Safety isn’t just a concern for work. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Environment, Health and Safety wants to emphasize that attention to safety topics in the home is just as important.
Electrical distribution equipment poses serious fire safety threats that can even be fatal, especially when equipment is used incorrectly.
Electrical Safety Basics
- Protect electrical outlets with plastic safety covers if small children are present in your home
- Never operate electrical appliances around bathtubs, showers, or puddles of standing water
- Use ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection when working where water is near electricity, to protect against electric shock…. This means you should use GFCIs in your kitchen, laundry room, bathroom, and outdoor locations
- Replace or repair frayed, loose, or otherwise damaged cords on all electronics
- Shut off the circuit and have it checked by an electrician if any switches feel warm
- Take note of any discolored switch plates, because discoloration could indicate that the electrical wiring behind the switch plate is overheating
- Remember: symptoms of potential wiring problems include household lights that dim or flicker, a TV picture that shrinks in size, frequent blown fuses, or circuit breakers that trip frequently
- Place lamps on level surfaces, away from flammable items, and use light bulbs that match the lamps’ recommended wattages
Extension Cords and Surge Suppressers
- Never use an extension cord as a replacement for permanent wiring
- Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpets
- Make sure power strips and surge suppressors are designed to handle the loads you will be using them for
- Connect power strips and surge protectors directly into a wall outlet. Do not connect multiple power strips or surge protectors together
- Avoid overloading circuits by plugging too many items into the same outlet
- Avoid the use of “cube taps” and other devices that allow the connection of multiple appliances into a single receptacle, and try to only plug one high-wattage item into each outlet
Additional Electrical Safety Resources
Each year gasoline causes several thousand household fires, many of which result in injury and even death. It is helpful to remember gasoline is a volatile liquid that is constantly releasing flammable vapors, which are heavier than air and accumulate at the lowest point in an area. If released inside a building, these vapors sink to floor level and spread out across the room, and if these vapors make contact with an ignition source a flash-fire will likely result.
Gasoline Safety Basics
- Never use gasoline inside the home or as a cleaning agent
- Never use gasoline to wash mechanical parts
- Never use gasoline to start a fire in barbecue pits or cooking grills
- Never use gasoline as a replacement for kerosene or diesel
- Do not use or store gasoline near potential ignition sources, including gas-fired water heaters that contain a pilot flame
- Follow all manufacturers’ instructions when using electronics (including all devices with batteries or connections to electrical outlets) near gasoline
- Clean up spills immediately and discard clean-up materials properly
In the Event of Gasoline Fire
- Leave the area immediately, and call the fire department
- Do not attempt to extinguish the fire
- Do not attempt to stop the flow of gasoline
- Store gasoline outside in a garage or shed
- Never store gasoline in glass, or in plastic milk jugs and other non-reusable plastic containers
- Store gasoline in a tightly closed metal or plastic container designed, manufactured, and approved specifically for gasoline storage
- Store only the amount of gasoline necessary to power equipment and machinery
Fueling and Handling Gasoline
- Do not smoke while handling gasoline
- Use caution when fueling machinery and automobile equipment
- Never fuel machinery or equipment indoors, and always let it cool before refueling
- Place portable gasoline containers on the ground before filling, and only fill them outdoors
- Never fill portable containers inside a vehicle or in the bed of a pick-up truck, to prevent a static charge from developing
- Do not get in and out of automobiles while fueling…. Although rare, this movement creates an electrical charge on your body that could spark a fire, especially during dry weather conditions
Over 1,000 home fires are caused by liquid propane annually, and these fires cause hundreds of injuries and deaths. Propane is a flammable gas that is converted to a liquid before being stored within a cylinder or tank. When released from its container, propane converts back to a gas and expands significantly; if this expanding gas comes in contact with an ignition source an explosion can result. When first released, the gas is cold and heavier than the surrounding air, which creates a “cloud” of heavy gas that will stay close to the ground and collect in low areas.
Propane Safety Basics
- Never store or use propane gas cylinders larger than one pound inside your home
- Never store or operate a propane-powered gas grill indoors
- Always handle propane-powered equipment cautiously, according to the manufacturers’ instructions
- Have propane gas equipment inspected by a professional for leaks and faulty parts on a regular basis
- Follow the manufacturers’ instructions carefully when lighting pilots
- Leave the area immediately and call the fire department from outside the home if you smell a strong odor of gas
Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires and household fire injuries. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of these fires, most of which start with the ignition of common household items including grease, paper, cabinets and curtains.
Cooking Safety Basics
- Never leave food unattended while it’s cooking on the stove, and closely monitor food cooking in the oven
- Maintain a clean and tidy cooking area that is free of items that catch on fire easily, such as cloth (curtains, potholders, towels, etc.), paper (cook books, food packaging, newspapers, etc.), and plastic (food packaging, storage containers, etc.)
