How Shock Happens
Electricity always seeks the shortest path to the ground. It tries to find a conductor, such as metal, wet sod, wet wood, water - or your body. Your body is 70 percent water. So if you touch an energized bare wire or faulty appliance while you are grounded, electricity will instantly pass through you to the ground, causing a harmful - or fatal - shock.
It Doesn't Take Much
The amount of electricity used by one 7.5-watt bulb on a string of holiday lights can kill you in a fraction of a second if it passes through your chest. Even if it isn't fatal, electrical shock can easily cause serious falls, burns, cuts or internal bleeding.
Turning Power Off
Most service panels have a main switch. Use it to cut all power when changing a fuse, or in case of fire or shock. If you don't have a main switch, turn off all circuit breakers. Don't tamper with your electric meter. You'll risk shock, explosion or fire.
Is Your Home Wiring Adequate?
Do fuses blow or circuit breakers trip often?
Do toasters or irons not get as hot as they should?
Does your TV picture shrink when appliances go on?
Do you use extension cords because there aren't enough outlets?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, have your home inspected by a qualified technician.
Stop Shock Before It Stops You
When you use a plug with three prongs, the third prong connects inside the outlet with a "ground wire," which usually connects to a water pipe or a ground rod at the service panel. As a result, in a short circuit, electricity should flow to the ground instead of through you. Never remove the third prong.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
(GFCIs) are found in outlets and service panels. They monitor the flow of current to and from appliances. If there's an imbalance in the flow, current may be traveling through you, and the GFCI will quickly cut power to prevent serious injury.
Are required in newer homes in bathrooms and garages, near sinks and outdoors.
Are required on some basement outlets.
Can be added as temporary plug-in GFCI adapters.
Can also be added by an electrician as replacement outlets.
If your outlets don't have GFCI test and reset buttons, check your main service panel - you may have some ground fault protected circuit breakers.
What is a Ground Fault?
A ground fault occurs when electricity travels outside an intended path, because of a frayed wire or faulty device, and tries to get to the ground by the shortest route. Touch that device, and you may become that route. Unless you have an outlet with a GFCI, you may be seriously shocked or burned.