This year has started off with some pretty crazy headlines. Everywhere you turn, COVID-19 has taken over the news. But even with all the information we hear about staying safe from this deadly disease, we also should not forget about the importance of being safe around electricity. That’s right, it’s May 2020 and that means it’s time once again for National Electrical Safety Month (NESM). An entire month where the focus is put on keeping people safe from the hazards that come from having a world powered by electrons flowing through conductors. This campaign, spearheaded by Electrical Safety Foundation International or ESFi, seeks to raise awareness and educate key stakeholders about what can be done to minimize the impact of electrically-related fires, property loss, injuries, and loss of life.
This year’s theme for NESM, “Smart Home,” focuses on the lifesaving devices that can be found throughout the home that help to keep us all safe and secure while being smart around electricity. Devices like ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs), and surge protective devices are just a few of the measures that are required by the National Electrical Code(NEC) in homes that have a direct and immediate impact on saving lives. GFCIs have been around for years as a way to prevent electrocution in our homes. AFCIs have evolved over the past few cycles as a way to protect our homes from the fire hazard that might be silently brewing behind the walls. More recently, we have seen the addition of tamper-resistant receptacles that prevent non-intended items from being inserted into a receptacle. This has been a major innovation, especially for parents, as children have been known to play with things that can fit in those slots in the wall.
The need for all these important devices within our homes has evolved right along with our continued evolution of how we put electricity to work for us. When we first started adding electricity to our homes, the primary function was for lighting. Homes had a couple of branch circuits that served the entire building’s lighting needs. But you know how the story goes, they figured out how to heat a home, then came the washing machine, and then the microwave, and so on. Electricity makes our lives easier, plain and simple.
We can see this in the evolution of installation requirements. Surge protection, for one, is a new requirement for homes in the 2020 NEC. This comes about due to the fact that so much of the technology we use depends on sensitive electronic circuits that not only need protection from overcurrent, but also need protection from voltages that get too high. Surges can damage much of the equipment we use today in our homes and often it might be damaged in a way that could create a fire or shock hazard.
The next frontier in keeping our loved ones safe from electricity is coming in the way the equipment interacts with the power itself. Equipment that is smart enough to recognize when something isn’t right and before a problem can arise, it simply turns itself off. One such technology is what has been lumped under the category of Power over Ethernet, or PoE. Basically, PoE is equipment that utilizes communications cables to also power the device. By doing this, the equipment that needs the electricity is also smart enough to communicate with other devices on the network, including the power supply. Imagine an electrical system in your home that is physically unable to deliver a shock or start a fire. That would be the ultimate in electrical safety in our homes!
Last year at NFPA’s Conference & Expo I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with a few of the industry leaders on the front lines of making this dream a reality. Not only will the equipment do amazing things to make our lives even more enriched, but our world will become a heck of a lot safer in the process.
While our focus for the month is on being smart with electricity in our homes, the future is evolving right before our very eyes; how safe our homes are from electrical hazards is being changed in a big way because of this evolution. It is critical that we continue to focus on the basics like GFCI, AFCI, TRRs, and surge protection, but it is also critical to keep our eyes on the horizon as we move forward. Using the very advancements in technology we crave to simultaneously make the system inherently safer is how we get to a world where homes burning down from electrical fires and people dying from electrocutions are a distant memory. After all, ever since we started powering homes, the race was on to make our lives less complicated. Not having to worry about electrical hazards in our daily lives will make us all sleep a little better at night knowing our loved ones are safe and sound.
For more information, please visit NFPA’ electrical safety webpage.