Safety is more than a catchphrase at your local electric cooperative.

That’s why you’ll see co-ops hosting safety demonstrations at community events and in schools throughout the year to demonstrate the dangers of electricity. Co-ops discuss emergency scenarios such as what to do if you’re involved in a car accident involving a utility pole and downed power lines, and they caution students on the dangers of pad-mounted transformers and overloading circuits with too many electronic devices.

Electricity is an integral part of modern life. Given the prevalence of electrical devices, tools and appliances, here are a few practical electrical safety tips:

Frayed wires pose a serious safety hazard. Power cords can become damaged or frayed with age, heavy use or excessive current flow through the wiring. If cords become frayed or cut, replace them because they could cause a shock when handled.

Avoid overloading circuits. Circuits can only cope with a limited amount of electricity. Overload happens when you draw more electricity than a circuit can safely handle — by having too many devices running on one circuit.

Label circuit breakers to understand the circuits in your home. Contact a qualified electrician if your home is more than 40 years old and you need to install multiple large appliances that consume higher amounts of electricity.

Use extension cords properly. Never plug an extension cord into another extension cord. If you “daisy chain” them together, it could lead to overheating, creating a potential fire hazard. And don’t exceed the wattage of the cord. Doing so also creates a risk of overloading the cord and creating a fire hazard. Extension cords should not be used as permanent solutions. If you need additional outlets, contact a licensed electrician to help.

I encourage you to talk with your kids about playing it safe and remaining smart around electricity. Help them be aware of overhead power lines near where they play outdoors.

Our top priority is providing an uninterrupted energy supply 24/7, 365 days per year. But equally important is keeping our community safe around electricity.

Contact your local electric co-op for additional electrical safety tips or if you would like us to provide a safety demonstration at your school or upcoming community event.

One of the most preventable fires is an electrical one caused by defective wires or outlets. How would your home score on this quiz?

  • Question 1: Do any cords on appliances, lamps or tools look frayed or crimped?
  • Question 2: Are any cords hidden under rugs, where they can overheat or get damaged when people walk on them?
  • Question 3: Are you using extension cords as a permanent solution to a cord that’s too far from a plug? Extension cords are designed for temporary, not permanent, use.
  • Question 4: How many appliances are plugged into a power strip that is plugged into a single outlet? Do any of your home’s outlets support two power strips? An overloaded outlet can lead to an overloaded circuit.
  • Question 5: When is the last time you tested your GFCI outlets in the bathrooms, kitchen, laundry room and outdoors? To test them, push the “test” and “reset” buttons on the outlet.
  • Question 6: How close are appliances to heating vents, the stove, the oven or another heat source? An overheated appliance could catch on fire and will work inefficiently.
  • Question 7: Are the batteries in your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector fresh? Change them twice a year when you set the clocks forward or back as the seasons change.

Can’t wait to get outdoors to start sprucing up your yard for spring? Take a few minutes before you power up your lawn tools to make sure they’re in good shape for the season ahead.

Here are some tips for spring cleaning your power tools.

  • Dust them off. Even if you store your tools in a cabinet over the winter, they could get dusty. And even if you cleaned them before you put them away for the season, you might find some residual grime and dirt on blades and filters. Use a damp cloth to wipe down all moving parts.
  • Inspect for rust. Older tools are especially prone to rusting. Use steel wool to gently rub rust from metal parts. For tough spots, use a degreaser, and then spray the moving parts with a corrosion protector/lubricant.
  • Do a test run. Before you start trimming hedges or mowing your lawn, turn your tool on to learn if it’s operating properly. Odd noises, dull blades, loose bolts and frayed wires are warning signs that your tool needs repairing or replacing.

Working with damaged or malfunctioning tools can cause injuries. Keep yourself and your family safe by inspecting, repairing and replacing tools that could turn a beautiful spring into a disaster.

Photo by Ra Dragon on Unsplash

How many appliances do you have plugged into the power strip in your TV room?

Take note: Each of those electronics uses a lot of electricity, so if you power up all of them at once, you could be overloading an electrical circuit. That’s because even though each plug goes into a separate socket on the power strip, the power strip itself is plugged into a single outlet.

