Hairpins, the building blocks for many fancy “dos,” are perfect for holding back unruly tresses. But these slender, metal objects are also easy for children to manipulate. As a result, hairpins are the dominant household item improperly stuck into electrical outlets.
Each year, approximately 2,400 children—an average of seven a day—receive emergency room treatment for injuries caused by inserting conductive material into electrical outlets, according to a 10-year report released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). More than 70 percent of these incidents occur at home, with adult supervision typically present.
Hairpins are involved 32 percent of the time, followed by keys, 17 percent, and fingers, 12 percent. Other common culprits include pins, screws, nails, twist ties, and paper clips.
The end result? About 95 percent of the time children receive a burn, according to CPSC. Though ranging in severity, a significant number of serious and fatal burns occur, and even minor injuries can leave emotional trauma. Pediatric burns can be particularly serious, because a child’s skin is thin and offers little resistance to electric flow or heat.
The danger of electrical outlets isn’t new; parents often use plastic outlet caps to cover outlets when “child-proofing” a home. Unfortunately, the Electrical Safety Foundation, Inc. (ESFI) claims plastic caps are not the safest option since they can easily be removed by a young child. Instead, ESFI suggests installing tamper-resistant outlets.
Although normal looking, these types of outlets include a shutter mechanism to protect against harm from inserting foreign objects. The spring-loaded system only allows electricity to flow when you apply equal pressure to both sides of the outlet, as happens when you plug in an electrical device. During unused conditions, both shutters are closed.
For co-op consumers with brand new homes, tamper-resistant outlets may already have been installed; the 2008 National Electrical Code requires them. However, these outlets are cheap—costing as little as $2 at some retailers—and can easily be incorporated into older homes.
Source: Electrical Safety Foundation, Inc., U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission