Invisible electrical dangers: Keep yourself, loved ones safe


Saving lives through education

Know what to do if you are in an accident involving a downed power line.

May is Electrical Safety Month

Electricity is referred to as the silent killer since it is often undetectable, that is, it typically cannot be seen, heard or smelled.”

— Erin Hollinshead

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, UNITED STATES, April 29, 2021 / — Approximately 1,000 people die, and 30,000 people are injured every year due to electrical accidents. While electricity typically transmits without incident, there are times when the electrical path becomes disrupted. When this happens, the current can flow through anything or anyone in its path, causing electrical shock, internal and externals burns, and other serious injuries, including electrocution.

“Electricity is referred to as the silent killer since it is often undetectable, that is, it typically cannot be seen, heard or smelled,” says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of Safe Electricity. “While you might notice some electrical hazards — electrical outlets that are discolored and warm to the touch or symptoms of other electrical wiring issues, for example — many others are invisible and imperceptible,” she warns. “Always respect electricity and the potential danger that comes with its distribution and use; in fact, always err on the side of caution concerning electrical sources.”

Hollinshead says while there are precautions you can take both inside and outside your home when it comes to potential electrical dangers, many people are less familiar with (or pay less attention to) potential electrical hazards in the great outdoors.

“When outside, always be aware of overhead power line locations and never come within 10 feet of a line — for example, while trimming trees or carrying a long object such as an extension ladder, pool skimming pole or any other far-reaching or extendable tool,” she advises. “In addition, respect underground utility lines by calling 8-1-1 or your state’s underground location service at least a few days prior to starting a digging project,” she says, adding that the service is free.

A power line does not have to be sparking or arcing (giving off a flame) or buzzing or hissing to be live. In other words, it can look harmless and lifeless and still be energized. “If you see an overhead power line that is sagging or down, always assume it is live (energized), and NEVER go near one,” warns Hollinshead.

Safe Electricity offers the following reminders concerning electricity:

Power line safety
• Always assume a power line is energized and deadly.
• A power line does not have to be arcing (giving off a flame), sparking or making a sound (hissing or buzzing) to be live (energized).
• Never go near an overhead power line, including one that is sagging or on the ground.
• If the electrical path is broken due to a damaged overhead or underground line, electrical current can travel through the ground and electrify nearby objects, such as a vehicle, a metal fence, a shovel or other equipment or a person.
• Use the same safety precautions around a damaged or dislodged padmount transformer (“green box”) or any other malfunctioning electrical equipment/source.
• The contents of a padmount transformer box are the same as those found on a power pole and are connected to underground power lines.

At the scene of an accident
• If you are in a car, tractor cab or any type of machinery/equipment that comes in contact with or is near a power line, pole, guy wire or padmount transformer, staying in the car or cab is usually the safest place to be. Stay where you are, call 9-1-1, and wait for the electric utility to arrive and deenergize the power. Do not get out until you have the go-ahead from utility workers.
• If you must exit a vehicle or cab due to smoke or fire, there is a recommended method that can help avoid electrocution. Before jumping out, maintain a solid stance and cross your arms across your chest to avoid touching the car or cab while exiting. Make a solid jump to the ground with your feet together. Then, while keeping your feet together, make solid hops and hop away as far as you can.
• If you see someone in trouble who could be exposed to electrical current, do not run toward the scene to help. Instead, call 9-1-1, and warn others not to approach the area.

In your yard
• Always look up and look out when using a long pole, extended tool or ladder. Always carry long items horizontally instead of vertically.
• Do not trim trees or limbs that come within 10 feet of a power line. Only specialized tree trimmers who are certified to clear trees within 10 feet of a power line should do so.
• Always be careful when you are elevated: on your roof, on a hydraulic or scissor lift or high atop a ladder, for instance. Always have 10 feet between you and a power line at all times. Also apply the 10-foot rule to an object you are holding or touching since electricity could flow through the object to you.
• Before digging in your yard, always call 8-1-1 or your state’s underground utility marking service two to three days prior to digging. An underground utility line is damaged every 9 minutes. The utility marking service is free.

While at play
• If anything gets caught in a power line, such as a drone or kite, never try to retrieve it yourself. Call your local electric utility for assistance.
• Teach kids to never climb trees with power lines running above or through them. Also teach them not to sit or play on a padmount transformer/green box.

For more information about electrical safety, visit

Safe Electricity is the award-winning, public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 established in 1952 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Ill., Safe Electricity operates under the University of Illinois Extension and is led by the EEC Board of Directors. Since the Safe Electricity program was created in 2001, it has provided thousands of safety-minded resources to its more than 500 utility members from across the country to help save lives and reduce injuries.

Ann Augspurger
Safe Electricity
+1 217-546-6815