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Age Appropriateness and Safety of Electric Outlet Protectors for Children

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Publications and guidelines relating to the safe use of electric outlet protectors are reviewed and summarized. 37 children, 2 and 4 years old, participated in the assessment of three different styles of outlet protectors 43 adults also participated in the assessment by removing the outlet protectors. A series of three outlet protectors were used to compare the difficulty of removing each protector. None of the three outlet protectors could prevent all the 2- and 4-yr.-olds from access to the electrical outlet openings. One style of outlet protector was much easier than the other two for the children to gain access to the electrical outlet openings. Results of this study indicate some outlet protectors may provide a false security to parents who elect to use these devices in the home.
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Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1997,84,387-392.
O
Perceptual and Motor Slulls 1997
AGE APPROPFUATENESS AND SAFETY
OF
ELECTRIC
OUTLET PROTECTORS FOR CHILDREN
'
MARCELLA
V.
RIDENOUR
Biokinetics Research Loboralory
Temple University
Sutnmary.-Publications and guidelines relating to the safe use of electric outlet
protectors are reviewed and summarized. 37 children,
2
and 4 years old, participated
in
the assessment of three different styles of outlet protectors. 43 adults also partici-
pated in the assessment by removing the outlet protectors.
A
series of three outlet
protectors were used to compare the diFficulty of removing each protector. None of
the three outlet protectors could prevent
all
the
2-
and 4-yr.-olds from access to the
electrical outlet openings. One style of outlet protector was much easier than the
other two for the children to gain access to the electric outlet openings. Results of this
study indcate some outlet protectors may provide a false security to parents who elect
to use these devices
in
the home.
The design of home safety devices for children has rapidly increased
during the past ten years. There are companies whose primary products are
child safety devices and other companies whose primary service is child
safety inspections of homes. Unfortunately most of these products do not
have age labels providmg the minimum and maximum ages or the age range
for children at risk from the hazard alleged to be reduced by the safety de-
vice and the age range of the effectiveness for the child safety device. These
age labels should describe the time period in a child's life span when the
product is both safe and functiona1:This information describing age-appro-
priateness is important for all children's products such as furniture (cribs,
strollers, walkers), toys, and safety devices. A cooperative effort of the feder-
al
government, manufacturers of children's toys, retailers, and consumers has
resulted in the publication and distribution of toy guidehes which address
age-Iabehg (Goodson
&
Bronson, 1985; American Society for Testing and
Materials, 1995). Unfortunately there are no similar guidehes for safety de-
vices such as outlet protectors When buying
a
toy, a consumer can antici-
pate age labehg on the
packaging
at the point of sale to provide guidance
for the selection of appropriate
toys
for children with respect to average abil-
ities and interaction of various age groups and safety aspects of toys. When
buying a child safety device such as an outlet protector unfortunately a con-
sumer is usually not provided any information regarding the minimum and
maximum age of the product or the effectiveness of the safety device.
'Please address correspondence to the author at Biokinetics Research Laboratory, Pearson
Hall,
Temple University, Philadelphia,
PA
19122.
3
88
M.
V.
RIDENOUR
The publications relating to safety of electrical outlet protectors are di-
vided into two groups. One group of publications provides surveys of acci-
dent data and identifies the risk of electrical shock when young children
have access to the openings on electrical outlets. The other group of publi-
cations provides opinions of medical and child development professionals
suggesting the risk of unprotected outlets will be reduced
if
outlet protec-
tors are being used.
A
study of incidents reported to the United States Con-
sumer Product Safety Commission showed children in the 1- to 4-year age
range placed foreign objects into electrical receptacles. Of the 182 reported
injuries related to foreign objects, 156 (86%) involved children four years
old or younger. The time period for the highest frequency of home electrical
injuries coincided with typical time for food preparation when constant
adult supervision may not always occur. Two of the most frequent foreign
objects placed in the receptacle are keys and hair pins. Baker (1989) sug-
gested these injuries would be prevented by the use of effective nonremov-
able wall-receptacle protectors since injuries occurred after 2-yr.-old children
were able to remove the electric outlet protectors. There are
no
publications
regardmg the effectiveness of these outlet protectors as related to the age of
children at risk.