- Roll up your shirtsleeves, or wear short, tight sleeves while cooking, so your clothes don’t accidentally hang onto stove burners and catch fire
- Always keep a potholder, oven mitt, and lid on hand
- Never plug microwaves into extension cords, and never microwave metal containers or tinfoil
In the Event of Stovetop Fire:
- If the fire is small and contained in a pan, put on an oven mitt and smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan
- Turn off the burner
- Don’t remove the lid until it is completely cool
- Never pour water on a grease fire
- Never discharge a fire extinguisher onto a pan fire since it can splatter burning grease out of the pan and spread the fire
In the Event of Oven Fire:
- Turn off the heat
- Keep the oven door closed to prevent you and your clothes from catching fire
- Notify other occupants, and evacuate the building
- Call the fire department
In the Event of Microwave Fire:
- Keep the microwave door closed
- Unplug the microwave to remove the source of heat
- Notify other occupants, and evacuate the building
- Call the fire department
- When using barbecue grills on decks or patios, be sure to leave sufficient space from siding and eaves. A grill should be set on level ground away from walls, trees, porch railings, or other combustible materials.
- Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.
- Use a “chimney” when starting a charcoal grill. This allows the coals to heat without the need for starter fluid. Charcoal “chimneys” can be purchased anywhere that sells grilling equipment.
- With gas grills, be sure that the hose connection is tight and check hoses carefully for leaks. Applying soapy water to the hoses will easily and safely reveal any leaks.
- Never use gasoline to start or maintain an outdoor cooking fire.
- Never use grills inside or in a tent.
- When burned charcoal produces carbon monoxide. Make sure you use the grill outdoors in a well ventilated area.
- Douse the coals with water once you are done grilling. Embers can stay lit for several hours after you are done cooking.
Additional Food Safety Resources
Heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires during the winter months, and the second leading cause of home fires annually. Heating equipment includes fireplaces, wood stoves, portable space heaters, and fixed space heaters. Nearly half of all deaths attributed to home heating equipment fires involve portable space heaters.
- Make sure all gas-fueled and wood-burning heating devices are vented to the exterior of the building
- Consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside of each bedroom if gas-fueled or wood-burning appliances are used in your home
Fireplaces and Wood-burning Stoves
- Use properly seasoned wood to reduce creosote build-up in fireplaces and stoves
- Protect fireplaces with a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room
- Allow ashes to cool before removing them from a fireplace or stove
- Dispose of ashes in a metal container
- Maintain a 36 inch clearance between space heaters and combustible items
- Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep
Laundry equipment is often overlooked when addressing the issue of home fire safety. However, laundry appliances pose a serious fire risk because they involve electricity, and the combination of combustible clothing and extremely hot temperatures. The vast majority of laundry fires are caused by dryers that are not cleaned properly.
Dryer Safety Basics
- Have dryers installed and serviced by a competent professional
- Have gas-powered washers and dryers inspected periodically by a professional to ensure the gas line and its connection are intact
- Make sure that the dryer is plugged into an outlet that meets its electrical needs, so it doesn’t overload the outlet and trip circuit breakers or blow fuses
- Keep the area around the dryer clear of boxes, clothing, and other combustibles
- Turn the dryer off when leaving home
- Do not operate the dryer without a lint filter
- Clean lint filters before or after each use, and remove any lint from around the dryer drum
- Make sure the dryer exhausts into the exterior or into a listed water trap
- Inspect the area around the dryer for accumulations of lint, paying special attention to the area behind the dryer, and remove any lint you notice
- Inspect the flexible exhaust duct (if your dryer has one), and remove lint accumulations on a periodic basis
- Carolina Ready Safety App
- Turn your phone into a personal safety device for free! The Carolina Ready Safety App includes emergency alerts, tools for staying safe on campus, emergency response guides, campus maps and a variety of health and wellness resources.
Did you know that the United States government offers many apps on a wide variety of topics – for free? Below find highlights of some EHS favorites.
- American Red Cross Tornado App
- The tornado warning app puts everything you need to know to prepare for a tornado – and all that comes with it – in the palm of your hand.
- American Red Cross Hurricane App
- Monitor conditions in your area or throughout the storm track, prepare your family and home, find help and let others know you are safe even if the power is out – a must have for anyone who lives in an area where a hurricane may strike or has loved ones who do.
- FBI Child ID
- The FBI Child ID app provides a convenient place to electronically store photos and vital information about your child so that it’s literally right at hand if your child goes missing.
- OSHA Heat Index Safety Tool
- Get the heat index for your work site and precautions to prevent heat illness.
- NCI QuitPal
- NCI QuitPal supports smokers working to become smoke-free.
- CDC FluView
- Explore Flu activity levels across the US and see trends over several weeks. Get local surveillance information.
- First Aid by American Red Cross
- The official American Red Cross First Aid app puts expert advice for everyday emergencies in your hand.
Home Health and Safety
- Safety Starts with Me
- NIH MedlinePlus
- Safe Kids
- Orange County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT): this program teaches participants how to provide basic emergency services after a disaster to meet critical needs in their area when first responders are unavailable.
Mercury Safety in the Home/Residence
Chemical Safety in the Home
- Hazardous Chemicals Labels
- Kids Tour
- Home Chemical Safety Tips from the American Society of Safety Engineers
Ladder Safety in the Home
The following links provide more information for those seeking to stay safe and healthy at home and in the community.