May is Electrical Safety Month and NFPA and ESFI have been working together these last few weeks to help raise awareness of home electrical hazards. During this last week of the campaign, we’re talking about the importance of GFCIs, AFCIs, and TRRs. While these acronyms may look like alphabet soup, they are actually important devices that can help keep you and your loved ones safer from shock, electrocution, and fire in your home.
The formal name for AFCI is “arc-fault circuit-interrupters.” AFCIs are designed to detect arcing electrical faults within your electrical system that may otherwise go unnoticed, and result in a fire. Arc-faults can be caused by such innocent actions as putting a nail in the wall to hang a picture or plugging in an appliance with a defective electrical cord. If a nail makes contact with an electrical wire or a cord has a defect, arcing can happen, which can lead to high temperatures and sparking. An AFCI device, however, will continuously monitor the electrical current in a circuit and will shut if off when unintended arcing occurs.
A GFCI, or ground-fault circuit-interrupter, works similarly to an AFCI. A ground-fault is an unintentional electrical path between a source of electrical current and a grounded surface, like a wall, counter, or table. GFCIs are designed to protect people from hazardous ground faults that can arise from such things as plugging in defective appliances or corded equipment. Electrical shock can occur if a person comes in contact with an energized part. GFCIs can greatly reduce this risk of shock by immediately shutting off an electrical circuit when that circuit represents a shock hazard (i.e. when a person comes in contact with a faulty appliance and the grounded surface).
TRRs, or tamper-resistant electrical receptacles, function electrically like a standard receptacle but they add a built-in safety mechanism that helps prevent electricity from energizing anything that is stuck into the receptacle that shouldn’t be. The receptacles have spring-loaded shutters that close off the contact openings, or slots, of the receptacles. When a plug is inserted into the receptacle, both springs are compressed and the shutters then open, allowing for the metal prongs to make contact to create an electrical circuit. But, when a child, for instance, attempts to insert an object into only one contact opening there is no contact with electricity because both springs must be compressed at the same time (i.e. from a plug) for the shutters to open.
Are you wondering if these devices can make a difference? Well, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), it is estimated that more than 50 percent of electrical fires that occur every year can be prevented by arc fault circuit interrupters, and 50 percent of home electrocutions have been prevented by the introduction of GFCIs.
Does your home have lifesaving AFCIs, GFCIs or TRRs? If you have any questions or concerns, a qualified electrician can survey the house and install these devices properly to help prevent shock and electrocution from happening in your home. Even during this time of social distancing, critical that you call your utility company or qualified electrician immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers
- A tingling feeling when you touch an electrical appliance
- Discolored or warm wall outlets
- A burning or rubbery smell coming from an appliance
- Flickering or dimming lights
- Sparks from an outlet
Keeping a watchful eye on our surroundings can go a long way to helping reduce the risk of injury and damage from electrical hazards. More information about AFCIs, GFCIs, tamper resistant receptacles, and Electrical Safety Month, including tips sheets, infographics, videos, and more can be found on NFPA’s electrical safety webpage.
As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage