Electrical Safety for Worried Mums and Dads

Worried about potential electrical hazards in your home? In this piece for Inner West Mums, local electrician Scott McLaren of Scott Electrics addresses some common concerns of parents about electrical safety.
‘My son is curious and is constantly exploring and experimenting. I’m terrified that he will stick something into a power outlet’ Sam (Bellevue Hill)
Scott: You should be concerned about this! Power outlets around the home pump out 240 volts. If that electricity makes contact with a person or animal, it can cause serious harm and in some cases even death.
So, what can you do? Luckily there are some very effective and low-cost solutions to this potential problem.

  1. Always switch power outlets to the off position when not in use. This will minimise risk if any small people put an object in the outlet that is not supposed to be there. I find that standard Clipsal-branded power outlets have a more rigid on/off switch, making it harder for young kids to turn on the outlet accidentally.
  2. Fill any unused power outlets with safety blanks. Dreambaby has a decent range. These can be purchased from Bunnings for as little as 20c each. In fact, my guys carry them as standard stock and will be happy to give you some if you flag them down and ask nicely the next time you see a van.
  3. Safety switches! Every home should have them. Quite simply, they save lives! Get them installed on every circuit.

‘Our daughter loves to touch anything with lights on it – the TV, DVD/CD player and recently even the exposed globe on our table lamp. We can deal with sticky finger prints on the TV but we worry that she will burn herself on the lamp’ Laura (Ashfield)
Scott: The important thing here, Laura, is that you have recognised the potential of your child being burned by a globe, some of which can heat up to over 250 degrees (Celsius). If you have ever tried to change a globe just after the light has been on, you will know how that feels. If it hurts my hardened tradie hands, imagine what it could do to a young child.
How can you prevent this from happening? There are a couple risk-diminishing actions to consider.

  1. Replace any old halogen or incandescent globes with newer style LED globes. The range of LED globes on the market these days is vast. They come in all shapes and sizes and the technology is now at a level where the light projected is on par with, if not superior to, its halogen counterpart. These globes operate at much cooler temperatures (and they’ll save you money). They do get a little hot but won’t scald the skin.
  2. Another simple idea: move the lamp! Placing dangerous items out of reach is one of the most effective ways to minimise risk.
  3. Cable management on hanging cords. If you have multiple cords hanging for various appliances, think about using spiral wrap to conceal and tidy the cables. This not only removes the urge to pull on the cables, but it can be fixed to the underside of the table or unit the lamp is sitting on so that if a child does decide to pull it, the lamp is not going to fall off before you notice.

‘I saw our little boy putting the end of a phone charger, which was plugged in, into his mouth. Luckily nothing happened, could he have been electrocuted?’ Sarah (Castle Hill)
Scott: The short answer here, Sarah, is yes. The likelihood is low but it is possible he could have been electrocuted. Phone chargers and USB charging outlets generally only give out around 5 volts when switched on, which is not enough for humans to feel it. However, exposing the terminals to moisture (saliva) could cause them to short and, in theory, could cause the resisters and transformer in the charger (which steps down the voltage) to become faulty and pump out mains voltage (240 volts). It has been reported that cheap import chargers have done so in the past with no explanation.
What can you do to prevent electric shock from phone chargers?

  1. Put them away after each use OR turn them off at the switch. This will minimise any risk of shock to any little people who feel the need to put it in their mouth.
  2. Buy ONLY genuine products. Avoid cheap imported products, they seem like a good idea but there are some tragic stories emerging, including one woman who was killed recently due to a faulty charger. It’s just not worth the risk.
  3. Last thing, and I’ve already said this but it’s worth a second mention because it’s so important: SAFETY SWITCHES! SAFETY SWITCHES! SAFETY SWITCHES! Got it?

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You might also like:
A Close Call: How Childsafe is Your Home?

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