May 2022 / Vol. 27 No. 5
By Brianne Deerwester, Electrical Safety Foundation International
The lifesaving capabilities of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) cannot be overstated. These devices have saved thousands of lives and significantly reduced the number of home electrocutions since they were first required in the bathrooms of homes by the National Electrical Code® (NEC) in 1975. Before this requirement, only outdoor receptacles and receptacles near swimming pools required protection. Since then, the number of GFCI requirements has grown as in-home electricity use, and the risk of contact with water has increased.
Between 1971 and 1980, there was an estimated average of 1,101 electrocutions in the United States, including 491 consumer product electrocutions. However, as GFCI requirements expanded, the number of electrocutions dropped significantly. Between 2011 and 2022, the estimated average of electrocutions per year fell to 246, with just 41 consumer product electrocutions. This shows an 80 percent drop in electrocutions since the introduction of GFCI protection in bathrooms and a 93 percent drop in consumer product electrocutions between 1975 and 2020. Since 1978, the median year the average American home was built, GFCI requirements have expanded to include six additional locations in homes.
In recent years, states have petitioned to remove GFCI protection on dryer and range receptacles. The 2020 NEC introduced this protection in response to these appliances’ electrocuting multiple children. Removing GFCI protection from dryers and ranges will place home occupants at risk of shock and electrocution. When states do not adopt the updated NEC in a timely fashion and in full, they risk the safety of their residents by not implementing the latest lifesaving technology required by newer editions of the code. Amendments removing this technology could lead to a rise in consumer injuries and death.
ESFI asked, “What if GFCIs did not exist?
” to investigate the number of electrocutions that would have likely occurred without the expansion of GFCI requirements throughout the years. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residential U.S. energy usage has increased from 0.7 trillion kilowatt-hours in 1978 to 1.5 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2020, a total increase of 114 percent. Using this data to speculate, there could have been up to a 603 percent increase in electrocutions, and a 1,118 percent increase in consumer product electrocutions, over the last 44 years. This shows that these devices save lives and continue to reduce electrocutions drastically.
ESFI prioritizes educating consumers on the importance of hiring qualified electrical workers to complete all electrical work, including installing safety devices such as GFCIs, and urges them to locate these workers through the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). Qualified electricians should be licensed, insured, and bonded in their state, and fully trained and up-to-date on their state’s NEC. These electricians also have four to five years of on-the-job training, pull the required permits, can be reached by multiple methods, and stand behind their work and its safety. ESFI also educates consumers about the NEC and their responsibility to ensure that their property is up to code. ESFI recommends homeowners have their property inspected by a qualified electrician every ten years.
Electricity is a necessary part of our lives that we take for granted, but using it safely is vitally important. As more aspects of our lives and homes use electricity than ever before, the safety devices required by the NEC have become increasingly important. Since the 1970s, GFCIs have saved thousands of lives and have helped significantly reduce home electrocutions. If GFCIs did not exist or the NEC was not fully adopted, consumer electrocutions would have continued to increase. For free materials about GFCIs that you can share throughout your home, community, or workplace, visit esfi.org