Electrocution, Electric Shock, and Safety


The words electrocution and electric shock strike fear in many. However, many people use these two words interchangeably, when in fact they are not the same. An electric shock is when you somehow touch an energized circuit and, as many electricians say, you get "bit". An electric shock can rattle your fillings, give you headaches, and in extreme cases cause significant burns. On the other hand, electrocution is defined as death by electricity. Years ago an Attorney called me to assist in an "electrocution" case, and he asked me if I wanted to speak with the injured party.  I had to quickly educate him on the differences, and let him know he needed to use the proper terminology.

A fellow colleague once told me "I hate electricity because you can't see it, and it can kill you." Very true, but everyone reading this depends on electricity. So how can we stay safe while still using this wonderful resource? Here are a few helpful "rules":

  • Do not overload your wall receptacles. Most rooms have only one 15 or 20 amp circuit available, yet there could be up to 6 dual outlets and an overhead light. What do you do? First, you could add up the power consumption of each device you plug in and make sure the total is not over 2,400 watts. Or just limit yourself to only 4 or 5 plug in items per room. An electric space heater should count as 3 or 4 items, as most electric space heaters are between 1,200 and 1,500 watts.
  • Save the electrical work for licensed electricians. Many homeowners want to save money and think they can work safely in their electrical panel replacing a breaker, or adding a new circuit. DO NOT DO IT. A licensed electrician is trained in working on energized panels and can do so safely. I should also add they can probably do the work much faster than any homeowner could anyway, so do not attempt to do electrical work.
  • Need to trim your trees? Look around and make sure you are at least 20 to 25 feet away from overhead power lines. Most overhead power lines on power poles are "open wire", which means the conductors are not insulated. Touch one of those open wires with your trimming pole and serious injury or death could be the result. If you have trees near power lines that need to be trimmed, call a tree trimming service.
  • If you notice something that doesn't look or seem right, such as a wall receptacle that has turned brown, or lights that have started to flicker, call a licensed electrician to check it out. The last thing you want is a small issue with an electrical circuit to cause a fire in your home or business.

The above "rules" are just four of many that can be found with a simple internet search on electrical safety at home. I suggest that everyone that reads this conduct that search to be able to continue to use this wonderful resource safely.


About the Author

Albert M. Rose, P.E., B.S.E.E. is a consulting engineer with our Orlando Office. Mr. Rose provides consulting services in electrical power transmission, distribution and control, including electrical root cause failure analysis and fire origin and cause investigation. This work often involves damage assessment and repair/replacement analysis. You may contact Al for your forensic engineering needs at amrose@edtengineers.com or (407)865-9900.

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