And if you have plugged a power strip into another one to increase the number of appliances you can power from that single outlet, you could be setting yourself up for trouble.

At a minimum, you could trip the circuit connected to that single outlet. Worst case, you could start a fire by overloading that circuit.

If your circuits are overloaded, it’s time to call a licensed electrician to upgrade the home’s electrical system so it can keep up with the demands new technology places on it.

Here’s how to tell if your home’s circuits are overloaded, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International:

  • Lights are flickering, blinking or dimming.
  • Electrical receptacles on the walls are warm to the touch or have become discolored.
  • You smell a burning odor coming from receptacles or wall switches.
  • Circuits trip on a regular basis.

Here are some guidelines that could help you avoid overloading your circuits:

  • Do not plug large appliances into extension cords or power strips. They need an outlet all to themselves.
  • Get rid of extension cords. They’re meant for temporary use—not permanent. Don’t rig your year-round devices, like lamps or TVs, up to extension cords.
  • Notice how many extension cords you use. If it’s a lot, that could signal that you don’t have enough outlets. An electrician can add more.

Photo by Roam In Color on Unsplash

Every year around New Year’s Day, you carefully zip your artificial Christmas tree into a waterproof bag. You lovingly place your precious ornaments into padded boxes. You neatly fold your leftover wrapping paper and stack it in a plastic box so it will come out fresh and ready next December.

But are you piling tangles of electric light strands into a box that’s a little bit too small? And how about the extension cords that let you plug your tree into an outlet that was way too far away for a regular cord to reach.

It’s a good bet that those extension cords are still plugged in.

Once this holiday season is over, take as much care with electrical cords as you do with the family heirlooms that help make your holidays special. Here are five ways to keep your light strands in good shape and prevent them from becoming next winter’s fire hazard.

  1. As you take down each strand of lights, inspect it for broken or burned-out bulbs. Replace the bulbs and discard any strands with frayed or damaged cords.
  2. Stick a label onto each strand of lights to remind you where you hung it. A year is a long time to remember those details.
  3. Pack up all extension cords along with the decorations. Extension cords are designed for temporary use and are not safe to use constantly.
  4. Invest in a storage wheel designed for string lights and a bag sized for the reels. That will keep the cords from tangling and the bulbs from breaking. Or you could wrap the strands around sturdy squares of cardboard instead of purchasing a reel.
  5. Remove batteries from decorations before you put them away. You use the decorations only for about one month every year, and the batteries won’t last until next December, even if they’re dormant. Plus, batteries can corrode, leaking potassium carbonate all over your packed-up electric toys and decorations.

’Tis the season to unpack the extension cords and plug way too many devices into them.

Here are 10 tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation for using extension cords properly:

  1. Never plug an extension cord into another extension cord. They’re not designed for that kind of electrical load.
  2. Choose an extension cord designed for outdoor use if you plan to use it outside.
  3. Inspect your cords for damage, like cracks and loose wires. If they’re not in good shape, replace them.
  4. Avoid hiding an extension cord under a rug. The cord could overheat and catch the rug on fire.
  5. Buy cords only if they are approved by UL or another independent testing laboratory.
  6. Keep cords away from water and snow.
  7. Instead of nailing or stapling the cords when you use them to power strands of holiday lights on your gutters or walls, use plastic hangers that won’t puncture the cords.
  8. Don’t cut the third prong off of a three-prong plug to force it into a two-prong outlet. Instead, buy an adapter.
  9. Put your extension cords away with your holiday decorations. They are designed for temporary, not permanent use.
  10. Avoid overloading a multiple-slot extension cord with too many devices. That cord has to plug into an outlet that can overheat if you overload it.

They’re right around the corner! Along with all the fun and family time that the holidays bring, come situations where electrical safety can be a concern.

To make sure you enjoy an injury-free Thanksgiving and Christmas, Tennessee’s electric co-ops offer these safety reminders for the upcoming season.

