GFCI: The unsung hero of electrical safety


As your youngsters enjoy being unplugged from schoolwork this summer, they’ve likely gotten into the habit of plugging in their iPads, phones and handheld gaming devices all around your home to battle boredom. It’s a good time to remind them that water and electronics don’t mix.

Wall outlets in the kitchen, bathrooms and places near water like a pool are particularly vulnerable to electrical hazards. Fortunately, there’s a device that will help keep your kids safe even if they don’t get the message. In honor of our Summer Safety Series, we’re putting the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)in the safety spotlight.

What’s a GFCI?

A GFCI electrical outlet stands out from a standard wall outlet with their red reset and black test buttons. The latest models have an indicator light to show you that they’re operating correctly. A GFCI acts like an electrical lifeguard for your home, constantly monitoring the flow of electricity to a device. If there’s an imbalance, the GFCI immediately trips the circuit to cut power. For example, say your teen decides to plug in their iPad or phone to listen to music near a full sink of water. If they accidentally drop the device in the sink, the GFCI will immediately detect the interruption in current and shut off electricity for that outlet. Crisis verted!

What difference do GFCIs make?

Electric shocks and fires cause thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in property damage each year nationwide. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Safety Council (NSC), about 400 people are electrocuted at home each year, resulting in about 200 deaths. However, before GFCIs were widely adopted, 800 people were killed annually from household electrocution.

The GFCI, an unsung hero for electrical safety, deserves a lot of credit. Earlier this year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) announced the ground-breaking technology as winner of the 2022 Phillip J. DiNenno Prize. The award recognizes pioneering innovations that have significantly impacted building, fire, and electrical safety.

Test your GFCIs

It’s important to remember that GFCI outlets eventually wear out, so be sure to test them about once per month. To test the outlet, press the reset button, and then plug in a simple night light or other electrical device. The device should turn on. Then, press the test button. If the GFCI is working, the power will immediately shut off. Press reset again, and your device should turn on again. If so, the outlet is working as it should.

GFCI outlets are engineered to last up to 15 years, but some can fail in as little as 5 years. If a GFCI outlet doesn’t reset, it’s probably because it has failed and needs to be replaced.

Keep these other safety tips in mind

Here are some other tips to keep in mind and share with your kids about electrical safety:

  • Keep all electrical appliances away from bathtubs, puddles, sinks, and wet hands.
  • Unplug appliances before cleaning. Even if it’s off, it can still shock you.
  • Pull on the plug, not the cord while disconnecting an appliance.
  • Never carry an appliance by its cord.
  • Check for frayed wires. Damaged wires can electrocute you and or cause fires and should be repaired or replaced immediately.

Visit cpsenergy.com/safety for more tips to create an environment and habits for a safe, enjoyable summer!

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