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Safety Tips

Electricity is a wonderful part of our lives, clearly enabling us to do so many of the things we take for granted. Food preparation, entertainment, communication, and so much more are all dependent upon the delivery of electricity. And yet, coming into direct contact with electrical current can severely injure you. In some cases, it can even kill you.

Here are some things you can do to keep safe. Some of what we suggest may seem obvious, but we include it here because we believe it's impossible to over emphasize the importance of safety.

Safety Outdoors
Undoubtedly, first and foremost, stay clear of all power lines, especially those on the ground. Consider a downed wire to be "live" with electrical current going through it.

Take these easy steps to keep yourself from coming into contact with overhead lines:

  • When you're using equipment outside, look up to make sure that the equipment isn't going to collide with the lines.
  • Do not try to remove anything caught in power lines, not even an animal. Instead, call your power company.
  • Be especially careful when you're doing any jobs that require you to use tools which might extend up over your head.
  • Keep electrical equipment on your property clear of all obstacles such as trees and bushes.

Downed Power Lines
Your power company wants to know about any outages or power lines that are down. Please call it immediately if you experience or see a problem. You can call them 24 hours a day and they'll send emergency crews out to make repairs. In our area Virginia Power's number is 1-888-667-3000.

Inside a Car Touched by a Power Line
Fallen power lines can be extremely dangerous. Never touch a downed power line or anyone who's in contact with it, and stay away from a vehicle if a power line is touching it.

If a power line touches your vehicle, stay inside and warn others to stay away and have them call the power company.

If you MUST get out of the vehicle for safety reasons, jump clear. Do not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time.

Electric Lines and Trees
Trees are certainly beautiful and enhance our neighborhoods. However, trees planted in the utility right of way must be tended to so that electric service can be maintained on behalf of all of our citizens.

If your tree encroaches into the utility right of way, it becomes your responsibility to keep it trimmed; otherwise, the City will clear those trees that have not been maintained and threaten the electric service.

Trees that grow into or near the power lines which go to your house are also your responsibility and are only trimmed by the City when they threaten continuity of electric service.

To trim near power lines safely:
Call you power company if there is any question as to whether or not a tree is contacting the electric wires before trimming it. They can move power lines away from trees so that they may be trimmed safely. Call them a couple of days in advance of trimming so that they can coordinate with you. In our area Virginia Power's number is 1-888-667-3000.

Never hire unqualified tree trimmers or do the work yourself when trees are contacting high voltage electric wires.

Never cut tree limbs that are touching power lines or that could fall into them.

Electrical Lines and Flying Objects
Don't let metallic balloons or kites get away. Balloons and kites with shiny, metallic surfaces or strings can be very dangerous if they come into contact with electrical lines. As Benjamin Franklin discovered, they're excellent conductors of electricity, and, if they get tangled in the line, they can cause a short circuit. This can melt an electrical wire and cause it to fall, resulting in a power outage and possibly severe injury or even death.

Fly kites safely. Kites and electrical lines can be a potentially deadly match. Use common sense when flying a kite; always use dry string, wood, and paper and never use wire or any metallic material. Don't fly your kite in the rain and never try to retrieve your kite if it gets caught in a power line. Call the power company. In our area Virginia Power's number is 1-888-667-3000.

Going Underground
Call before you dig. If you live in an area with underground electric lines, you need to find out if there are lines in the ground before you dig for any reason, such as planting trees and bushes or installing fences and posts.

Safety Indoors
Be just as careful with electricity indoors as out. In fact, odds are you and your family are more likely to come into contact with electricity inside your home, so take precautions.

  • Cover all your electrical outlets and wall switches with cover plates.

  • Put plastic safety caps in all unused wall outlets to prevent children from pushing objects into the outlet openings.

  • Know when your wiring needs attention. Power company employees will check equipment when an electrical problem such as flickering lights is reported. If they are unable to find a problem on their end, then the wiring in your house may need to be repaired. Find a licensed professional to check your home's electric panel, circuit breakers, fuses, and internal wiring.

  • Do not use damaged or brittle electrical cords. They can cause shorts, shocks, or fires and should be replaced.

  • To avoid damage, remove cords from outlets by pulling the plug, not the cord itself. Never attach a cord to any surface with nails or staples, which can break the insulation. Also, kinking, twisting, binding, or walking on cords can harm them.

  • Never remove the third prong from a three-pronged plug. The third prong has been included to safely ground your electrical appliance. Most power tools and major appliances have three-prong plugs for safety. If you don't have three-hole outlets, adapters are available at your local hardware store.