A lot of people begin putting up holiday lights right after Thanksgiving — or even before! Be sure to inspect your indoor and outdoor light strands for broken sockets, frayed wires and loose connections. If it’s time to replace your old lights with new ones, look for ones that have been approved by nationally recognized testing labs — and only buy from reputable retailers. If your philosophy is ‘the more lights, the better,’ avoid overloading outlets. And make sure you use the right kind of light strand for the right application. Lights rated for indoor use only feature a green holographic mark on the tag next to the plug, while a red mark indicates the lights are safe for both indoor and outdoor use. Outdoor lights should be plugged into ground fault circuit interrupter outlets. Use only heavy-duty extension cords outside, making note of the wattage rating of the cord as well as the power requirements of the lighted decorations you’re planning to plug into it. If you need a ladder to hang your lights, use one that is made of a nonconductive material like wood or fiberglass — just to be on the safe side. And always unplug that amazing light display before you leave home or go to bed.

Because this is the time of year when portable electric space heaters are often being turned on for the first time since last winter, co-ops urge members to use them wisely. Always plug space heaters into a wall outlet — not a power strip. Make sure space heaters are placed on the floor at least three feet away from flammable objects. If you’re in the market for a new heater, look for UL-approved units that offer built-in shutoffs that automatically cut the power if they are tipped over or become too hot. And last but not least, never leave a space heater running in a room unattended. That way, if anything should go wrong, you can take action quickly.

Finally, it makes sense to be extra-aware of kitchen safety this time of year. With family coming to celebrate around the holiday table, your kitchen appliances are likely to be getting a workout. Always have someone on duty when cooking is underway; accidents can happen when stove burners or the oven is left unattended. Keep pot holders, dish towels and other flammable items away from heat sources. It should go without saying, but for those folks who opt for a deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey, never use an outdoor frying setup indoors — no matter how cold it is outside!

 

Now that summer is in full swing, like many of you, I welcome more opportunities to be outdoors and enjoy the warmer weather. Summertime brings many of my favorite activities like cooking out with family and friends, afternoons on the water and simply slowing down a bit to enjoy life.

But summer months also make conditions right for dangerous storms. From ordinary summer storms to hurricanes that can impact our entire region (The 2021 hurricane season kicks off on June 1), these potential weather events can cause destruction to our electrical system. Despite the threats posed by summer weather, crews at your local electric co-op are ready and standing by to respond should power outages occur in your area.

When major storms knock out power, co-op line crews take all necessary precautions before they get to work on any downed lines.  You should also practice safety and preparedness to protect your family during major storms and outages.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends the items below as a starting point for storm and disaster preparedness, but you can visit www.ready.gov for additional resources.

  • Stock your pantry with a three-day supply of non-perishable food, such as canned goods, energy bars, peanut butter, powdered milk, instant coffee, water and other essentials (i.e., diapers and toiletries).
  • Confirm that you have adequate sanitation and hygiene supplies including towelettes, soap and hand sanitizer.
  • Ensure your First Aid kit is stocked with pain relievers, bandages and other medical essentials, and make sure your prescriptions are current.
  • Set aside basic household items you will need, including flashlights, batteries, a manual can opener and portable, battery-powered radio or TV.
  • Organize emergency supplies so they are easily accessible in one location.

In the event of a prolonged power outage, turn off major appliances, TVs, computers and other sensitive electronics. This will help avert damage from a power surge, and will also help prevent overloading the circuits during power restoration. That said, do leave one light on so you will know when power is restored. If you plan to use a small generator, make sure it’s rated to handle the amount of power you will need, and always review the manufacturer’s instructions to operate it safely.

Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio for storm and emergency information, and check your local co-op’s app or website for power restoration updates.

After the storm, avoid downed power lines and walking through flooded areas where power lines could be submerged. Allow ample room for utility crews to safely perform their jobs, including on your property.

Advance planning for severe storms or other emergencies can reduce stress and anxiety caused by the weather event and can lessen the impact of the storm’s effects. Sign up for NOAA emergency alerts and warnings, and download our app to stay abreast of power restoration efforts and other important co-op news and information.

While we hope Tennessee doesn’t experience severe storms this summer, we can never predict Mother Nature’s plans. Your local electric co-op recommenda that you act today because there is power in planning. From our co-op family to yours, we hope you have a safe and wonderful summer.

This month is set aside every year as a time to pay special attention to staying safe around electricity — something everyone at your local electric co-op believes in wholeheartedly. By designating May as Electrical Safety Month, the National Safety Council seeks to remind everyone of the hazards associated with electricity and provide tips you can follow to stay safe around it.

With this in mind (and a whole summer full of fun just around the corner), now’s a great time to focus on safety lessons for young people. Consider these tips for kids that can prevent accidental shock or other injuries:

  • Flying a kite is great fun on a breezy day, but keep it far away from power lines. If your kite accidentally comes close to one, drop the kite string or reel immediately. Better to lose your kite than come in contact with electricity, which can travel straight down your kite string to YOU!
  • This next one applies to adults as well: Never fly a drone near power lines. Even “toy” drones can cause an outage if they hit a power line. (They can also cause a downed power line, which is extremely hazardous.) Those shiny “metalized” balloons are another no-no. Balloons of all kinds are best kept well away from power lines.
  • Never play around or climb on those green metal boxes that might be found at locations throughout subdivisions. These pad-mount transformers contain electrical equipment that helps bring underground electricity to your house and your neighbors’ homes.
  • Don’t climb trees that are anywhere near power lines. Even if the branches are just close by, a windy day (plus your added weight) could bend them in such a way as to bring them into contact with a power line. If that happens, the whole tree (with you in it!) could become energized.
  • If you should ever see a downed power line lying on the grass or in the road or a driveway, never EVER get close to it! Let an adult know right away so they can notify your local electric co-op.

These days many of us are spending more time at home and finding new, creative ways to enhance our living space. Tackling do-it-yourself (DIY) projects for the home can be fun and cost-effective, so why not roll up those sleeves and get started! Whether you’re painting the front door with a fresh hue or finally upgrading those patio lights, successfully completing a DIY home project is incredibly satisfying. But many of these projects do not come without risks. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind as you get to work.

  • Start by selecting a designated work area. The amount of space you’ll need will depend on the size and scope of your project, but make sure you have adequate lighting and ventilation (if necessary). Required tools and equipment should be located in your workspace and organized for easy access.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) is your friend. We know you’re a pro but investing a few bucks in PPE is essential for most home projects. Stock up on safety goggles, dust masks, ear plugs (or noise reduction ear protectors), gloves and any other kind of protection you’ll need for your project. Remember to wear appropriate clothing and shoes. (Ditch the sandals for this!)
  • Work slowly and clean as you go. When you rush through a DIY project, you’ll likely end up with less desirable results than you intended, or worse, you could make a costly or dangerous mistake. Take your time and remember that you are in control of the project. You should also clean as you go to ensure a safer workspace. Pick up any scrap materials, tools that aren’t in use and any tripping hazards.
  • Be cautious with power tools. Annually, 8% of electrocutions in the U.S. are attributed to improper use of power tools. The Electrical Safety Foundation International offers the following safety tips:
    • Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) with every power tool to protect against electrical shock.
    • Never use power tools near live electrical wires or water pipes.
    • Use extreme caution when cutting or drilling into walls where electrical wires or water pipes could be accidentally touched or penetrated.
    • If a power tool trips a safety device while in use, take the tool to a manufacturer-authorized repair center for service.
    • Do not use power tools without the proper guards.
    • When using a wet-dry vacuum cleaner or a pressure washer, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid electrical shock.

Remember, you should only tackle DIY home projects within your skill and comfort level. For projects that require extensive electrical work, we strongly recommend you hire a licensed, qualified electrician for assistance.

To learn more about electrical safety, visit our website at everydaysafe.org.

With nicer weather here and the hot days of summer just a few weeks away, now is a great time to take a look around the outside of your home to identify electrical safety hazards. Winter can be tough on your home’s exterior. It’s better to make repairs now before you and your family begin spending more time outside this summer. Here are a few things to check.

Inspect exterior outlets and switches

Look for visible damage to exterior receptacles and switches. Be on the lookout for discolored receptacles, which could be a sign of faulty wiring. Replace old outlets with GFCI outlets to reduce the risk of electrical shock, and be sure that any exterior outlets have covers to protect them from the elements. For receptacles near lakes, pools or hot tubs, take extra care to be sure that GFCI outlets are used and that equipment is properly grounded. Call an expert if you have any questions.

