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Some Things You Need to Know About Electricity

Electricity is something we all take for granted. It lights our homes, powers our refrigerators, and all of our iPods and GameBoys and electronic gadgets that make life great. But electricity is also something we have to be extremely careful around. If careless, electricity can seriously injure you, or even take your life.

Here are a few things you need to know to keep yourself safe around electricity and electric appliances:

Electricity is always trying to get to the ground. Like all good travelers, electricity takes shortcuts whenever it can. If something that conducts electricity gives electricity an easy path to the ground, electricity will take it!

How You Can Be Hurt By Electricity

Water and metal are some of the best conductors for electricity. Because your body is mostly water, you are a great conductor, too! So if you touch an electric circuit and the ground at the same time, you will become electricity's easiest path. Electricity will flow through your body, and you could be seriously hurt or killed.

You don't have to be touching the ground directly to conduct electricity. You could also be touching something that is in contact with the ground, like a tree or a ladder.

Stay Away From Water and Electricity!

Water is an excellent conductor. You can become electricity's path to the ground if you are touching water that touches electricity. Electricity would travel through the water and through you to the ground.

This is why it's so important to keep all electrical appliances away from water, and to make sure your hands are dry and you are not standing in water when you touch anything electrical. It's also the reason no one should ever use water on an electrical fire, but should use a multipurpose fire extinguisher instead.

How to Be Safe Around Appliances

Appliances have protective insulated cords and coverings to keep you from contacting the electricity inside.

It's important to use appliances and cords the way they were designed to be used so you don't damage the insulation or contact live electrical parts. If a live wire inside an appliance, toy, or power tool touches the inside of the device and you touch the device, it would be like touching a bare live wire. You cannot tell from the outside if there is a problem inside, so you should always act as if there were danger of shock.

Electrical Shocks Hurt!

You can never tell when contact with electricity will be fatal, but you can be sure it will always hurt. Electric shock can cause muscle spasms, weakness, shallow breathing, rapid pulse, severe burns, unconsciousness, or death.

In a shock incident, the path that electric current takes through the body gets very hot. Burns occur all along that path, including the places on the skin where the current enters and leaves the body. It's not only giant power lines that can kill or injure you if you contact them. You can also be killed by a shock from an appliance or power cord in your home.

How Come Birds Don’t Get Shocked?

Have you ever wondered why the birds that sit on power lines don't get electric shocks? It's because the electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground, but the birds are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground.

If you touched a power line while you were in contact with the ground (or standing on a ladder or roof) electricity would travel through you. And if your kite or balloon got tangled in a power line and you touched the string, electricity could travel down the string and into you on its way to the ground. Both situations would mean a serious shock!

Have you ever wondered why people who work up on power lines don't get shocked? Utility workers are trained to work with electricity. They wear special insulated boots, hardhats, and gloves, and use special insulated tools that help prevent shock. It would be a bad idea to climb a power pole and imitate them—and possibly fatal!

What To Do With Electrical Fires

Fires that involve electrical appliances, outlets, or cords are different than other fires. Because water conducts electricity, throwing water on an electrical fire can cause the fire to get larger. Here is what to do:

  • NEVER use water on an electrical fire.
  • Tell an adult right away. If the fire can be put out safely, the adult should use a proper chemical fire extinguisher.
  • If the fire cannot be put out safely, leave the house and do NOT go back inside.
  • Call 911 and tell them it is an electrical fire. Give your address if they ask for it.

What To Do If Someone Gets Shocked

If someone has been shocked, there's a chance they may still be in contact with the source of the electricity. Do NOT touch the person or anything he or she is touching. You could become part of electricity's path and be shocked or even killed! Take these three steps:

  1. Call 911 and tell them it is an electrical accident. Give your address if they ask for it.
  2. When the victim is not in contact with the source of electricity and you're sure there is no danger, tell an adult to give first aid for electrical injury. This may include CPR.
  3. Don't touch burns, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Electrical shock may cause burns inside the body, so be sure the person is taken to a doctor. 

What If I See A Downed Power Line?

Downed power lines can hurt or kill you, even if they do not spark or hum. If you see a downed power line, stay very far away. Do not even get close to anything that is touching the line, like a tree, fence, vehicle, etc. Tell an adult to call 911.

What Do I Do If I See A Downed Power Line and I’m In My Car?

Downed power lines can hurt or kill you, even if they do not spark or hum. If you see a downed power line, stay very far away. Do not even get close to anything that is touching the line, like a tree, fence, vehicle, etc. Tell an adult to call 911 to report the line.

If you are in a car when a power line falls on it, STAY IN THE CAR.

  • Warn other people to stay away. Ask them to call 911 for help.
  • Stay there until rescue workers arrive. You are safer inside the car because the rubber tires help prevent electricity from going to the ground.
  • If you must leave the car because of fire or other danger, DO NOT STEP OUT of the car. If you touch the car and the ground at the same time, you will be shocked. Instead, JUMP away from the car so no part of you touches the car and the ground at the same time. Land with your feet together, and shuffle away keeping both feet on the ground.
  • Do not try to help someone else from the car while you are standing on the ground. If you do, you will become a path for electricity and could be hurt or killed!
  • Once you jump from a car with a power line on it, the danger may not be over. Electricity can spread out through the ground in a circle from any downed line. The voltage drops as you move away from the point of contact. If one part of your body touches a high-voltage zone while another part of your body touches a low-voltage zone, you will become a conductor for electricity. This is why you should shuffle away from the line, keeping your feet close together.

What Happens When the Power Goes Out?

Ask your parents or a trusted adult to help you make a storm kit. Put the items below in your kit to keep your family comfortable during a power outage. Replace batteries, food, and water once a year. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the kit is stored.

  • Flashlights
  • A battery-powered radio
  • Extra batteries for flashlights and radio
  • A three-day supply of bottled water
  • Canned and dried foods
  • Manual can opener
  • Blankets
  • First aid supplies

Lightning Can Be Dangerous Too!

If a storm is coming or under way, stay indoors. Lightning can travel through wires and pipes, so keep away from windows, wiring, and plumbing. Stay indoors for 30 minutes or more after you hear the last thunder.

If you are outside when a storm comes, go indoors. You are safest in an enclosed building.

If you can't get indoors:

  • Get into a hardtop car, not an open vehicle. Close the windows.
  • Avoid trees, tall objects, and anything metal, such as flagpoles, metal bleachers, golf clubs, tall light poles, etc.
  • Avoid rivers, lakes, and swimming pools. If you are boating, head to shore.
  • Avoid wide-open areas, including sports fields.