The allure of an electrical outlet can be too much for a curious child to resist. The tiny slots are just the right size for a paper clip, coin, key, or bobby pin. Leave a child unsupervised for just a moment near an outlet and if he or she ends up sticking small metal objects into those conveniently sized receptacles, the result could be disastrous.
Approximately 89 percent of all injuries caused by electrical outlets are to children under the age of six. Each year, 2,400 children suffer severe shock and burns after sticking small metal items they find around the house into electrical outlets.
“That’s about seven children each day who are treated in hospital emergency rooms because they were unknowingly tampering with a wall outlet and playing with electricity, ” said Tom VanParis, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “Even more tragic is that six to 12 of those children end up dying because of their injuries.”
Although plastic receptacle caps or sliding receptacle covers can help deter children from playing with outlets, they present their own safety challenges.
“The caps obviously can be removed, and once they’re off, children can put them in their mouths. Just like that, they become a choking hazard,” VanParis said.
“As far as the sliding receptacle covers go, clever kids may watch their parents plug cords into outlets with those covers on them so they learn how they can bypass the covers,” VanParis continued.
Luckily, there is a low cost and highly effective way to avoid tragic electrical accidents involving the youngest family members. Since 2008, the National Electrical Code has required that new and renovated dwellings be equipped with tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles. Spring-loaded shutters close off the contact openings — or slots — of the receptacle until a plug is inserted. At that point, both springs are compressed and the shutters open. The metal prongs can then make contact to create an electrical circuit. Both springs must be compressed at the same time for the electrical circuit to be created. Therefore, if a child inserts an object into one of the slots, he would not be shocked.
TR receptacles are an important feature even in houses and apartments where children do not live. Not only can children visit those homes without the threat of electrical shock, but if their families would happen to move into those homes in the future they would be assured the outlets are safe.
Tamper-resistant receptacles are a small investment for a huge return. “Saving just one child’s life would be worth any additional cost of a TR receptacle,” VanParis said. “But the good news is, installing a TR receptacle instead of a standard outlet only costs about another 50 cents. An average home has about 75 receptacles so if all those outlets were retrofitted it would cost under $40. That’s a small price to pay for such an important safety feature.”
Source: National Fire Protection Association
Outlet safety by the numbers
- 89 percent of all injuries caused by electrical outlets are to children under age 6.
- Each year, 2,400 children suffer severe shock and burns after sticking small metal objects into electrical outlets.
- 7 children each day are treated in hospital emergency rooms after playing with those outlets.
- 6 to 12 of those children end up dying.
How TR receptacles work
Spring-loaded shutters close off the contact openings (the slots) of the receptacle until a plug is inserted. At that point, both springs are compressed and the shutters open. The metal prongs of the plug can then make contact to create an electrical circuit. Both springs must be compressed at the same time for the electrical circuit to be created. When a child inserts something in only one slot, the shutters cannot open and there is no contact with electricity.