Check exterior lighting fixtures

Did winter storms damage your exterior light fixtures? Look for visible damage, and replace any bulbs that are not working. Replacing light fixtures can be a DIY job, but it could also be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. Consider hiring a professional if you’re not sure.

Clear space around exterior equipment

Be sure that plants and shrubs have not grown too close to heating and cooling equipment, which needs proper clearance for air to circulate properly. Also, be sure that exterior fixtures like electric and gas meters and underground transformers can be easily accessed. Look for vegetation that has grown into overhead power lines. Never trim trees or shrubs near power lines. Contact your local electric co-op for assistance.

Clean vents and filters

Check exterior HVAC equipment for dust and debris on coils and around vents. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to clean them, or hire a professional. Also be sure that dryer vents are clear of lint or other debris.

These simple tips can ensure that your family is safe when warm weather returns.

Spring officially begins on Saturday, March 20. Along with warmer weather and longer days, spring often brings strong storms to Tennessee. Here are some tips from the American Red Cross to help your family be better prepared for spring weather.

Make a Plan

Develop a plan to help your family respond to disasters. Discuss how to prepare and respond to emergencies that are most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play. Identify responsibilities for each member of your household and plan to work together as a team. Know where you and your family will shelter during severe weather. Identify a basement, storm shelter or an inner hallway or closet that can provide protection during storms.

Get Educated

Know the difference between storm watches and warnings. A watch means that bad weather is possible. A warning means that bad weather is occurring, and you should seek shelter. Conditions following a storm can be hazardous. Stay away from downed power lines and call your local co-op or 911.

Have a Kit

Take time now to organize the basic supplies you will need during a disaster. Basic kits should include food, water, medicine, a flashlight, battery powered radio and extra batteries, first aid kit, medicine, cell phone and charger. A full list of items to include in your kit can be found at redcross.org.

Prepare for Power Outages

Despite our best efforts, strong storms can create extended power outages. Battery-operated flashlights and lanterns can provide light and are safer than candles. Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. If you plan to use a generator, have an electrician properly install it to keep you, your family and first responders safe.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops work very hard to keep your lights on and minimize interruptions. However, despite our best efforts, weather, car accidents and animals can sometimes create power outages.

Many times, these are brief interruptions that are restored quickly. Other times, widespread damage may make power restoration take much longer. During these times, a backup generator can be a handy tool to have around.

Backup generators come in many sizes — from permanently installed whole-home units to smaller, portable units that can run a few lights. This equipment can provide your family with comfort and convenience during a prolonged power outage. However, if used incorrectly, they can also create a dangerous situation for yourself and others.

Perhaps most importantly, never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. This practice puts utility workers, your neighbors and your household at risk of electrocution. If you are interested in powering your whole home, contact a licensed electrician to ensure that proper safety equipment is installed to allow this to be done safely. Some co-ops ask homeowners to contact the co-op to inspect this sort of installation.

Here are a few more tips from the American Red Cross to ensure your backup generator is used safely.

  • Plug appliances directly into the generator, or use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads.
  • To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. Operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure such as under a tarp held up on poles. Do not touch the generator with wet hands.
  • Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Keep these devices outdoors and away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

The energy experts at your local electric co-op will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Every year, workers along the sides of roads are injured or killed when a car crashes into the crew’s site, even though it’s marked with bright cones and warning signs.

There’s an easy way to reduce those incidents that harm police officers and other first responders, road construction workers and utility crews. There’s a slogan to help remind drivers. There’s even a law.

The slogan is “slow down or move over.” It’s good advice and a decent thing to do to keep people safe. It’s also a requirement in all 50 states.

Legislatures first started passing Move Over laws about 25 years ago to reduce the year-after-year statistics of harm to roadside emergency workers. In the past five years, many states, including Tennessee, have started to specifically add electric and other utility projects to their Move Over or Slow Down laws.

It’s an addition that’s welcomed by Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, because we were part of the effort to expand the law to help protect our line crews.

