IIABA Study Warns on “Electrical Hazards”

May 5, 2004

A survey commissioned by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America found that out of more than 75 million American homeowners, one out of four never checks for electrical hazards and thus is vulnerable to electrical home-structure fires and other incidents that can cause significant personal and financial losses.

The Big “I” noted that home fires take more than 900 lives annually and result in $1.7 Billion in Property Damage.

The survey, conducted by Media, Pa.-based International Communications Research, reveals that 18.2 million homeowners, or more than 24 percent, never check their homes for electrical hazards such as frayed or overheated cords, overloaded outlets and circuits, and light bulbs that are the wrong wattage.

However, the study also found that 30 percent of homeowners do check for electrical hazards at least monthly while 33 percent check their homes at least once or twice a year.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has declared May as Electrical Safety Month. IIABA surveyed consumers to determine attitudes toward electrical safety and to identify areas where consumers may need additional education on how to protect their loved ones and property.

“While it is encouraging that the majority of homeowners are checking their homes for electrical hazards, it still is extremely troubling that more than 18 million homeowners do not realize the importance of practicing electrical safety when it comes to protecting their homes and loved ones,” stated Madelyn Flannagan, IIABA vice president of education and research.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates there is an annual average of 165,380 electrical-related home structure fires, taking an average of more than 900 lives, injuring nearly 7,000 people and causing nearly $1.7 billion in property damage.

“No other hazard we face in daily life is as insidious and or unforgiving as electricity,” says Michael G. Clendenin, ESFI executive director. “With proper checks and maintenance of our appliances and safety devices, the risk of electrical fires and other incidents can be greatly reduced.”

The bulletin pointed out the importance of using and maintaining smoke detection equipment, which many homeowners have, but often neglect. “There is no question that smoke alarms save lives,” Clendenin stated. “However, the alarms don’t have a chance to work if they are not properly maintained.”

The NFPA determined that while 95 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, more than half of home fire deaths result from fires in the 5 percent of homes without smoke alarms. Additionally, in one-quarter of the reported fires in homes with fire alarms, the devices did not work.

The ESFI recommended checking for obvious electrical hazards and said homeowners should have electrical inspections performed in their homes. When asked about electrical inspections, the overwhelming majority of homeowners did not follow the ESFI’s recommendations. More than 91 percent of homeowners do not think their homes need electrical inspections. Of that number, nearly 90 percent live in homes that are more than 30 years old. Additionally, more than 24 percent of homeowners completed a major renovation and added major appliances. Nearly 32 percent of these homeowners live in homes that are more than 30 years old. “By not conducting electrical inspections and taking electrical safety seriously, homeowners also run the risk of becoming less insurable,” said the bulletin.

It pointed out that “independent insurance agents and brokers can help homeowners by offering to pre-inspect homes to correct problems before full inspections by insurance companies. Additionally, independent agents and brokers can advise homeowners on any upgrades they may need to make to their policies to ensure that they have the necessary insurance coverages.”

“The big issue today in the tight homeowner and resident property insurance marketplace is the need for property owners to be proactive in the upgrading of their old electrical systems to bring their properties into code compliance,” stated Chuck Worcester, an independent insurance agent with Hometown Insurance Agency in Milford, N.H. “We find time and time again we are unable to place what appears to be a well-maintained home or property in the standard marketplace because of outdated electrical systems in the property. If consumers want to take advantage of the best price and best choice for their future insurance needs, they need to do their part in minimizing the manageable hazards to their properties.”

Flannagan added, “It is critical that homeowners understand that the rates and availability of homeowners insurance coverages are dependent upon homes being well-maintained. Preventative upkeep could make your home a much more acceptable risk to most insurance carriers.”

IIABA and ESFI recommended that homeowners take the following safety precautions:
— Check for outlets that have loose-fitting plugs, which can overheat and lead to fire.
— Never force a plug into an outlet if it doesn’t fit. Plugs should fit securely into outlets.
— Avoid overloading outlets with too many appliances.
— Ensure there are safety covers on all unused outlets that are accessible to children.
— Ensure all power cords and extension cords are in good condition, not frayed or cracked.
— Do not place cords in high traffic areas or under carpets, rugs or furniture.
— Check the wattage of all bulbs in lamps and light fixtures to ensure they are the correct wattage for the lamps or fixtures.
— Circuit breakers and fuses should be the correct sizes and ratings for their circuits.
— Always replace a fuse with the same size fuse.

For additional information about protecting homes from electrical safety hazards, visit www.independentagent.com or www.electrical-safety.org.

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