Electrical emergencies can strike at any time.
If you’re not careful, you could lose your home or worse. The National Fire Protection Association found that “Home fires involving electrical failure or malfunction caused an estimated average of 390 civilian deaths and 1,330 civilian injuries each year from 2015 to 2019, as well as an estimated $1.5 billion in direct property damage per year.”
Meanwhile, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), arcing faults are responsible for starting more than 28,000 home fires each year in the US. This resulted in hundreds of casualties, not to mention over $700 million in property damage.
So, are you ready for it?
Equipping yourself with the necessary tools and knowledge is crucial before handling electricity-related problems. To help you out, here is a comprehensive guide that will help you properly deal with electrical emergencies.
What We’ll Cover
- Common signs of an electrical emergency
- Safety measures during electrical emergencies
- Emergency procedures for electric-related accidents or injuries
- Preventing electrical emergencies through regular maintenance
- Tips to reduce the risk of future electrical emergencies
Identifying Signs of an Electrical Emergency
Looking for early signs of electrical emergencies can significantly prevent further damage or injury. Here are some of the most common symptoms that indicate a potential problem in your electrical system:
- Flickering lights or outlets. If you notice that your lights are blinking or your outlets are not working consistently, it could be a sign of an electrical emergency. This could indicate a wiring issue or a faulty electrical component.
- Burning smells or unusual odours. An intense burning smell or unusual odours from your electrical system can cause concern. It could signify overheating or electrical components melting, leading to a fire hazard.
- Sparks or electrical arcs. Seeing sparks or electrical arcs from an outlet, appliance, or electrical device indicates an electrical emergency. Sparks can cause fires, so you should address them immediately.
Electrical Emergencies Vs Power Outages
You should also be aware that power outages and electrical emergencies are two different things. While both involve disruptions in the electrical flow, several key differences exist between them. These include:
- Cause. Blackouts are typically caused by external factors such as severe weather conditions (storms, hurricanes) or equipment failures. In contrast, electrical emergencies often result from internal issues within the electrical system, such as faults, short circuits, or overloading.
- Scope. Blackouts affect large geographical areas, such as neighbourhoods, cities, or even entire regions. On the other hand, electrical emergencies can occur on a smaller scale, affecting specific buildings, facilities, or circuits within a larger power grid.
- Duration. Blackouts can last for hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the severity of the event and the time required for repairs. Electrical emergencies are usually resolved relatively quickly once the underlying issue is identified and addressed, with downtime typically measured in minutes or hours.
- Response. During a blackout, power restoration efforts systematically repair damaged infrastructure and restore power to affected areas. In electrical emergencies, immediate actions are taken to isolate the problem, minimise the risk of damage, and restore power to the affected circuits or areas.
What is the First Thing You Should Do If You Discover an Electrical Hazard?
Should you ever encounter an electrical emergency, the first thing you must always do is prioritise your safety and the well-being of others. Immediately remove yourself and others from the hazardous area, making sure all of you are at a safe distance. Once you’re safe, promptly report the issue to the appropriate authorities or contact a licensed emergency electrician for assistance.
Additionally, it would be best if you refrained from attempting any repairs. Instead, focus on the safety measures listed below.
Safety Measures During Electrical Emergencies
Whether dealing with a major or minor electrical emergency, following specific safety measures is essential while waiting for professional help. These include:
- Assess the situation. If the electrical issue threatens your safety, such as a large fire or strong electrical current, evacuate the area immediately. Move to a safe location away from the emergency and wait for help.
- Warn others. If other people are nearby, alert them to the electrical emergency and encourage them to leave the area. Use clear and concise instructions to ensure everyone understands the seriousness of the situation.
- Do not touch exposed wires or damaged equipment. Avoid contact with exposed wires, damaged outlets, or other electrical equipment. These may still be live and pose a risk of electric shock. Maintain a safe distance and wait for professional assistance.
- Avoid touching anyone in contact with electricity. At the same time, don’t touch anyone in contact with an electrical current. Coming into contact with the current may result in an electric shock. Instead, immediately call for professional help and follow their instructions.
- Put out small fires, if any. Use a class C fire extinguisher to extinguish any small flames near the faulty electrical system. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until the fires are completely out.
- Do not attempt to extinguish large fires. But if there’s already a large fire present, best wait for professional firefighters to handle it instead. Large fires can be hazardous, and attempting to extinguish them without proper training and equipment can put you at risk.
- Stay away from water and wet surfaces. Avoid water or wet areas as much as possible during an electrical emergency. Water conducts electricity and increases the risk of electric shock. Do not touch electrical equipment, switches, or outlets with wet hands.
- Communicate with emergency services. Provide accurate and detailed information about the electrical emergency to emergency services when you call for help. Be prepared to answer questions about the nature of the emergency, potential hazards, and the location of the incident.
What is the Most Appropriate Order of Action to Take During an Electrical Emergency?
We also recommend following specific steps to ensure safety and an adequate response. The most appropriate order of action is as follows:
- Prioritise personal safety. Immediately remove yourself and others from the immediate emergency area, especially if there is a risk of electric shock, fire, or other hazards.
- Call for emergency services. Dial emergency services and provide accurate details about the nature of the electrical emergency. Request the assistance of trained professionals to handle the situation.
