|Electrical receptacle outlets in walls and floors may
present shock and electrical fire hazards to consumers. The U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission estimates that 3,900 injuries associated with
electrical receptacle outlets are treated in hospital emergency rooms each
year. Approximately a third of these injuries occur when young children
insert metal objects, such as hair pins and keys, into the outlet, resulting
in electric shock or burn injuries to the hand or finger.
CPSC also estimates
that electric receptacles are involved in 5,300 fires annually which claim
40 lives and injured 110 consumers.
Older homes may have receptacles which are damaged or which, otherwise, may
have deteriorated over the years. In one case of a damaged receptacle, a
woman suffered severe burns to her hand as she was plugging in a floor lamp.
Part of the plastic faceplate of the outlet had broken away, allowing the
prongs of the plug to bridge from the electrical contacts to the grounded
strap, resulting in intense electrical arcing.
Outlets also deteriorate from repeated use, from plugging-in and unplugging
appliances as is often done in kitchens and bathrooms. As a result, when
plugs fit loosely into receptacles, especially the two-prong ungrounded
type, they may slip partially or completely out of the receptable
|with only slight movement of the attached cord. Receptacles
in this condition may overheat and pose a serious fire hazard; if covered by
a curtain or drape, the fire hazard is even greater.
Consumers should have a qualified person replace deteriorated and damaged
receptacles and, at the same time, upgrade their home electrical system to
present safety standards. The simplest and most effective method to protect
against electrocution is through the installation of ground- fault circuit
interrupters (GFCIs) (as shown in FIGURE 3). If you wish to receive a copy
of the Commission's fact sheet on GFCls, send a postcard to "Ground-Fault
Circuit Interrupters, Washington, D.C. 20207," and a copy will be sent
Another method of protection in the home is to install 3-wire receptacles
which will accept either 2- or 3-prong plugs (as shown in FIGURE 2). This
method, however, requires a grounding conductor which may or may not be
available in the outlet box. The least acceptable method is installing
another 2-wire receptacle that requires the use of an adapter for accepting
3-wire plugs (as shown in FIGURE 1). Even thought the tab on the adapter may
be properly connected to the cover-plate screw, the grounding path may not
be adequate to protect against ground faults.
|Outlets with poor internal contacts or loose wire terminals
may become overheated and emit sparks. Even a receptacle with nothing
plugged into it may run hot if it is passing current through to other
outlets on the same circuit. To prevent damage to receptacles, appliances
should be switched-off before unplugging from a receptacle.
- Have a qualified electrician replace damaged receptacles or those
which feel hot, emit smoke or sparks, those with loose fiffing plugs or
those where plugged-in lamps flicker or fail to light.
- Do not unplug appliances by pulling on the cord at an angle. The
brittle plastic face of the recepacle may crack nd break away, leaving
live parts of the receptacle exposed.
To protect young children, parents should consider some precautions:
- Insert plastic safety caps into unused outlets within reach of young
- Be sure that plugs are inserted completely into receptacles so that no
part of the prongs are exposed.
Free safety tips: