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Commission Issues Pressure Washer Warning

Release Date: July 21, 1983

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today issued a warning to consumers who own or rent electrically powered pressure washers. Pressure washers are devices that are hooked up to a plumbing connection. They pump water under high pressure out through a hose, sometimes mixing the water with a cleaning solution. Pressure washers may be used to wash farm buildings or farm equipment, motor vehicles, outdoor power equipment, porches, and houses.

The Commission warned that consumers could receive a fatal electrical shock from pressure washers if the power cord connections become wet or an internal short exists. At least eight such fatalities have been reported to the Commission to date in, for example, Iowa, Utah, Minnesota, Texas, and Illinois. The most recent electrocution incident occurred in June, 1983, on a farm in Epes, Alabama. A three year old boy was killed when he contacted a pressure washer being used by his father. CPSC is currently investigating this incident.

Since pressure washers are used to spray water, the power cord, washer and consumer are often in contact with water. This can be a fatal combination, especially if the machine is not properly grounded.

While hazardous conditions may exist with machines in good mechanical condition and properly grounded, it is important not to defeat a proper ground connection. Consumers should not use "adapter plugs" to connect the three-wire plug to a two-prong household receptacle without properly grounding the adapter plug. Consumers should have three-wire receptacles checked by a competent person to assure that they are properly wired for grounding.

The Commission staff is investigating particular pressure washers that may present a substantial risk of electrocution: In addition, the Commission staff has been in contact with Underwriters Laboratories (U.L.) in an attempt to upgrade industry voluntary standards for pressure washers.

In the meantime, the Commission urges consumers to take the following steps to protect themselves:

- Always plug a three-wire grounded pressure washer into a properly grounded receptacle. If possible use a receptacle protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (CGFCI).

- If an extension cord must be used, keep the power cord connection out of any standing water, and use a heavy duty three-wire properly grounded type. Keep the connection as far away as possible from the item being washed and any water runoff.

- Wear rubber-soled tennis shoes or other footwear that provides some insulation when operating the pressure washer.

- NEVER cut or splice the power cord or extension cords!

- NEVER remove the grounding prong from the power cord plug!

- NEVER operate the pressure washer after it has tripped a ground interrupter or circuit breaker without first having it examined for electrical faults by a competent repair person.

- NEVER allow children to operate a pressure washer. Keep children at a safe distance when an adult is using a pressure washer.

If consumers have any incidents to report or wish further information, they may call the CPSC toll-free Hotline at 8000638-CPSC. A teletypewriter number for the hearing impaired is (301) 595-7054.

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

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