Release date: May 21, 1991
Release number: 91-071

Release Details

An inexpensive electronic device installed in the home electrical system could save the lives of many Americans who are electrocuted around the home each year.

At a news conference today marking Electrical Safety Month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that electrocutions involving consumer products claim the lives of some 310 people each year. Many of these deaths could be prevented if home electrical systems were equipped with ground- fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs).

Installed in millions of American homes since 1973, the GFCI protects people by shutting down electric power instantly whenever the consumer is at risk of being burned or killed by electricity.

CPSC said the GFCI constantly monitors the electricity flowing in a circuit to sense any loss of current. If the current flowing through the circuit differs by even a small amount from that returning, the GFCI interrupts the power in a fraction of a second to protect the consumer from a lethal dose of electricity. In some cases, the consumer experiences a moderate shock.

Several types of GFCIs are available for installation in the home:

-  Receptacle GFCIs are installed in place of the standard duplex receptacles. They fit directly in the outlet box and protect all receptacles wired to them farther down the circuit.

-  Circuit breaker GFCIs are installed in panel boxes to protect all receptacles on the specific circuit.

-  Portable GFCIs may be plugged into standard receptacles, then an electrical product can be plugged into the GFCI.

Since 1973, homes built according to the National Electrical Code have varying degrees of GFCI protection. GFCIs were first required in outdoor receptacle circuits in 1973, bathrooms in 1975, garage wall outlets in 1978, some kitchen receptacles since 1987, and all receptacle outlets in unfinished basements and crawl spaces since 1990.

Homes and apartment buildings constructed prior to 1973 do not have protection unless GFCIs subsequently were installed by homeowners or building management. Apartment dwellers should consider using a portable GFCI to protect kitchen countertop receptacles and bathroom outlets. If a kitchen appliance or some older models of portable hairdryers topple into a sink filled with water, the portable GFCI would protect the consumer against electrocution.

CPSC emphasized that only consumers who are familiar with electrical wiring practices could install receptacle-type GFCIs. Otherwise, an electrician should install the devices according to manufacturer's instructions.

The CPSC is providing this information as part of its mission to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury and death associated with consumer products. Some 15,000 types of products fall under the Commission's jurisdiction and each year those products are involved in an estimated 29 million injuries and 22,000 deaths.

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