cords and extension cords safely along walls and ceilings. Use non-conductive cord covers or tape cords down securely. Don’t run them under rugs where damage can easily occur.

Use Proper Cord Ratings

Match cord gauge and length to the expected amperage draw of appliances. Overloaded cords can overheat and damage insulation.

Repair Faulty Wiring

Have licensed electricians repair any faulty wiring including loose connections, exposed wire, damage from rodents or insects, or deterioration from moisture or corrosion.

Keep Electronics and Cords Away from Water

Water conducts electricity very well, greatly increasing risk of shock. Keep appliances, devices, outlets, and cords away from water.

Kitchen and Bathroom Safety

Never use electrical devices near a sink or shower. Install GFCIs in kitchens, bathrooms, and other damp locations. Wipe up spills immediately.

Outdoor Safety

For outdoor outlets, only use cords and power tools rated for outdoor use when working in damp conditions. Inspect extension cords for damage before use.

around Swimming Pools

Install GFCI protected circuits for any outlets around pools. Keep all electric devices at least 10 feet from the pool. Don’t enter the water while using electronic devices. Turn off pool pump before entering.

Wear Insulated Gloves and Footwear

When working with electricity or power lines, wear thick insulated rubber gloves and boots. This creates a protective barrier to help prevent shock from contacting live wires.

Why Insulated Gloves and Boots Prevent Shock

Insulated gloves and boots are constructed usingmaterials that do not easily allow electricity to pass through them. This helps block the electricity from reaching a person’s skin if they come into contact with live wires.

Inspect for Damage Before Use

Closely inspect gloves and boots for any damage, holes, rips, or worn areas that could compromise their insulating properties and increase risk of shock.

Use Proper Insulated Ratings

Choose gloves and boots rated for the voltage you will be working with. Higher voltages require thicker insulation to safely block the electricity.

Use Insulated Tools

Use well-insulated hand tools like screwdrivers, pliers, and cutters when working with electrical equipment or live wires. This helps prevent shocks.

Why Insulated Tools Prevent Shock

The insulating material (often thick rubber) blocks the electricity from conducting through the tool and to your hand if you accidentally touch a live wire. This creates a protective barrier.

Inspect and Replace Worn Tools

Look for worn or compromised insulation that exposes metal conductive parts. Replace any damaged insulated tools.

Choose Tools Rated for the Voltage

Make sure the tools have an insulation rating for the voltage you are working with. Higher voltages require tools rated for more insulation.

Cover and Guard Exposed Wires and Connections

Exposed electrical connections, open junction boxes, or wires increase chances of accidental contact that could cause shocks. Properly cover and guard any exposed parts.

Cover Junction Boxes

Install securely closed covers on all electrical boxes to protect from accidental contact with live wires. Junction boxes should never be left open.

Use Wire Nuts and Tape

Properly wire nut any exposed wire connections and then cover with electrical tape for additional insulation and protection.

Conduit and Insulation

Run wires through protective conduit. Use wires with sufficient insulation rated for the application.

Restrict Access with Barriers

Use covers, screens, cages, or durable barriers to restrict access to electrical equipment and prevent accidental contact with live parts. Post warning signs.

Work on De-Energized and Locked Out Systems

Whenever possible, completely disconnect power at the breaker and lock it out prior to working on electrical wiring or equipment.

Lock Out/Tag Out Procedures

Follow proper lock out/tag out procedures to isolate equipment and prevent any power from being restored unexpectedly while working.

Test Wires Before Handling

Carefully test wires with a multimeter or tester wand to verify power is off. Double check there is no power before touching any wires or connections.

Disconnect Power Supply

For appliances and power tools, unplug from power sources before servicing. Ensure equipment is fully de-energized.

Maintain a Safe Distance from Power Lines and Equipment

Always maintain a safe distance from overhead power lines, electrical equipment, substations, and transformers. Notify utility companies before work near power lines.

Minimum Clearance Distances

Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines. Allow greater clearance if working at elevated heights. Maintain at least 6 feet from electrical equipment.

Designate Safe Work Zones

Define and mark out safe work zones that maintain required clearance distances from electrical hazards for both workers on foot and equipment/machinery.

Make All Workers Aware of Hazards

Educate all workers to recognize and avoid electrical hazards. Hold a safety briefing before work near power lines.

Wear Proper, Non-Conductive Clothing

Avoid wearing conductive materials like metal jewelry or clothing with metal snaps/zippers when working with electricity. Wear non-conductive clothing and shoes.

Why Non-Conductive Clothing Prevents Shock

Non-conductive fabrics like cotton help block external electrical current from flowing through the body if contact is made. Conductive materials allow electricity to pass through more easily.

Other Tips

Additionally avoid loose fitting clothing that could get caught in equipment and tie back or cover long hair. Wear safety glasses and non-conductive gloves.

Know What’s Conductive

Many materials can conduct electricity including water, wet or sweaty clothing, metals, etc. Stay dry and change out of damp clothes.

Use Extra Caution Around Downed Power Lines

Assume all downed power lines are energized and dangerous. Warn others to stay away and contact emergency services. Don’t approach or touch fallen lines.

Dangers of Downed Lines

Downed lines can still be live and could electrocute anyone who gets near or touches them directly or indirectly with a conductive object. Even lines that look dead can be re-energized.

If a Power Line Falls on Your Vehicle

If a power line falls on your car while you are inside, stay in the vehicle unless there is fire or imminent risk. Warn others away until utility crews cut power.