“Protecting line crews is a top priority for Tennessee’s co-ops, and it’s a safety measure everyone can help with,” says Trent Scott, spokesperson for the state’s electric cooperatives.

“Move Over is not only a good law, it’s also the courteous thing to do,” says Scott. “Our crews already perform dangerous work to keep the lights on every day. They deserve a work environment that’s as safe as possible.”

There are slight differences in each state’s Move Over laws, but not so much that you can’t figure out the right thing to do, even if you’re traveling from state to state. Here are the basic requirements:

  • Within 200 feet before and after a work zone, which will be marked with bright signs and marker cones, and often flashing lights, change lanes if there’s more than one lane on your side of road so that there is an empty lane between your vehicle and the roadside crew.
  • If it’s not possible or safe to change lanes, slow down. Many states specify slowing down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit if it’s 25 mph or more. Yes, that means if the posted speed limit is 25 mph, slow down to 5 mph.
  • Drivers must obey all traffic directions posted as part of the worksite.
  • Keep control of your car—yes, that’s a requirement in many Move Over laws. And yes, it is more of a general guidance than a rule for a specific speed. It means you need to pay attention and respond to weather conditions—heavy rain or a slick road might mean you’re required to slow down even more than 20 mph. And no texting, fiddling with the radio or other distractions.
  • Penalties for violating those requirements range from $100 to $2,000, or loss of your driver’s license.

A list summarizing each state’s law can be found on the AAA web site.

Electric utility crews are special cases to watch out for. A study of utility worksite accidents found that the relatively temporary nature of power line repairs could surprise motorists. A roadside construction operation might close a lane for days or weeks, giving time for people familiar with the area to anticipate the changed traffic pattern. Utility work, however, can start and finish in a few hours, possibly raising risks with drivers who might think they know the road ahead.

Another risk to watch for is when worksites are being put up or taken down. Roadside accidents can happen as crews are setting up signs and traffic cones.

My father-in-law used to tell his daughter every time they parted, “Drive all the time.” What he meant was that she should pay attention, and it’s good advice for all of us.

Don’t drive distracted. Drive according to the conditions of the road. Be courteous to roadside work crews. Watch the signs and obey them. And certainly, follow laws like Move Over or Slow Down. It’s good advice that could save a life.

Learn more at moveovertennessee.org.

The holiday season is special because it’s a time when families and friends gather to share meals, gifts, love and laughter. But the season also comes with the need to take extra precautions so that the holidays don’t turn tragic. 

Holiday lighting and decor help add to the festive atmosphere and brighten up cold winter nights, but they require some extra care. 

  • When you pull your holiday lights out of storage each year, be sure to check the cords and plugs for any cracks or other damage. If there are any bare or frayed wires, discard the entire cord. Damaged wires create a significant hazard for electric shock and fires. 
  • Make sure all your lights work, and connect the strands before stringing them on your tree, house or elsewhere. Don’t adjust the strings while plugged in once they are in place. Also make sure they have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (look for a UL label). 
  • If you are using lights outdoors, make sure they are rated for outdoor use. Use a three-prong, grounded extension cord to connect them. Two-prong extension cords are for indoor use only; never use them outdoors. 
  • Do not leave lights on and plugged in when you go to sleep or leave home. 
  • LED lights are a better option because of their longevity as well as the fact they burn much cooler than other types of lights. Make sure the bulbs are not resting directly on tree branches or other surfaces. 
  • If you have a live tree, be sure to keep it watered so it doesn’t dry out and become an increased risk for fire. If you choose an artificial tree, make sure it is rated as flame-resistant. 
  • If you have pets or small children, make sure cords and easily ingestible decorations are out of their reach. 
  • Do not place cords under rugs or doors, and don’t run them through windows.  
  • Do not overload outlets or circuits.  

By adhering to these safety tips, you’ll help ensure your holiday season is as safe as it is festive. 

Nonprofits need help during this time when so many would-be volunteers are staying home instead of helping out.
If you have the volunteer spirit during the holidays and beyond, consider pitching in—safely. Here are five ideas:

Donate. Chances are, you’re spending some of your at-home time organizing closets and cleaning the basement or garage. Sort through your junk before having it hauled away to discover hidden treasures that you don’t want but that are in good shape and might be useful to others.

