Don’t be trippin’; circuit breaker safety

It seems harmless enough – a circuit breaker in your home trips. You calmly walk over to the electrical panel and reset it. But you may be putting yourself and your family at risk by not identifying the root cause of the problem; this is particularly important if you are finding that your circuit breakers are repeatedly tripping.

Unfortunately it’s an issue that Technical Safety BC safety officers see all too often when they are called to investigate the causes of residential fires.

“When a breaker trips, it is doing its job which is to cut off power due to a potentially hazardous situation like an overloaded circuit, short circuit or ground fault,” explains Ulrich Janisch, Electrical Safety Manager with Technical Safety BC. “If you ignore the warning signs, you could be ignoring a bigger electrical issue, which could result in serious injury or death.”

Technical Safety BC investigated a fire at a rental property in Abbotsford last year that resulted from too many power bars and extension cords being used as a substitute for permanent wiring. The tenants reported that the breaker for the basement circuit had been tripping at least once a month over the past four and a half years. They also experienced more issues when they used portable heaters or hair straightening irons.

Over time, the connection overheated, melted the plastic cord and ignited a bed and mattress. Luckily, the residents escaped the fire without injury.

Here are some important tips related to electrical breakers:

• Don’t over load your outlet by plugging in too many items.

• Never use extension cords over extended periods or as a replacement for permanent wiring. They are designed for short term use only. • Check extension cords periodically to make sure they have not been damaged.

• Be careful when using household grade extension cord for items that produce heat, such as hair dryers, irons or space heaters. These power-intensive items can cause an extension cord to become hot enough to cause a fire.

• If a breaker continuously trips, contact a licensed electrician to find the cause. If you are in a rental unit, contact your landlord and request that a licensed electrician be called.

About Technical Safety BC Technical Safety BC is mandated to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment in BC, including passenger ropeways such as ski lifts, gondolas, tramways, rope tows and passenger conveyors. Technical Safety BC is an independent, self-funded organization mandated to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment. In addition to issuing permits, licences and certificates, it works with industry to reduce safety risks through assessment, education and outreach, enforcement, and research.

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