Chapter Corner

Cracking the Code for National Electrical Safety Month

Posted in: Features, May/June 2014

code.gifAmerican life has drastically changed since the National Electrical Code® (NEC) was first established in 1897. Even at the time when the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) became the sponsor of the NEC in 1911, only about one quarter of American homes were electrified. In contrast, the average American home today has more television sets than people. As our dependence on electricity increases and our home technology evolves, it is important that consumers understand the importance of updating their home electrical systems to keep up with these demands.

The NEC protects the public by incorporating the latest advancements in electrical safety and is revised every three years to align with the latest technologies. Although the requirements for home safety devices in the NEC only apply to new homes and renovations, these technologies can easily be retrofitted into any existing home electrical system to improve safety. These devices include arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), and tamper resistant receptacles (TRRs).

Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TRRs)

Every year, more than 2,400 children – seven children a day – are treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries caused by inserting objects such as keys or hairpins into electrical outlets. Statistics have confirmed that devices such as plastic outlet caps provide inadequate protection for young children and can even pose a choking hazard. One study conducted by Temple University’s Biokinetics Laboratory reported that 100 percent of children ages two to four years old were able to remove plastic outlet covers from the sockets in less than 10 seconds.

Fortunately, these injuries can be easily prevented with the installation of TRRs. These devices look like traditional electrical outlets but feature internal receptacle cover plates that are designed to prevent children from sticking foreign objects into outlet slots while still allowing plugs to be inserted and removed as usual. These advanced electrical safety devices feature an internal shutter mechanism that only opens when pressure is simultaneously and equally applied to both sides of the shutter, such as when a plug is inserted. Otherwise, the shutter remains closed and cannot be penetrated with objects such as keys, paperclips, or hairpins. They have proven so effective that they have been required since the 2008 edition of the NEC in all electrical outlets and receptacles installed in newly constructed homes. Amazingly, official estimates suggest that the associated increased cost per average new home is less than $50.

Though TRRs offer a permanent, reliable, and automatic protection for children, many consumers are still unaware of their existence. Adoption of the current edition of the NEC ensures lifesaving technology, such as TRRs, will be included in new homes, and consumers will be protected regardless of their familiarity with the device. 

Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI)

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that AFCIs could prevent roughly 50 percent of the electrical fires that occur every year. An arc fault is a dangerous electrical problem caused by damaged, overheated, or stressed electrical wiring or devices. AFCIs offer enhanced fire protection capabilities by recognizing when a hazardous arcing situation occurs in a home’s wiring and immediately cuts power to the circuit before a fire can start. AFCIs save lives and property by preventing fires rather than just mitigating their damage.

First introduced to the NEC in 1999, AFCIs are hardly considered new technology. Yet, the NEC has continuously sought to further expand the use of AFCIs by encouraging their protection in every room of the house. The 2014 NEC provides a variety of options through which consumers can provide AFCI protection in accordance with requirements. Stopping a fire before it even starts is the best way to save lives and property, and AFCIs offer that preventative protection. Thanks to the NEC, new homes will more protected than ever before.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

A ground fault is an unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface. This leakage in current usually occurs when an electrical appliance is damaged or wet, causing electrical current to flow outside of the circuit conductors.

GFCIs are electrical safety devices that are designed to protect people from electric shock and electrocution caused by ground faults. GFCIs prevent this potentially deadly shock by quickly shutting off power to the circuit if the electricity flowing into the circuit differs, even slightly, from that returning, indicating a loss of current.

First mandated in the 1971 edition, the NEC has continually expanded its GFCI requirements to all kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements, crawlspaces, and outdoors. Since their inclusion in the NEC, GFCIs have saved thousands of lives and have helped cut the number of home electrocutions in half.

Promoting the Code with National Electrical Safety Month

To commemorate May as National Electrical Safety Month, Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) spearheads an annual campaign to educate key audiences about the steps that can be taken in order to reduce the number of electrically-related fires, fatalities, injuries, and property loss. ESFI’s National Electrical Safety Month 2014 campaign features the release of Electrical Safety Illustrated, a magazine that discusses timely electrical safety issues and equips consumers with the knowledge to protect their homes, families, and communities from electrical hazards. Among the campaign resources is information about the NEC, the importance of timely adoption, and the rationale behind the three-year code cycle.

Brett Brenner is President of the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). ESFI is the premier 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety at home and in the workplace. Founded in 1994 as a cooperative effort by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), ESFI depends on the support of community and industry stakeholders to provide funding for the development of new programs and resources throughout the year. ESFI receives funding from electrical manufacturers, distributors, independent testing laboratories, retailers, insurers, utilities, safety organizations, and trade and labor associations.