Most charities have bins for dropping off donations so you won’t come into contact with other people.

Organize a food drive. Set up a plastic bin on your porch and encourage your neighbors to fill it with nonperishable grocery items like soup, pasta, peanut butter and cereal. Every time it’s full, haul it to a local food bank that has a contactless system for accepting donations.

Visit a neighbor. If someone in your neighborhood is older or can’t get to the store, ask for a shopping list the next time you’re heading out for yourself. You can drop the items off on the neighbor’s porch instead of handing them off in person.

Take phone calls. You can volunteer at a crisis helpline from the safety of your home—via telephone. Many crisis centers are conducting virtual training for volunteers and routine calls to their home or mobile numbers.

The kitchen is often the heart of the home, where we cook for ourselves, our families and our friends. Lots of wonderful childhood memories are tied to the kitchen and the tastes and scents of favorite dishes.

But kitchens are also full of potential hazards, electrical and otherwise. Like bathrooms, there is the possibility in a kitchen for water and electricity to meet with deadly consequences. Danger from fire, sharp objects such as knives, and hazardous chemicals also require preventive measures.

Here are some tips to keep your family safe in the kitchen.

Electrical safety

  • Make sure the outlets in your kitchen are outfitted with GFCIs (ground-fault circuit interrupters), which are designed to trip a fast-acting circuit breaker if there is a short or potential for a person to become a path to the ground, resulting in electric shock.
  • Keep appliance cords away from hot surfaces, and make sure there is plenty of space around electrical outlets.
  • Unplug toasters, toaster ovens, mixers, coffeemakers and other countertop appliances when not in use.
  • If you experience even a slight shock from an appliance, immediately turn off the circuit breaker to that appliance, then unplug it and don’t use it again until it has been checked by a certified electrician.
  • Keep appliances well away from the sink. The last thing you want is for something to get wet or get knocked into a sink full of water.

Fire safety

  • Keep your oven, stovetop, toaster, coffeemakers and other appliances clean to prevent grease and other types of fires.
  • Keep combustibles — including includes napkins, paper towels, takeout containers, pizza boxes, potholders and similar items — away from your stovetop, toaster and other appliances that heat up.
  • Keep an up-to-date fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Never use water to try to put out an electrical fire.
  • Make sure there is enough room behind your refrigerator (and deep freezer, if you have one) for air to circulate, and vacuum the coils every three months to prevent dust buildup that can lead to overheating and possible fire.

Other safety tips

  • Keep knives and other sharp objects in blocks or drawers.
  • If you have children or pets, make sure knives are not accessible to little hands. Secure household cleaners, and keep the number for poison control posted on your refrigerator just in case it’s needed.

Adhering to these safety tips will keep your kitchen a place of happy memories throughout the holiday season.

Each year we become the owners of more and more items that require electricity. Whether it’s large TVs, computers or chargers for our phones, we must plug these items in to use or charge them. Frequently our needs outnumber the available electrical outlets, especially in older homes that have fewer outlets.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives remind homeowners to resist the temptation to use multiple extension cords and power strips because overloading outlets can lead to a fire.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 5,300 residential fires each year are caused by overloaded outlets or circuits. Many times multiple outlets – or even entire rooms – can be on a single circuit. Even if you are using multiple outlets, you can still experience issues if all of the outlets are fed by the same circuit. Circuits should be marked on the breakers in your breaker box. If your breakers are not labeled, you can turn your them off one by one to identify which outlets, appliances or household systems are affected. If this doesn’t work, you should contact an electrician for assistance.

How do you determine how much is too much? Grab your calculator.

First, calculate the total wattage off all the items that are powered by a single circuit – most electronics will be labeled. Divide this combined wattage by the voltage of the circuit (120 volts is typical for most homes). The result will be the amount of amps you’re using on the circuit.

Go back to your breaker box to see what size breaker is used for the circuit – most will be 15 or 20 amps. You should only use about 80 percent of the available amperage on a circuit. If you are above 80 percent, consider moving some of your devices to other circuits.

