How to Work with Electricity Safely

If you don’t know how to work with electricity safely, you can injure or kill yourself. Following basic electrical safety tips is crucial — after all, you never know who worked on the wiring before you.

  • Electrical shocks can kill, so don’t do repairs when you’re tired, distracted, or rushed.

  • Follow a routine and double-check yourself each step of the way.

  • Remember that just because hot wires are supposed to be colored and the neutral wire white, people don't always follow the rules, especially if they don’t know what they’re doing.

  • Double-check to make sure that the appliance is unplugged before you start to work on it.

  • Turn off the circuit breaker or unplug the fuse that feeds electricity to the outlet or switch you want to work on. If in doubt, turn off all power to the house.

  • Read instructions several times until the sequence is fixed in your mind.

  • Examine cords and wires carefully so that you know which part is hot and which is neutral. Colored wires are supposed to be hot and white is neutral.

  • Know your plugs. The narrow prong always carries electricity; the wide prong is neutral.

  • Never work in or near water with power equipment.

  • Don’t open the service panel while standing in water.

  • Clearly label wires and bend them, in different directions so that no part of your hot wires accidentally touch each other.

  • Check that the power is still off before you twist or splice wires together. Match color to color; don’t cross them.

  • Always review each step to make sure you did it right, especially before turning the power back on.

For more information on electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Foundation International.

If your easy fix doesn’t work and you’re reluctant to go further, or if you’re really leery about handling a hot wire, call a licensed professional.

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