Objectives: To determine age-specific mechanisms of electrical injury in children, to examine product safety regulation of the major sources of electrical injury hazard, and to assess the adequacy of current prevention strategies.
Design: Case series of 144 pediatric and adolescent electrical injuries in patients seen in the specialized burn center and tertiary care hospital between 1970 and 1995, examination of Consumer Product Safety Commission product recall reports for electrical injury hazards between 1973 and 1995, and review of the National Electric Code.
Results: Eighty-six cases of electrical injuries resulted from low-voltage (< 1000-V) exposures, all occurring within the home. In children aged 12 years and younger, household appliance electrical cords and extension cords caused more than 64 (63%) of 102 injuries, whereas wall outlets were responsible for only 14 (15%) of injuries. Fifty-eight cases resulted from high-voltage exposures, accounting for 38 (90%) of 42 injuries in children older than 12 years. No federal safety regulations for electrical cords exist, although voluntary standards have been adopted by many manufacturers. Among 383 consumer products identified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to be electrical injury hazards, 119 were appliance cords, extension cords, or holiday stringed light sets. Several products numbered more than 1.5 million units in US household distribution prior to the investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Conclusions: Household electrical cords are the major electrocution hazard for children younger than 12 years, yet no federal safety mandates exist. Despite voluntary standards, noncompliant manufacturers can introduce vast numbers of unsafe cords onto the US household market every year. Conversion of existing voluntary safety guidelines into federally legislated standards may be the most effective intervention against pediatric electrocutions.