Other Hazards

Downed lines can energize the ground, puddles, fences or other conductive paths. Look for sparking, smoking or buzzing which indicates live electricity.

Electrical Safety Tips for the Home

Following basic electrical safety practices in your home can help protect you and your family from electrical fires, shocks, and electrocution.

Use Extra Caution in Kitchens, Bathrooms and Laundry Rooms

These rooms tend to have many electrical appliances and devices around plumbing and water. Take steps to prevent shocks.

  • Install GFCI outlets and breakers
  • Keep appliances and cords away from sinks and tubs
  • Wipe up spills immediately
  • Don’t use electrical items with wet hands

Check for Faulty Wiring

Signs of faulty wiring:

  • Discolored/warm outlets
  • Burning smell
  • Frequent tripped breakers
  • Lights flickering
  • Buzzing or sizzling

Have an electrician inspect and fix any wiring issues.

Hire a Licensed Electrician for Major Work

Always hire a qualified electrician rather than attempting major DIY electrical work yourself if you lack training.

Keep Floors Dry Around Electrical Items

Don’t place electrical appliances or outlets where they could get wet. Immediately dry any spills or wet floors.

Prevent Electrocution in the Bathroom

  • Never use electrical items near water
  • Install GFCI outlets
  • Use non-conductive light fixtures
  • Inspect cords for damage before each use

Check Outlets and Cords for Damage

Feel for warm spots, look for discoloration, and watch for sparks, sizzling noises, or shocks. Replace damaged wiring immediately.

Ensure Appliance Plugs Fit Securely

Loose plugs that spark or fall out easily indicate worn outlets or plugs. Have an electrician replace them.

Avoid Using Extension Cords Regularly

Only use extension cords for temporary, portable power connections. Don’t overload them.

Examine Appliance and Tool Cords

Replace frayed, cracked, or damaged power tool or appliance cords. Don’t try to tape them.

Keep Flammables Away from Electrical Equipment

Don’t store things like gasoline, solvents, or batteries near electrical appliances or equipment.

Restrict Access to Electrical Panels

Keep electrical panel doors securely closed and locked so kids cannot access them. Keep space around clear.

Electrical Safety in the Workplace

Employers and workers must follow strict electrical safety standards and regulations in workplaces to prevent injuries from shocks, electrocutions, burns, and explosions.

Provide Proper Training

Ensure all employees are trained to recognize electrical hazards and follow safety procedures. Retrain regularly.

Establish and Enforce Safety Policies

Put company policies and procedures in place regulating interaction with electrical equipment and power lines backed by enforcement and supervision.

Select Appropriate PPE

Conduct a hazard analysis to determine what PPE like insulated gloves, boots, and mats is needed for employee tasks and equipment. Enforce use.

Implement Lock Out/Tag Out

Require lock out/tag out procedures to disable, isolate, and control electrical energy sources during maintenance and repairs.

Eliminate Tripping Hazards

Prevent tripping on cords by running them overhead or out of walkways. Use cable management products. Eliminate clutter.

Restrict Access to Electrical Rooms and Closets

Keep electrical rooms and closets locked with a “Authorized Personnel Only” sign. Restrict keys.

Install Proper Warning Signs

Post hazard warning signs in electrical rooms and on equipment like “High Voltage” or “Do Not Enter”.

Establish Approach Boundaries

Determine minimum approach distances for power lines and equipment based on voltage. Clearly mark out with barriers.

Conduct Preventative Maintenance and Testing

Follow a regular maintenance schedule for electrical systems and equipment testing, NETA certified technicians inspecting for issues.

Hold Monthly Safety Meetings

Discuss electrical hazards, procedures, and safety tips at monthly safety training meetings. Share key statistics and lessons learned.

Design Workspaces to Minimize Hazards

Optimize lighting, eliminate trip hazards, position appliances/outlets properly, and ensure working space has room to maneuver safely.

FAQs About Preventing Electrical Shock

What should I do if someone is being shocked?

If possible, shut off the power source immediately. Use a non-conductive object like a wooden stick to separate the person from the power source. Once disconnected, begin first aid and get medical attention.

How long does electricity stay in the body after a shock?

The electricity flows through the body instantly and does not remain in the tissues, so medically the effects are immediate but generally do not last beyond the initial shock. However, severe shocks can cause physical tissue damage with longer lasting effects.

Can you get electrocuted by peeing on an electric fence?

Yes, it is possible since urine is a conductive liquid. Electric fences pulse, so you may or may not complete a circuit, but it is best to avoid contacting electric fences regardless. The ground is often energized near the fence as well.

What kind of shoes prevent electric shock?

When working with electricity, wear thick rubber-soled shoes or boots, preferably with insulated soles rated for the voltages you are working with. Leather shoes provide no protection from shock. Ensure shoes are fully dry.

Can you tell if an electric fence is on by looking at it?

No, not necessarily. Some may have warning signs posted, but fences don’t always appear to be on or energized. To be safe, assume all electric fences are active. Carry a voltage tester if working near them.

Can electric shock cause brain damage?

Yes, the neurological effects of electric shock may include injuries to the brain and nerves. The brain can be damaged from the immediate tissue trauma, lack of oxygen when breathing stops, or internal bleeding and swelling afterwards.

Can you get electrocuted in a car?

It’s unlikely to be electrocuted in a car, but you may feel a small shock from static electricity build up as you exit the vehicle. Maintain your car’s grounding strap to allow static electricity discharge. Lightning strikes are rare but can be deadly inside a car.

Why do birds sit on power lines and not get electrocuted?

Birds are able to sit on live power lines