It happens more often than we like to think.
Nearly seven times a day, some young child is rushed to the emergency room after being burned — or worse — from having stuck something as innocuous as a paperclip into an electrical outlet, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Ah, but being the diligent parent you are, you’re sure those plastic outlet caps you installed for childproofing purposes will keep your own kids safe, right?
Not so fast.
A study conducted by Temple University found that it took less than 10 seconds for 100 percent of children ages 2 to 4 to remove them from sockets. And that should scare you for an additional reason.
“It poses a choking hazard for small children,” says Brett Brenner, president of the nonprofit Electrical Safety Foundation International (Esfi.org), which promotes electrical safety in homes and workplaces. “And because plastic caps do need to be removed for the outlet to be functional, there’s the inherent safety threat of forgetting to recover the outlet when it’s no longer in use.”
Brenner, as it turns out, also has a problem with the less-popular sliding receptacle covers. “They’re no match for the impressionable minds of children, who can learn to defeat the devices by watching their parents plug objects into them.”
So what does he recommend? The same technology — called tamper-resistant receptacles — was deemed so effective that it’s actually been required in hospital pediatric care facilities for more than 20 years. But it remained something of a trade secret until its use was finally mandated in all new home construction under the National Electrical Code in 2008.
To look at them, TRRs appear to be ordinary outlets — a blessing for those who consider plastic caps a bit of an eyesore — but they’re specifically designed with spring-loaded receptacle cover plates that close off all openings or slots. Only by simultaneously applying pressure to both sides do the cover plates open to allow standard plugs to make contact with the receptacle contact points.
“Without that simultaneous pressure,” Brenner explains, “the cover plates remain closed, preventing the insertion of foreign objects and thus protecting children from painful, traumatic electrical injuries.”
The best part may be that the added safety will only run you 50 cents more than a standard electrical outlet, though TRRs should only be installed by a licensed electrician.
But getting back to that opening U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission statistic — know that of those nearly seven children a day:
* 89 percent are under 6 years old.
* 50 percent are 2 to 3 years old — the highest risk group.
* Boys are most at risk, regardless of age.
Definitely not something we like to think about.