The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) is the UK charity which helps protect people from electrical accidents and fires. Each week in the UK, one person dies from an electrical accident and well over a quarter of a million are injured every year. Most household fires – more than 20,000 annually – are caused by electricity, with older people one of the groups most at risk. To help you keep safe and secure around electricity in your home, the ESC has produced this essential factsheet. For more details, go to our website at www.esc.org or leave a message on our helpline, on 020 3463 5100.
Water and electricity can be a lethal combination. If your home has been affected by flooding, don’t turn the gas or electricity on until your providers say it is safe to do so and don’t touch sockets or anything electrical if you are standing in flood water. Once you are given the all clear, get an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) done, by a registered electrician (to find one, see the Use an Expert section below). This will check the condition of the electrical wiring in your home.
Electric blankets can be a real boon but damaged blankets cause more than 5,000 house fires a year and people aged 65 or more are at greatest risk. If your blanket is more than ten years old, we recommend buying a new one, if at all possible. Always buy ‘new’ – second-hand blankets may not be safe – and read the manufacturers’ instructions (and put them where you can easily find them).
And remember – never use the blanket if:
- It’s wet or creased – and never switch it on to dry out.
- It shows scorch marks or any other sign of damage, such as a frayed flex.
- You can smell burning or hear a buzzing noise when switched on.
- You also use a hot water bottle
- Your hands or feet are wet.
Store things safely.
There is real fire risk if you use the cupboard where the electrical equipment (your fuse box, meter etc.) are located, to keep flammable items such as coats or cleaning materials. Quite often, this is the cupboard under the stairs, where storing items is particularly risky, as a fire here can cut off an escape route.
Many people don’t realise that overloading sockets can lead to fire – and that different types of electrical products use different amounts of power. For example, plugging just a toaster and a kettle into an extension lead can overload it.
The marking on an extension lead will tell you its ‘rating’ – usually 13A but sometimes it is just 10A. Never plug so many items into your extension lead that you overload its rating and never ‘daisy chain’ extension leads together. We also recommend using a multi-way bar extension lead rather than a block adaptor. The ESC has also developed an online tool to help you avoid overloading your sockets.
Slips and Trips
Most of us use a host of electrical gadgets and devices – including many that need batteries to be recharged – so it’s easy to forget trailing leads can be very dangerous, particularly for older people. Make sure that leads are out of the way, so they can’t cause accidents.
The kitchen may be the heart of the home but half of all house fires start there. Fires can be caused by the buildup of fat on electric cookers, air vents being blocked by objects being left on top of microwaves, or by dirt, dust and crumbs blocking ventilation and causing products to overheat.
For many, a real benefit of being retired is being able to devote time to your garden. But if you are working outside and using mains-powered tools or electrical equipment – particularly if it is wet – you can significantly increase the risk of electric shock. Even something as simple as mowing the lawn could be fatal if you accidentally cut the lead! Make sure you are protected by a residual current device or RCD, which switches off the circuit instantly and reduces the risk of death or serious injury. Fixed RCDs are usually installed in your fusebox and give the highest level of protection. However, there are also in-socket and portable RCDs. If you use a socket located in the garden, or in the closest room to it, and you aren’t sure if it is RCD protected, then you can either get an electrical socket installed with an RCD or simply buy one to plug into the socket. They are available in most garden stores and usually cost just £10 – a small price to pay for peace of mind.
And finally….Use an Expert
We asked 2,000 electricians about their work and found that that a third of them are spending up to a quarter of their time fixing botched DIY jobs, with most call-outs involving fixing simple jobs that have gone badly wrong. You can find a registered electrician in your area, by going to the Competent Person’s website.
The ESC has developed an app for smart phones, which helps people undertake a basic electrical check of their home. If you would like to download the app, please click here or visit our website for more information, at www.esc.org.uk.