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Lighting Library: Electrical Safety

Electricity originates from nature and is a flow of electrical charge. It is a form of energy that is used all over the world and in almost every household and business on a daily basis. We use such primary sources as coal, solar and nuclear energy, which are then converted into electricity; this makes electricity a secondary energy source. While electricity has become a necessary resource for everyday life, it is not without its dangers. A National Safety Council report states that 3,710,957 people die annually from electrical accidents. such as touching lines or some other current related contact.

The Travels of Electricity

Electricity is powerful, but without guidance, it would not get to where it needs to be safely. A conductor is used to help the electricity flow easily. The conductor may be made from such metals as copper or aluminum, which is why you see metal wires when you look within an electrical panel. Such wires travel from the energy source to transformers and substations before reaching their destination within buildings. These connections must also loop back, which is called a circuit, meaning there is an energy source and wires or a load and a switch. The connection must be constant without breaks in order for the current to flow. Another conductor of electricity can be water. In order to keep the electricity where it belongs it must travel through insulators. An insulator is a material that electricity cannot travel through easily, such as plastic, glass or rubber. Glass, ceramic or plastic insulators are put high up on power lines to keep the electrical current from coming to the ground. This is also why your appliances and electric tools have rubber coated cords, to keep the electrical current within.

How Electricity Can Hurt You

While insulators are set for our protection, we must remember that electricity always wants to head towards the ground. It will do this by any means possible and take whatever path it can find. If it can conduct electricity through it, then it is a travel path. Electricity travels at the speed of light, so there is no second-guessing your actions. The right choice is always to think first and act later when dealing with it. Your body is a great source to conduct electrical current through, because it is made up of mostly water. Even if you don’t directly touch the current, it can still reach you via other things. A ladder set up against an electrical line or hitting a line while trimming a tree branch are often sources of contact. If you or what you are on is in contact with both the ground and the current, you’re in trouble. This is also true of the coating on cords. If the protective insulation is cracked or broken and you come into contact with the inner wires you will be shocked. Melting cords can also expose wiring, so keep cords away from heat sources and prevent overloading of outlets. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 485 Americans are killed each year by electrical fires. To prevent such fires make sure not to plug in too many things and overload outlets.

In Case of Emergency

In the case of an electrical fire, the best thing to do is to turn off the main power at the circuit box. Electrical fires often begin in outlets or switches and can travel quickly up and inside the walls, leaving you without a visual of the danger. If the structure is filled with smoke then immediately remove yourself from the building. Otherwise use a class C chemical fire extinguisher to put out the flames or you can use baking soda. Whatever you do, do not use water on electrical fires. As explained above, water is a conductive source for electricity. Once the fire is out you should contact an electrical professional to inspect the wiring before restoring power.

In a power outage be sure to unplug computers and other major appliances like televisions as the restoration of power could cause a surge, which could cause your item to burn out or cause a fire. If a power line is knocked down, the ground around the fallen wire will become energized with electricity, do not touch it or go near it. Stay as far away as possible and call the police and electric company to make them aware of the issue. If you are in a car and a line falls over you, remain in the car until help comes if possible. Touching the car and the ground at the same time can kill you.

If a person receives an electrical shock, many things could result. Severe burns may be noted at the point of contact and while there may be no outward signs of injury, a person could have had a heart attack. Other symptoms may be muscular contraction or broken bones if the person was thrown by the charge. If there is pain, seek medical assistance immediately, as there may be internal injuries you are unaware of.

Tree & Power Line Safety

Trees are beautiful, wonderful bearers of fruit and great for shade, but it is important to plant them wisely. When selecting a tree to plant in an area near power lines consider its height when full grown, a tree can become a fire hazard if it grows into the wires or it can dislodge lines from poles. This often happens when branches swing back and forth against the wires during a storm or when it is very windy. Another issue is that of underground cables and lines. Many areas have extensive underground wiring that can be broken if your shovel runs into them. Contact the city to find out the who, what and why of underground cables in your area and then take care to plant at least six feet away from them.

Sometimes trees will grow up and around power lines, which can create a real hazard. Trees near any electrical line must be trimmed and pruned regularly, if not cut down altogether. However, you should never try to trim a tree that has grown up near (10-feet) or around power lines, nor should you hire anyone else to do it for you. Only qualified tree trimmers with insulated tools should ever work around power lines. It is best to contact your power company to deal with such issues.

More Information About Electricity

What is Electricity? A descriptive page of electricity that is useful for children and adults with all the basics plus a quiz.

Electricity Explained The basics of electricity, where it comes from and how we use it, includes links to other energy data and statistics.

Producing Electricity several links to information on the how and where of electricity and where it will be in the future.

Basic Chemical Production of Electricity  site contains experimental information, as well as charts and photos.

The Pioneers Of Electricity Early experiments & discoveries of the world’s scientists

Pioneers in Electricity and Magnetism links to biographies of some of the most important figures in the history of electricity and magnetism.

Vehicle Technologies Program Hybrid electric vehicles: advantages, components and what’s next?

Energy Efficiency The U.S. Energy Information Administration page on energy efficiency and related information.

Electricity can be our friend or our foe; it is up to us. It is always smart to educate yourself and wisely use it. If we do so, we can spare ourselves from both injury and death.

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