Hairdryers and Electrocution: Real Threat or Hollywood Hype?

By CED Communications

November 28, 2018

 

So just how careful do you have to be when you pull out that hairdryer in the bathroom every time…and is it sudden death if it hits the water as implied on TV?

While it is absolutely true that severe shock and even death could occur if a “hand-supported hair dryer” is dropped into water while someone is touching something grounded in the water (a metal ring around the drain; a faucet), the good news is that manufacturing regulations and laws have actually been on the books for decades now, thanks to the U.S. National Electric Code (NEC), and the incidence of electrocution accidents from hair dryers has been reduced to only a few a year in the U.S.

Along with governmental watchdogs like OSHA and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) of the private sector keeps continuous statistics on electrical accidents and consumer products, resulting in “recommendations” (which translate to regulations) like the mandatory GFCI protection requirement for outlets within 6 feet of sinks. 

GFCI is the key component in preventing electrical accidents since the 1970s.  A ground fault circuit interrupter is an inexpensive electrical device that is designed to protect people from severe or fatal electric shocks by detecting ground faults.   A ground fault is defined as an unintentional electric path between a source of current and a grounded surface; it occurs when current is leaking somewhere; in effect, electricity is escaping to the ground.   If a person’s body provides a path to the ground for this leakage, they could be severely shocked, burned or electrocuted.  Electric shock occurs upon contact of a body with a source of electricity that causes a sufficient current flow through the skin, muscles or hair.  The danger of electrocution exists any time the voltage exceeds 30V.

In a home’s wiring system, the GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in a circuit, to sense any loss of current.  If the current flowing through the circuit differs by a small amount from that returning, it quickly switches off power to the circuit — in the blink of an eye — to prevent a lethal dose of electricity.  (It may not prevent a painful shock…but it shouldn’t cause serious injury).

In homes built to comply with the National Electric Code, GFCI protection has been required for most outdoor, bathroom and garage receptacles/outlets since the 1970s, kitchen receptacles since 1987, and crawl space/basements since 1990.  Owners who do not have them in these critical areas (i.e. near access to ground or conductive water) should consider having them installed.  The technology can be implemented in either an electrical outlet/receptacle or in a circuit breaker panel box.  There are even portable types of GFCI, where permanent ones are not practical, including one that can be combined with an extension cord. 

In the event of an electrical accident or fire, CED Technologies has extensively qualified engineers who specialize in electrical, fire and explosion causation and investigation.  We can be reached 24 hours a day at 800-780-4221 or email at info@cedtechnologies.com.