Of those 5,300 home fires caused by overloaded outlets and circuits each year, about 2,000 occur during the holidays. You may be surprised how much energy Christmas trees, lights and other electrical holiday decor can consume. Be sure to be aware of the extra wattage you’re adding and take the necessary precautions.

Being in an automobile accident is scary, especially if when you look out the car window and see a downed utility pole or power lines. In the aftermath of an accident, your instinct may be to get out of the car in order to distance yourself from further potential harm, to seek help or to check on others involved in the accident. But if there is a downed pole or lines, you need to resist that urge. The safest place is actually inside the car until utility and rescue crews arrive and ensure you can exit the car safely.

Damaged power lines may still be electrified even if you can’t see visible signs such as arcing or sparks. Always assume that power lines are energized.

Even if the lines are not touching your vehicle, you could be putting your life in danger by stepping out of the car. Despite surviving the accident, the moment your foot hits the ground you can become the path to ground for a lethal flow of electricity.

If you find yourself in a situation where you or someone else has hit a power pole and lines are down, the best thing to do is to stay in your vehicle and call 911. If you see well-meaning people who aren’t first-responders or utility workers approaching the vehicle, tell them to stay away and that you’ve called for help.

Despite what you see in TV car accidents, fires following a crash are rare, but they sometimes occur. If the car is on fire, you will need to exit the vehicle quickly – and safely. In these situations, experts recommend jumping clear of the car while making certain you don’t touch it and the ground at the same time. To help prevent accidental contact with the vehicle after you leave it, remove any loose clothing before opening the door. Open the door by the handle without touching the door itself. Stand with your feet together on the frame, tuck your hands and elbows in close to your chest and stomach, then hop off to a spot free of power lines. To prevent falling back against the vehicle or onto downed lines, know your limitations and don’t try to jump too far at once.

Once you are on the ground, continue to hop away keeping your feet together or shuffle your feet in slow, short strides. This sounds odd but it minimizes the risk of a voltage difference between your feet that could be dangerous under the right circumstances. Continue doing this until you are at least 20-30 feet away from the burning vehicle.

Electricity provides us with safety, convenience and connection, but it can also be dangerous. Our crews are trained to be everyday safe – to make smart choices around energy, and we want to help your family do the same. Visit everydaysafe.org for more electrical safety tips.

Get your power outage emergency kit ready now

Power outages can occur at any time of the year, whether a result of ice on power lines in the winter, spring storms that bring down trees on lines, car crashes that break poles or an errant squirrel that meets an untimely end. Power at the flick of a switch is something we take for granted, and we may be surprised how much our daily lives depend on a steady flow of electricity if the power goes out.

It’s always a good plan to have an emergency preparedness kit on hand, stocked with necessities that will help you make it through an extended power outage as safely and comfortably as possible. Especially if you know ahead of time that a power outage may be coming your way, such as when ice storms or tornadoes are predicted, don’t wait until the last minute to stock up on the essentials.

Some items to consider are water for drinking, cooking and sanitary needs; food that doesn’t need to be cooked or that can be prepared on a camp stove or grill outside with proper ventilation; a manual can opener; an adequate supply of necessary medications and first aid supplies; flashlights with batteries; candles and matches (keeping in mind that you will need to practice the necessary safety precautions when using open flames); plenty of warm clothing, coverings and perhaps sleeping bags if it’s winter; and radios or TVs that are battery powered or powered by other means such as solar or hand crank. It is also important to keep your cell phones and power banks charged.

If you have a back-up generator, be sure that it is installed and operated properly. For details on how to operate a generator safely, read the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Energy: energy.gov/ceser/activities/energy-security/emergency-preparedness/using-portableemergency-generators-safely

One item you might not think of but that will be handy to have at the ready is the manufacturer’s instructions on how to open your garage door manually. While it’s understandable to want to protect your vehicle from damaging weather, you will also need to be able to get the car out if an emergency arises. Also, make sure your vehicle’s gas tank is full in advance.

For more suggestions of items to include in an emergency preparedness kit, check out the listing from the American Red Cross at redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html, or contact your local electric cooperative.