How to Avoid Electrical Hazards in Your Backyard
Memorial Day kicks off the summer season for many homeowners. And, chances are, this will be the beginning of many weekends spent barbecuing, enjoying a backyard swim or just doing yard work, home maintenance, landscaping and other projects outdoors.
But whether you’re taking a dip in the pool or planting flowers, it’s important to remember that you are surrounded by electricity and that outdoor electrical safety shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here are some electrical safety precautions to consider when you’re out in the backyard.
Pools and Electrical Safety
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, electrical hazards in and around swimming pools were to blame for 60 deaths and nearly 50 serious shocks over the past 13 years. The CPSC, in conjunction with the American Red Cross, has compiled the following electrical safety tips for preventing backyard fires, or any other potentially dangerous or life-threatening electrical situations that may occur.
- Inspections. Before the warm weather arrives, have an electrician inspect the pool, spa or hot tub. Make sure all the equipment is in accordance with both the local codes and the National Electrical Code. Follow up with any necessary upgrades or repairs.
- Locations. According to the NEC, all electrical wires and junction boxes need to be at least five feet away from the water. It is also important to know where all electrical switches and circuit breakers are located in case of an emergency.
- Battery-operated devices. Having electronics around the pool can be dangerous. The CPSC recommends you use battery-operated devices around water instead of cord-connected devices.
- Emergency plan. Have a detailed emergency plan posted around the pool, spa or hot tub area. This plan should outline the necessary course of action you should take if someone is suffering from an electric shock.
- Weather ready. Do not swim or hang out near the water before, during or after a thunderstorm. Water and lightning are a dangerous combination.
Outlets, Power Tools and Electrical Cord Safety
The CPSC recommends an annual check of outdoor electrical equipment, including:
- Outlets. Check that each outlet has its own weatherproof outlet cover, and keep it closed when not in use. Also, make sure each outlet is powered by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which turns itself off if it senses a current leak or a short circuit. If you must use an outlet during wet weather, the CPSC suggests a “weatherproof while in use” cover, which keeps an outlet covered even when a cord is plugged in.
- Electric garden tools. Avoid using corded power tools in wet or damp locations, advises the CPSC. The agency also suggests checking all tools for cord damage, such as cracks or exposed wires, and to make sure they are in good condition and operating properly. Use tools with insulated grips to avoid the potential of electric shock.
- Extension cords. Use only extension cords that are rated for outdoor use; indoor cords can’t withstand the weather conditions when they’re used outdoors, and may become a fire or shock hazard. An estimated 3,300 residential fires originate from extension cords each year, according to the CPSC, so electrical cord safety precautions make good sense.
Tree Trimming and Landscaping Safety
Most experts advise leaving tree trimming to the professionals, particularly when the tree and its limbs are anywhere near a power line. But if you do plan to do some trimming, here are some safety reminders from the Electrical Safety Foundation International:
- Always look up before raising a ladder or pole to make sure it won’t come within 10 feet of a power line, says the Electrical Safety Foundation International; you do not have to touch a power line to be in danger.
- Use wooden or fiberglass ladders outdoors; metal ladders conduct electricity.
- Do not climb with tools in your hands, and be sure to wear safety equipment at all times.
- Do not trim trees in dangerous weather conditions.
And an important general landscaping reminder: Call 811 before you begin any digging project. A federally mandated national number, 811 will connect you with a local call center that sends out a crew to identify underground utility lines. It’s really the best way to make sure you don’t inadvertently dig into one while planting a tree or shrub, or installing a deck or pool.
Good electrical safety habits can help you to make sure your family, friends and neighbors are safe and free to enjoy a little outdoors time in your back yard this season.