Safety first: Five unconventional electrical hazards and how to avoid them

This summer is shaping up to be a little different than the summers we are used to. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much of our reality – from the way kids learn and play, to the way we work, and even how we celebrate special occasions.

Although restrictions are lifting, Ottawans are still largely staying home and practicing physical distancing. More time at home and new, creative ways to mark occasions or pass the time may also give rise to electrical hazards or elements of electrical safety families may not have considered before.

In keeping with this unconventional summer, and to help you stay safe while staying apart, we have rounded up five not-so-common electrical safety tips for the whole family.

Mylar balloons 

Have you ever hosted or attended a drive-by birthday or graduation celebration? If not, you have no doubt heard of this new way to celebrate special occasions. But how could driving by someone’s house pose an electrical hazard? Helium-filled Mylar balloons. If one of these gets loose and makes contact with a powerline, it can cause fires and power outages – like this one that occurred at a baseball game in Los Angeles two years ago. If Mylar balloons are being used as decorations, be sure they are well secured.

Lawn mower cords

This one may not be new to mom or dad, but with kids home for the summer and unable to get many of the part-time jobs they may be used to, older kids might be mowing the lawn at home to help out, or around the neighbourhood to earn some extra cash. Be sure to look out for cords – including the mower’s own cord – when cutting the grass. Running over electrical cords with the mower can cut the insulation that covers a power cable, which in turn can result in injury or electrical hazards in the moment or the next time you use it.

Drinks and electronics

Whether you’re sitting down in front of your computer with a cup of coffee or tea to start your day, or grabbing a drink for the kids while they’re playing video games or watching a movie, be sure to never put them down on top of or right beside your electronics. Drinks are easily knocked over and, while this might not pose a huge danger to us physically, there is still some risk associated with shorting out the circuits or if the power cord is wet near the outlet. Plus – your devices may be damaged beyond repair.

Kites, drones and other flying objects

As kids start spending more time outside, it’s important that they keep electrical safety and powerlines top-of-mind. If flying a kite, or playing with a toy drone or other recreational flying toy is something your kids enjoy, remind them to only do so in open areas or fields. Large trees can hide powerlines and kites or toys tangled in them can cause power outages. Never try to retrieve a toy caught in powerlines or in a tree near powerlines (this goes for adults, too). It’s also a good time to remind them not to climb a tree if there are powerlines nearby. When in doubt – look up, look out, and stay safe.

Three prongs or two

You’ve heard of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, but what about fitting a three-pronged plug into a two-prong outlet? The third prong – the round one at the bottom – is the ground connector. This is crucial to the safe operation of the device and should never be tampered with, but believe it or not, some people have been known to cut off this third prong in order to fit the plug into an outlet. This can be very dangerous, so look for extension cords with three prongs (or you can buy adapters from most hardware stores – but typically these should only be used indoors).

For more tips on electrical safety, you can visit the Electrical Safety Authority of Ontario’s website. You can also check out our website for videos and colouring sheets designed to help kids stay safe around electrical equipment outside, like transformers and powerlines. Follow us on Twitter for regular safety tips and have a safe, albeit distant, summer.

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