Developing Safe Habits

Approach household electricity with caution and respect. Professional electricians routinely take steps to protect themselves against shocks. You need to be just as cautious while doing electrical work.
Be insulated

The effect of a shock varies according to how much power is present, your physical condition, and how insulated you are. Of these three variables, you have immediate control over insulation. When working with electricity wear rubber-sole shoes, remove jewelry, and keep dry.

If the floor of your work area is damp, put down dry boards or a rubber mat to stand on. Use tools with insulated handles. If you are wearing dry clothes and rubber-sole shoes, receiving a 120-volt shock will grab your attention but probably not harm you. However, if you have a heart condition or are particularly sensitive to shock, the effects could be serious.

If you don't take precautions, you increase your chances of injury from shock. If you are working on a 240-volt circuit, the potential danger is much greater than when working with 120 volts.

Maintain respect for electrical power. Even if you have survived one shock, the next one could be a different story.

Shut off the power

Before starting any electrical project, always shut off power to the circuit. Then test to make sure no power is present in the electrical box or wires.

You may be tempted to skip this step and save a trip to the service panel. Or you may think you can change a receptacle or light fixture without touching any wires. Don't take that risk. It takes only a few moments to protect yourself against shock.

Avoiding Shocks

Your body is conductive and can become a path for electricity. Here's how shocks occur:

You become the pathway to ground. If you touch only a hot wire (usually black or colored), electrical current passes through you and toward the ground. To greatly reduce or eliminate a shock, wear rubber-sole shoes and/or stand on a thick, nonconducting surface such as a dry wood floor.

You become part of the circuit. If you touch both a hot (black or colored) wire and a neutral (white) or ground (green or bare copper) wire at the same time, your body completes the circuit and current passes through it, even if you are standing on a nonconductive surface. Avoid touching any bare wire; use rubber-grip tools and hold them only by the handle.

Safety First: Safety Glasses and Insulated Tool Grips

Electrician's tools have heavy-duty insulated grips to protect hands from wayward power. Use these special tools rather than regular carpentry tools. Always hold tools by the rubber grips -- never touch the metal parts of the tools.

Wear safety glasses when you're doing any construction work. They protect your eyes from irritants such as drywall or plaster dust that fly up whenever holes are cut into walls or ceilings. Safety glasses also prevent dangerous bits of metal from flying into your eyes when you saw metal or snip wires. Porcelain and glass fixtures also can chip and pose hazards.


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