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National Electrical Safety Month: CPSC Alerts Consumers To Electrocution Hazards From Overhead Power Lines

Release Date: May 01, 2002

Even as technology improves, the electrocution hazards of the past can resurface and pose a danger to consumers. With satellite dishes, cable TV, cellular phones, and the Internet replacing traditional TV, radio, and CB systems, consumers may be taking out their ladders and taking down their old antennas. If proper precautions are not used, the result can be deadly. In recognition of National Electrical Safety Month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is reminding consumers of the serious electrocution hazard when ladders or antennas touch high-voltage, overhead power lines.

CPSC data show that between 1990 and 1998, more than 300 people in the U.S. were electrocuted when an antenna or pole they were holding touched a high-voltage power line. During this same timeframe, CPSC is aware of nearly 150 electrocution deaths due to ladders coming into contact with an electrical line. Overall, CPSC estimates there are about 200 consumer product-related electrocution deaths each year, which is down from about 600 deaths per year in the 1970s.

"CPSC believes that there are still many electrocution deaths that could be prevented. Consumers should never place a ladder, antenna, or anything else near a power line," stated CPSC Acting Chairman Thomas Moore. "Consumers who come in contact with an overhead power line may not live to share their experience."

In 1978, the Commission set a standard calling for the industry to properly label antennas with safety warnings about the risk from power lines. This was followed by a standard in 1982 requiring antennas for citizen's band communications to be insulated, thus reducing the risk of shock from contact with power lines. These standards helped to dramatically reduce the 186 deaths per year that occurred in the mid- 1970s from antenna electrocutions to 20 per year in the 1990s. Now, consumers are taking down older, uninsulated antennas, which could lead to more electrocutions.

When participating in outdoor, overhead activities, consumers should take the following precautions:

- Keep all objects - including masts, poles, ladders, tools and toys - far away from power lines at all times.

- If you are taking down or moving an antenna, be aware of new power lines that have been put up since the antenna was first installed.

- Never assume that an overhead power line is electrically insulated; always assume that contact with any line can be lethal.

- Never place a ladder anywhere near an electrical power line.

- Position non-metal ladders (such as fiberglass) at a height and location that prevents the possibility of you or it contacting a power line.

- Keep the distance from an antenna or pole to the power line at least 11/2 times the height of the antenna or pole.

- Properly ground all masts in accordance with electrical codes.

- Be aware that you can be electrocuted by touching a power line directly or by touching a conductive material (such as a metal ladder, antenna, pipe, kite) and, at the same time, the earth or any grounded item (such as metal siding or a downspout).

- Keep away from all downed power lines. A power line that touches the ground can shock or kill you even if you do not touch it. The electrical current can travel through the ground and into your body.


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About the U.S. CPSC
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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