An
article reviewing seven widely used pedatric textbooks found most
of these books suggested outlet protectors as a technique to prevent electri-
cal injuries to young children, and none of the books described styles of
outlet protectors available or their potential limitations and dangers (Bond
&
Weitzman, 1989). Three different types of outlet protectors were describ-
ed by Vandervort (1988)
in
his book on home safety. One device is
an
out-
let protector which is a cap which inserts into the receptacle. The second
device is
a
spring-loaded permanently installed cover plate which requires
twisting the cover 90" to access the plug holes
in
the receptacle. The third
technique is a fhp-out door covering the receptacle. He stated the following
"Although young children can remove outlet caps, caps do &scourage them
from inserting objects into unused outlets" (p. 11). Unfortunately he pro-
vides no information on various brands of cap outlet protectors or specific
ages of young children.
Authors of articles in journals intended for the consumers have identi-
fied electrical outlets
if
unprotected as a hazard to young children. One au-
thor suggested protective covers which are flat,. tapered and ddficult for chil-
dren to pull out (Phfips,
1995).
Other authors suggested permanently screw-
ed on outlet protectors with automatic closure when an appliance is
un-
plugged (Bond
&
Weitzman, 1989). One author proposed a permanently in-
stalled outlet protector with a three-step procedure making it Micult for
children to place a forclgn object in an unused receptacle. The proposed
protector would have automatic closure when an appliance is unplugged
(Baker, 1989).
CHILDREN'S
ELECTRIC
OUTLET PROTECTORS
3
89
Bond and Weitzman (1989) surveyed different brands of outlet protec-
tors and found nine of 10 were small enough to pose a choking and aspi-
ration hazard to the young children under the age of
3
years old
if
removed
from the receptacles. These small outlet protectors may be a risk to young
children
if
they are not stored away from the child when the receptacle is be-
ing used for an appliance. Some of the protectors were designed to resemble
toys which may entice children to remove the protector.
The design of effective child-resistant products has two goals. The first
goal is to protect the child from a hazard within the home by provid~ng a
barrier to access to the hazard. The second goal is to provide easy access to
the protected product so it does not cause a major disruption
in
normal use
of this product by adults. Most child-resistant products depend on differ-
ences
in
motor skills and strength between children and adults to design
protective barrier products which provide almost impossible access by chil-
dren and quick access by adults. Some protective barrier products also use
cognitive skills, differences
in
the way children and adults think, to provide
access by adults and prevent access by a selected age group of children.
A
study commissioned by the
US
Department of Transportation investigated
differences in cognitive slulls as a method to stop unauthorized releases of
cars' safety-seat belts by young children
and
at the same time permit adults
to release the child quickly from the seat belt. This study indicated 100% of
the children
in
the study between the age of 3 to
5
years old were unable to
release the buckle on the seat belt and 100% of the adults, firemen and po-
licemen, were able to release the buckles within
5
seconds (Hunter, 1990).
A
primary purpose of this study was to examine whecher
2-
to 4-yr.-old
children possess the motor slulls to remove the electrical outlet protectors
successfully during a short lapse of less than two minutes without adult
supervision.
A
secondary purpose of this study was to judge whether adults
were able easily and quickly to remove these outlet protectors
if
access to
the outlet is necessary for use of transient electrical appliances such as vac-
uum cleaners. The 2-yr.-age group included 16 children, 8 girls and 8 boys.
The 4-yr.-age group included 21 children,
II
girls and 10 boys. The adult
group was hited to college students between the age of 19 and 25 years
old and included 43 adults, 22 boys and 21 girls. This study was hited to
three ddferent styles of outlet protectors.
All
three outlet protectors were
designed to provide a barrier for one electrical outlet in the receptacle. The
three outlet protectors vary in shape and color. Outlet protectors Style
A,
B,
and
C
are illustrated
in
Fig. I. The experimental methods are avdable as a
supplement to this article.
