Electrical Fire Safety

Shocking Facts

Each year in North America, hundreds of people die and thousands more are injured in accidents involving electrical fires or shocks. Most of these incidents can be prevented by following simple electrical safety rules.

Fuses and Circuit Breakers

  • If a fuse blows or a circuit breaker is tripped, don't just replace or reset it. Find out what caused the circuit to overload and correct the problem. Call an electrician if needed.
  • Never replace a fuse with one that exceeds the amperage rating for a given circuit.
  • Avoid using several high-amperage appliances - such as irons or other heat-producing appliances - at the same time on the same circuit.
  • Never replace a fuse with a penny or any other material that conducts electricity.


GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter, an electronic device that constantly monitors the amount of current flowing through a circuit and cuts off the electricity at the first sign of an unsafe flow of current. Because GFCIs respond to the abnormal flow of current in a circuit faster than fuses or circuit breakers can, they protect you from prolonged electrical shocks by interrupting the current flow before a healthy person can be seriously injured. Inexpensive GFCIs can be hard-wired into your home's electrical service, installed or plugged in at outlets, or built into extension cords. Test and reset GFCIs monthly to ensure they are working properly.

Electrical Receptacle Outlets

  • Have a professional electrician replace old or damaged receptacles with modern, three-wire, polarized receptacles. Proper grounding is essential to minimize fire and shock hazards.
  • Plugs should match receptacles. Three-pronged plugs require three-wire receptacles or a properly grounded adapter. Polarized plugs (now standard), with one prong wider than the other, require polarized receptacles.
  • Never cut off or bend the ground pin of a three-pronged plug. This ground connection protects you from severe shock caused by a faulty cord or malfunctioning appliance.
  • Never alter the wide prong of a polarized plug to make it fit into a non-polarized receptacle. Have the receptacle replaced.
  • Protect children from electrical shock by installing plastic safety inserts in unused receptacles.

Outdoor Power

  • Use only weatherproof fixtures and GFCI receptacles with weatherproof covers for outdoor installations.
  • Never run outdoor extension cords across lawns, driveways, or traffic areas. Power for all outdoor lighting should be supplied by permanent weatherproof wiring methods installed by a professional electrician.
  • Never use electrical appliances outdoors in wet weather or when the ground or grass is wet, unless the appliance is specifically designed and labeled by an independent testing lab for such use.
  • Appliances used outdoors should be plugged into receptacles protected by GFCIs.


  • All household appliances should bear the mark of an independent testing laboratory, indicating that they meet basic safety standards.
  • Be sure that detachable appliance cords - such as those used with coffee makers, deep-fat fryers, and popcorn poppers - are rated no less than the amperage or wattage rating of the appliance.
  • Keep heat-producing appliances, such as electric space heaters, electric cooking appliances, and irons, at least three feet (one meter) away from furniture, curtains, bedding, or anything that will burn.
  • Allow plenty of space around televisions, computers, and stereo-system components to prevent overheating.
  • Unplug small appliances when they aren't in use.
  • Keep electrical cords away from heat-producing appliances, such as electric space heaters and cooking equipment.

Electrical Cords

  • Keep electrical cords out of travel paths and away from areas where children play.
  • Replace any electrical cord that is cracked, frayed, or otherwise damaged.
  • Never pinch an electrical cord against walls or furniture.
  • Do not run extension cords under carpets or across doorways.
  • Do not nail, staple, or tack electrical cords to building surfaces.


  • Place lamps on level, uncluttered surfaces and be sure that lampshades are secure enough to protect the bulb from breaking if the lamp is knocked over.
  • Lightbulbs should not exceed the wattage marked on a lamp or fixture.
  • Keep combustible material at least three feet (one meter) away from lamps. Never drape fabrics over lamps.

Power Lines

  • Report downed power lines and mark the area to warn others.
  • Never touch a power line. Doing so can result in a fatal shock or severe injury.
  • Keep ladders, especially metal ones, away from power lines.

Warning Signs

You can spot many electrical problems before they cause a fire or shock. Be alert to the following danger signs.

  • Recurring problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers.
  • Feeling a tingle when you touch an electrical appliance.
  • Discoloration of wall outlets.
  • A burning smell or unusual odor coming from an appliance or wiring.
  • Flickering lights. If you cannot locate a problem inside your home, call your power company or an electrician immediately to inspect the electrical connections outside your home from the utility transformer to the electric meter. (Outdoor meters are extremely vulnerable to weather damage.)

When you spot a warning sign, don't wait for an accident. Take action at once. Unplug a malfunctioning appliance if you can do so safely. If necessary, cut off power to the problem circuit by disconnecting the fuse or tripping the circuit breaker manually. Call a professional electrician to correct the problem.

People Protecting People Since 1896
© 1997 National Fire Protection Association
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P.O. Box 9101
Quincy, Massachusetts
USA 02269-9101