  • Protect yourself from shock with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI's). These special outlets can help prevent serious injury by detecting electrical faults and shutting off electricity to the outlet when necessary.

Circuit Breakers
You should know where your circuit breakers or fuses are located. They are usually in a metal box on an outside wall near your electric meter. Be sure to label your circuit breakers and fuses so that you know which one protects which circuit in your home.

When too much electrical current flows into a circuit, fuses and circuit breakers automatically open or interrupt the circuit to help prevent damage or electrical fires by preventing electricity from flowing through it. When a fuse or circuit breaker gets activated, some of your electrical devices will stop working. Your lights will go out, for example.

Turning Your Power Back On
If you lose power in your house, but see that your neighbors still have theirs, here's what you can do:

Turn off the lights or appliances you were using and check the circuit breaker panel to find the tripped switch. A tripped circuit breaker may look like it's still on, or the handle may have moved to an intermediate position. That's why it's a good idea to label your circuits. To reset a circuit breaker switch, move it to off, then to on. If the switch is a push button, it will pop out. Push it all the way in to reset it.

If the breaker trips again when you turn on the lights or appliances you were using, you are probably overloading the circuit. When that happens, you may need to move an appliance to a different circuit by plugging it in somewhere else.

If you still have no electricity after you've reset your circuit breakers, try turning off the main breaker switch and all your circuit breaker switches. Then, turn on the main breaker switch and reset each circuit breaker switch.

If the problem persists, you may need to consult with an electrician.

Blown Fuses
Be prepared to replace blown fuses. Keep extra fuses handy in the sizes you need because, unlike a circuit breaker, a fuse needs to be replaced when it gets overloaded. If it's dark, never use candles; use a flashlight.

You can tell when a fuse is blown by looking at it. It'll have a melted strip in the center of its glass top or the glass will look smoky.

To replace a blown fuse, turn off the appliances and lights you were using. Turn off the main switch on the fuse box (it may be a cartridge fuse in a block that must be pulled out completely). Check the fuses to find the blown fuse. Be sure to replace the blown fuse with the proper size, or you may cause a fire. When in doubt, use 15-amp fuses. Never substitute an object, such as a coin or a paper clip, for a fuse.

If the problem persists when you turn the main switch back on, again you may need to consult with an electrician.

Water Hazards
Do not mix water with electricity, because water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Therefore, you should never use appliances when you are in the shower or bath. In fact, always make sure your hands are dry when using an appliance and try consistently to use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets in the kitchen and bathroom.

Outdoors, always use only fixtures and bulbs that are weather-proofed and designed for outside use.

Use of Portable Generators  

Some people use emergency generators to provide back-up power. While generators can be used in a safe manner, improper use of a generator can pose significant hazards to you and your family. Hazards include electric shock, carbon monoxide poisoning, explosion and fire.

Prevention of Electrical Shock

  1. It is extremely important to insure that your generator does not feed electricity back into the power distribution system. You should consult with a qualified electrician to insure that your generator installation is safe.
  2. Since the generator must be operated outside your home, it is important for it to be equipped with a ground fault interrupter.
  3. Only use grounded type extension cords that have the rated capacity to handle the given electrical load.
  4. Inspect all extension cords prior to use and never use a damaged cord.
  5. Do not run extension cords through water or across wet surfaces.

Prevention of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

You cannot see, smell or taste carbon monoxide (CO), but at high levels it can kill a person within minutes. Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. At moderate levels you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause. Never operate a generator in an enclosed place including your garage or near an open door or window.

Gasoline safety tips

  1. Always store gasoline in containers approved for the storage of gasoline.
  2. Never store gasoline in your home. Keep it in a detached garage or tool shed.
  3. Never fill your generator when it is running or when it is hot. Wait until it is cool before filling.
  4. Always refuel your generator outside away from any source of ignition.
  5. When refilling gasoline cans, always place the cans on the ground. Never fill a can that is in the bed of a truck or in a vehicle.
  6. Never transport gasoline in the trunk of your car.
  7. Only store a reasonable amount of gasoline. The maximum quantity of gasoline stored should not exceed (10) gallons.

Hazards of Gasoline

  1. Gasoline vapors burn not the liquid.
  2. Gasoline will produce sufficient vapors to burn at any temperature above 44o Fahrenheit.
  3. The vapors are heavier than air and can travel a considerable distance before finding an ignition source.
  4. Static electricity will ignite gasoline vapors.
  5. Gasoline is lighter than water. Using water on a gasoline fire will spread the fire.
  6. Gasoline is poisonous and can be fatal if swallowed.


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