Lack of electrical safety amongst parents puts children at risk

12 July 2013

Popular ‘socket covers’ are not enough to protect children from electrical accidents.

Electrical safety for young families

‘Nesting’ parents are putting their families’ lives at risk when preparing the home for children through a misplaced reliance on socket covers and a worrying lack of other electrical safety protection, a study from the Electrical Safety Council (ESC) has found.  

The study found that electrical safety is of paramount concern to parents – of all child safety measures taken by parents, socket covers are the most common with 62% of parents  using them, more than baby monitors or stair barriers. However, regular sockets are generally safe and socket covers will not prevent electric shock if the installation is not safe.

The only way to be safe from a fatal electric shock and reduce the risk of fire is to ensure your installation is safe and that there is an RCD (Residual Current Device) in the fusebox, which prevents fatal electric shock and minimises the risk of fire. Worryingly, only 38% of new parents’ homes are adequately protected by this vital device, well below the national average for homes with RCD protection (50%). This is a particular cause for concern as three quarters (74%) of parents feel that they have taken appropriate steps to ensure the safety of their children in the home.  

Electrical safety is a serious problem in the UK. At least one person dies each week in their own home, while 350,000 people are seriously injured annually. Electrical accidents also cause almost half of all house fires.  

The absence of RCD protection increases the likelihood of injury or death, compounded by the fact that 67% of new parents undertake DIY in preparation for their child, with 45% drilling into walls or using power tools.  Almost a fifth of young parents (17%) admitted to attempting DIY without being confident of safety.

Kristine, 30, from London, was lucky to survive her electrical accident when she was doing DIY to prepare her home for her first child. She said: “I was re-plastering the wall and didn’t realise the mains were still on, the wet plaster gave me a shock that could have killed me. I just didn’t realise how important RCD protection was until the accident, not only for protecting my daughter once she was crawling and sticking her finger where she shouldn’t, but also to protect myself for her sake.”

Almost half of young parents (45%) said they felt overwhelmed when it comes to ensuring the safety of their children. Their predominant focus on socket covers could stem from pressure from the parenting community – retailers, advice outlets and other parents – to buy these devices, which is leading them to misguided and too simplistic decisions. The research found that 28% of new parents felt that pressure from retailers led to buying safety products, while 25% said parent peer pressure was a purchase factor. The ESC is appealing to the parenting community to take responsibility for educating new parents about real electrical dangers and the importance of an RCD.

Phil Buckle, Director General of the Electrical Safety Council, said:  “We have found that new parents have a worrying lack of knowledge about electrical safety issues. We aim to raise awareness of the hazards in the home and the simple steps that parents can take to both ensure the safety of their family and pass on this knowledge to their children as they grow up.

“We are also appealing to product manufacturers and parenting advice outlets to offer parents key electrical safety advice, instead of offering socket covers as a ‘one stop’ solution.

“We are not saying parents shouldn’t have socket covers, but they must do more than that as these products could be removed by inquisitive children. The only way to be sure of protecting your children from the range of electrical dangers in the home is with RCD protection.”

The ESC is also encouraging parents to download their free ‘Home Electrical Safety Check’ app, which allows anyone to do a quick, visual check of their home to ensure it is electrically safe. Designed to be as easy to use as possible, the app highlights potential dangers in each room and explains how to resolve simple, non-technical problems. Where more serious issues are flagged, people are advised to use a registered electrician. The app is available for iPhone and Android phones.

Meg Mathews, ex-wife of Noel Gallagher and mother of his daughter Anais, suffered a devastating electrical fire at her Primrose Hill home in September 2011. She said:

“The fire that destroyed my home last year was one of the scariest experiences of my life. If we hadn’t popped out to walk the dogs, my daughter Anais and I would have lost our lives – the firefighters said no-one could have survived the blaze. The long term consequences have been devastating - not only wrangling for months with insurers and losing all our possessions, but the emotional impact has also been difficult.

Many people just don’t understand how dangerous electricity can be. We learnt the hard way, but parents can protect their children and homes now by installing an RCD and downloading the ESC’s free ‘Home Electrical Safety Check’ app. I’m urging all parents to take action now – it could save you or your child’s life”.

Siobhan Freegard, Netmums founder said:

“With families owning more and more gadgets, the risk of electrical accidents in the home grows greater every day. The arrival of a new baby is the time when parents are most likely to try to make their home a safer place for kids, so it's worrying to see how few realise their homes may not be safe despite all their efforts.

 “We are delighted to be the first organisation to pledge our support to the Electrical Safety Council to help educate young parents in electrical safety. Just a few simple changes around the home can give parents peace of mind.”

For more information please contact Penny Walshe on 020 3463 5125 or at