- Shut off the power. If it’s still safe, turn off the main power supply to the affected area or the entire building. Locate the main electrical panel, and then switch off the main circuit breaker or remove the fuses.
- Communicate with the responders. When emergency responders or electricians arrive, provide them with relevant information about the emergency, any actions you’ve taken, and any visible hazards. Follow their instructions and cooperate fully.
Emergency Procedures for Electrical Accidents and Injuries
When accidents or injuries involving electrical emergencies occur, swift and appropriate action is crucial to mitigate further harm. Below are steps to take when dealing with electric shocks, as well as minor and major burns:
When Treating Minor Electrical Burns
- Run cool water over the burn for at least ten minutes.
- Do not apply ice, creams, or ointments to the burn.
- Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick dressing.
- Seek medical advice to prevent infection or other complications.
When Dealing With More Severe Burns
- Immediately call emergency services.
- Do not remove any clothing stuck to the burn.
- While waiting for medical help, elevate the burned area if possible.
- Monitor breathing, pulse, and consciousness levels.
When Someone is Experiencing Electrical Shock
Assess the Situation and Ensure Everyone’s Safety
- Make sure the person is no longer in contact with the electrical source.
- Don’t touch the person if they are still in contact with the electrical current.
- Turn off the power source, circuit breaker, or unplug it if possible.
- If unable to disconnect the power, use an insulated object to separate the person from the source.
Administer CPR (if necessary)
- Check for signs of responsiveness and breathing.
- If the person is not breathing, begin performing CPR immediately.
- Continue CPR until medical professionals arrive or the person shows signs of response.
Preventing Electrical Emergencies Through Regular Maintenance
Regular maintenance plays a crucial role in preventing electrical emergencies and ensuring the safety of your home or workplace. By proactively maintaining your electrical systems, you can avoid potential hazards and mitigate the risk of electrical emergencies.
Benefits of Regular Electrical Maintenance
- Enhanced safety. Regular maintenance helps identify and address potential electrical hazards before they escalate into emergencies. It ensures that your electrical systems are up to code, reducing the risk of electrical fires, shocks, and other accidents.
- Increased reliability. By regularly maintaining and inspecting your electrical systems, you can identify and rectify any issues that may cause interruptions or malfunctions. This helps in preventing sudden power outages or equipment failures.
- Energy efficiency. An efficiently maintained electrical system consumes less energy, reducing your energy bills. Regular maintenance can optimise the performance of your electrical appliances and systems, ensuring that they operate at their highest efficiency.
- Extended lifespan of the equipment. Proper maintenance extends the lifespan of your electrical equipment, reducing the need for frequent replacements. Keeping your electrical systems in good condition saves money in the long run.
Tips for Properly Maintain Your Electrical Systems and Appliances
- Regular inspections and testing. Schedule routine inspections by a qualified electrician to detect potential issues early on. Additionally, periodic electrical equipment and systems testing can identify any faults that may lead to emergencies.
- Proper usage and care of electrical equipment. Follow manufacturer guidelines for the safe and correct usage of electrical appliances. Avoid overloading outlets, using damaged cords or plugs, and placing flammable materials near electrical devices.
Tips to Minimise the Risk of Future Electrical Emergencies
Preventing future electrical emergencies is essential for maintaining a safe and functional electrical system in your home. By following the tips below, you can reduce the likelihood of electrical issues and emergencies:
- Regular electrical inspections. Schedule regular inspections by a qualified electrician to identify potential hazards, outdated wiring, or faulty electrical components. This proactive approach allows for timely repairs or upgrades before they become emergencies.
- Proper electrical load management. Avoid overloading electrical circuits by distributing the load evenly. Use power strips with built-in surge protectors to prevent damage from power surges, and avoid using extension cords as a permanent solution.
- Outlet and switch maintenance. Routinely inspect outlets and switches for signs of damage, such as cracks, discolouration, or loose connections. Replace any worn-out or damaged outlets or switches promptly to prevent electrical malfunctions or fires.
- Keep electrical equipment away from water. Keep electrical appliances and cords from water sources, such as sinks, bathtubs, or wet floors. Water and electricity do not mix, so practising proper water safety is crucial.
- Store any flammable materials away. According to a research paper by Claire Miller and her peers, fires caused by electrical emergencies are more rampant during elevated fire danger conditions. So whenever possible, avoid putting any flammable materials near your electrical system.
- Childproof electrical outlets. If you have young children, install tamper-resistant outlets or use outlet covers to prevent accidental contact with electrical outlets. This helps protect children from potential electric shocks.
- Use electrical equipment responsibly. Follow manufacturer guidelines for the proper use and maintenance of electrical equipment. Avoid using damaged or frayed cords and unplug appliances when not in use to reduce the risk of electrical malfunctions or fires.
- Educate household members. Teach your family basic electrical safety practices, such as not overloading outlets, never touching electrical equipment with wet hands, and recognising potential electrical hazards. Promoting awareness and understanding of electrical safety will help minimise risks.
By reading the guide above, you’ll be better prepared and equipped to handle electrical emergencies. The insights above can make a significant difference in protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your property. So take the time to educate yourself and be proactive in electrical safety to face any future problems that may arise confidently.