Respect electricity’s potential wrath

May is Electrical Safety Month

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Along with National Strawberry Month and National Barbecue Month, May heralds in a more serious observance: Electrical Safety Month. Electricity can be extremely dangerous, yet people rarely spend time considering it's deadly potential.

“While you can see, smell, or hear some electrical hazards: outlets that are warm to the touch or lights that constantly flicker; many others are invisible and undetectable,” says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of Safe Electricity. “Always respect electricity and the potential danger that comes with its distribution and use.”

Hollinshead offers several precautions to take, both inside and outside your home, when it comes to potential electrical dangers. “Always be aware of overhead power lines, and never come within 10 feet of a line, such as when trimming trees or carrying a tall ladder,” she says. “If you see a downed power line near your home or in your travels, always assume it is energized and stay clear.” 

Safe Electricity offers more electrical safety tips:

  • Cell phones don't belong in beds. Do not sleep or lounge in bed with a cell phone or other device that is charging. This may cause burns to the skin or it can cause bedding to ignite.
  • Use the original charging components that came with your cell phone or other electronics. If replacing, buy brand-specific chargers and cubes. Using inexpensive, generic chargers with your electronics can cause injury from shocks or burns or start a fire.
  • Charging devices and water don’t mix. Do not use a plugged in cell phone near water. Take a break from your phone while bathing, swimming or sitting in a hot tub. Deaths have occurred when phones or electrical items fall into water.
  • Do not overload outlets or circuits. While it can be tempting to plug several items in one outlet or on one circuit, drawing too much power can damage your electronics or your home’s wiring and may start a fire. 
  • Do not leave portable heaters unattended or around small children or pets, and do not place flammable items near or on a space heater.
  • Test your GFCI buttons once a month. Put a reminder in your phone or mark it on your calendar. GFCIs help prevent ground faults that can shock or injure you, but they can't do their job if they are not working properly.
  • Do not ignore odd electrical symptoms in your home. Flickering lights, warm or discolored outlets, frequently tripped circuits or fuses, or smoky odors may indicate problems with your home’s electricity. Consult a qualified electrician.
  • Make sure your home is protected with arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI). Arc faults signal a malfunctioning electrical source in your home. AFCIs, required by National Electric Code, help prevent house fires. Older homes should be inspected for AFCI.
  • Childproof your home if young children are present. Look for exposed outlets, dangling cords, and accessible power strips or surge protectors. Get down on the floor and check what is eye level and within reach of a child. Tamper-resistant outlets became required by the National Electric Code in 2008; still, many homes built before then do not have them.

For more information about electrical safety, visit

Source: Erin Hollinshead, Executive Director, Safe Electricity
Writer: Ann Augspurger, Communications Director, Safe Electricity

Safe Electricity is the award-winning, public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 (not-for-profit organization) established in 1952 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Ill., Safe Electricity operates under the University of Illinois Extension and is led by the EEC Board of Directors. Since the Safe Electricity program was created in 2001, it has provided thousands safety-minded resources to its more than 500 utility members from across the country to help save lives and reduce injuries.