Make a Safety Declaration This Fourth of July

The summer celebration includes grilling and fireworks, but can also include some potential electrical hazards.

July 02, 2014 | By Paul Netter

Fireworks, food and fun.

Not much says Fourth of July better than that, but safety should be just as synonymous with the popular summer holiday because while it is usually full of good times, there can also be electrical hazards.

Foremost among these are electric shock drownings and the dangers involved with using fireworks and kites near power lines and doing the all-important grilling.

“Electric shock drownings, in particular, can be an invisible killer in freshwater,” said Larry Pena, manager of Corporate Safety Policy and Regulations at Southern California Edison (SCE). “They mostly happen near boat marinas when a boat or nearby electrical appliance is leaking voltage into the water.”

Electric shock drownings occur when that leaking voltage incapacitates swimmers, and it is a freshwater phenomenon because freshwater — unlike salt water and its contents — has lower water conductivity. Additionally, many electric shock drownings likely go unreported because electricity typically isn’t considered in a drowning and no agency tracks the deaths.

Though an obscure and often-unidentified killer, electric shock drownings can be prevented by an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter (ELCI) on boats or a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) on marinas. Both devices are equipped to keep electricity from entering the water. The American Boat and Yacht Council standards require an ELCI be installed in the shore-power circuit and that older boats be brought up to the standard, but awareness about installing GFCIs at marinas is not considered as high.

“People should be especially wary of swimming in freshwater near a marina unless you know that marina has installed GFCIs,” said Pena.

As for other water dangers, people should make sure electrical connections to their pools and hot tubs are fully grounded. It is also crucial that that there is no water leakage into underwater lights, something that is often indicated by mold or growth on the inside.

“The best thing to do is have a licensed electrician qualified in pool and hot tub repairs do an inspection, and if necessary, repairs, so you can meet applicable local codes and the National Electrical Code,” said Pena, who recommends having GFCIs in all wet areas of a home.

GFCIs should be used on underwater lighting of more than 15 volts, on electrical equipment like heaters used with pools and hot tubs and on all outdoor receptacles, especially those within 20 feet of a pool, to protect people from shock or electrocution. Since 1990, there have been 60 electrocutions and nearly 50 serious shocks involving electrical hazards in and around swimming pools, according to the U.S.  Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Red Cross.

When it comes to cooking, never leave the electric grill — or any grill — unattended, never immerse or expose cords to water or any liquid, never use the grill near combustible or flammable materials and always inspect cords, plugs and connections for damage and wear before using them.

“Another good safety practice is to keep children at least three feet away from the grill,” said Pena. “In fact, a three-foot ‘kid-free zone’ around the grill is recommended.”

And if the day culminates with fireworks, it is best and safer to attend public fireworks shows handled by professionals rather than using them at home. In addition to potentially causing power outages, fireworks were involved in an estimated 5,200 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in a special study period from June 22-July 22, 2012, according to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

However, for those who insist on using legal fireworks at home, never use them near overhead power lines, never string them on utility poles and never try to retrieve any object — fireworks, kite or airborne toy — tangled in a power line.

“Many of these mishaps and accidents can be prevented simply by being aware and attentive,” said Pena. “Preparing and preventing is the best way to make sure everyone safely enjoys the summer holiday.”

Topics: Safety