Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Electrical shock: It does not take much to upset the heart's rhythm and kill

Water and electricity don't mix. You've probably heard this a thousand times. Don't forget it. Teach it to your kids. It's an important rule of home safety. A common misconception is that it takes a large jolt of electricity to upset the heart's rhythm, while in fact, about one-third of an ampere — barely enough to light a light bulb — is enough to kill.

In spite of advances in product design, electrocutions still occur. A typical case is the man who died when his hair dryer fell into the bathtub with him. Dozens of people have died this way, many of them children and teenagers.

Where does the combination of water and electricity occur in your home? The kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and patio/deck/porch are standard areas. What are the chances someone in your house can get electrocuted in these areas? Check them out. Does an obvious hazard exist? If so, fix it. Remove radios, hair dryers, and other appliances from the bathroom. Make sure everyone in the house knows not to operate the clothes washer if the floor is damp, particularly if the floor is made of concrete. Post a sign.

Take precautions

When you buy an appliance that will be used in wet areas, be sure to read the instruction that come with it. Follow those instructions to the letter, and see that others in the house know the dangers. Pay special attention to hair dryers, as they account for 60% of all bathtub electrocutions. Don't leave them plugged in when not in use. Even with the switch off, a plugged-in dryer still carries a current.

In the kitchen, it's a good idea to develop the habit of working one-handed. For instance, don't touch the toaster, mixer, or coffee maker with one hand while you turn on the faucet with the other. Also get into the habit of disconnecting appliance cords at wall outlets — not at the appliance. A cord removed from an appliance and left plugged into an outlet is electrified and could be deadly if it falls into a sink full of water.

Keep spills wiped up in the laundry room. And be wary of flooded areas in your house. Don't venture into one unless you are positive the water is not in contact with a source of electricity.