How to Use Electricity Safely

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about the dangers of electricity and what safety precautions you can use to protect yourself. Take a quiz to see if you're Mr. Danger or Captain Safety.

The Dangers of Electricity

Electricity is super useful. We use it for so many things in our daily lives: lighting, heating, washing, cooking, for running computers and inside of modern cars. We would be lost without it. But electricity can also be dangerous when it's misused.

Electricity is the flow of electrons (electric current) around a circuit, which is a complete loop. Electrons flow from a power source, like a battery or power socket, to the components they're powering, and then back to the power source again to pick up more energy and start the circuit all over again.

The problem is that the electrons in circuits are moving super fast, and that super-fast motion can be a source of danger. This is largely because our bodies contain electrical impulses, too; it's how our bodies and brains communicate with each other. These impulses also tell your heart when to beat. So, if you send too much electrical current through your body, it can really mess you up! In fact, people die instantly from electrocution every single day. That's why it's important to know how to use electricity safely.

Basic Safety Rules

The basic safety rules about electricity are all about avoiding electric current flowing through you:

Rule #1: Avoid frayed or damaged cords. If electricity is flowing through a wire and the plastic or rubber covering of the wire is damaged, touching it might electrocute you. This could cause anything from a light tingle to instant death, so there's plenty of reason to be careful. If you're not sure, don't touch.

Rule #2: Don't mix electricity and water. Water conducts electricity really well. In fact, that's why humans can get electrocuted so easily--our bodies are mostly water. When you put an electrical wire or device in or touching water, it can cause electricity to flow through the water, making it very dangerous. In fact, even touching the water can electrocute you. To make things worse, electrical devices that are operating normally can act strangely when put inside water, so even without any damaged wires, it can still cause you to get electrocuted.

Rule #3: Be extra careful around high-voltage devices. Even though it's current, not voltage, that has the potential to kill you, high-voltage devices can still be dangerous because they can potentially produce a lot of current. Things like washing machines, dryers, old fashioned TVs and lawnmowers are examples of devices that use high voltages.

Home Safety Devices

Homes have many safety devices to prevent electricity from hurting you. These include fuses, circuit breakers and ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).

A fuse is a small glass tube containing a thin metal wire that can be found in some appliances. If something goes wrong in the appliance and too much electricity flows through it, the wire will get hot and melt, breaking the circuit and stopping anyone from getting electrocuted. A blown fuse has to be replaced.

Fuse
Fuse

A circuit breaker is similar to a fuse, except instead of a wire melting, a switch is flicked when too much electricity flows, breaking the circuit. The benefit of this is that the circuit can be switched back on again by simply pressing the switch by hand.

Circuit Breaker
Circuit Breaker

Last of all, GFCIs are devices that stop electricity flowing to the wrong place. These devices compare the electricity that entered the device with the electricity that left it again. If the amounts are not close enough to equal, that suggests electricity is flowing somewhere it isn't supposed to be, like through a person! When it notices that, it cuts off the power.

Lightning Storms

They say it's 'like being struck by lightning' when referring to things that are unlikely, and they're not wrong; the chance of you being struck by lightning is extremely low. But there are things you can do to make it even less likely.

Lightning
Lightning

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