'A
detailed account is on File
in
Document NAPS-05360. Remit $7.75 for photocopies or $5.00
for fiche to the National Auxhary Publications Service, c/o Microfiche Publications, POB
3513, Grand Central Station. New York,
NY
10163.
Side V~ew
(Top)
Front
View
i"
Side View
Plastic Clear (Stippled)
Electrical Outlet
Protection Device
Front
View
FIG.
1.
Styles
A,
B,
and
C
for plastic electric outlet protectors (covers)
The
data was examined with a
3
by
3
analysis of variance. The nonre-
peated factor was age, and the three groups were
2-
and 4-yr.-olds and
adults. The repeated factor was the three styles of outlet protectors. The re-
sults of the analysis of variance indcated two s~gnlficant main effects, age
(F
,,,,
=50.33, p=.01)
and outlet protector style
(F
,,,,,
=59.46,
p= ,011.
An
analysis of variance indicated a significant interaction effect for age and out-
let protector style
(F,,,,,=20.33,
p=
.01).
The style of outlet protector
did
CHILDREN'S ELECTRIC OUTLET PROTECTORS
391
influence the removal of the outlet protectors as indicated by the interaction
between age and styles. Atmost
all
the adults could remove
all
the styles of
outlet protectors. Fewer than half of the 4-yr.-olds could remove Style
A
and
Style
B
outlet protectors, but almost
all
of them could remove Style
C.
Only
31%
of the 2-yr.-olds could remove Style
A
and
18%
of the 2-yr.-olds could
remove Style
B
outlet protectors but almost
all
of them could remove Style
C.
Table
1
provides the success percentages for age groups and styles of out-
let protectors.
TABLE
1
PERCENTAGES
OF
TRLAIS
ON
WHICH
OUTLET
PROTECTORS
WERE
SUCCESSFULLY
REMOVED
AND
AVERAGE
REMOVAL
TIMES
(SEC.)
BY
AGE
GROUPS
AND
STYLES
OF
OUTLET
PROTECTORS
Outlet Style
Age
2
years
4
years
Adults
---
%
MS,,
%
M5,c.
%
~kc.
Style
A
3
1
23.6
47
29.8
100
2.2
Style
B
18
24.3
47
38.9
95
4.9
Style C
100
9.5
100
2.6
100 1
.O
When the protectors were removed and a
time
was recorded, the outlet
protection style influenced the time. Table
1
provides average removal times
in
seconds for age groups and styles of outlet protectors. The style of outlet
protector influenced the time for removal for two children's age groups,
2-yr.-olds and 4-yr.-olds. The average was less than 10 seconds for 2-yr.-old
and 4-yr.-old children to remove Style
C
outlet protectors. The average time
was over 20 seconds for 2-yr. and 4-yr.-old children to remove either Style
A
or Style
B
outlet protectors. Removal of the outlet protectors was completed
by all the adults. The average times for the adults ranged from 4.9 sec. for
Style
B
to 1.0 sec. for Style
C.
These results indicate some outlet protectors may provide a false secu-
rity to parents who elect to use these devices
in
the home. None of these
o&et protectors are required to have age labels or meet any published stan-
dard regarding child resistance. Most of these outlet protectors are easy for
almost half of the 4-yr.-olds to remove and one style of these outlet protec-
tors can be removed by almost
all
the 2-yr.-olds tested. The Style
C
outlet
protector provides no barrier for 2-yr.-old and 4-yr.-old children during a
momentary lapse of supemision since the average time to remove these pro-
tectors was
5.6
sec.
The following recommendations for safe use of outlet protectors are
based on both the review of literature and results of this study. (1) The
styles of outlet protectors selected for this study provided almost no protec-
tion for 4-yr.-olds since
95%
were able to remove at least one of the style of
3 92
M.
V.
RIDENOUR
protector and
42%
were able to remove all the styles of protectors. Most of
the 2-yr.-olds, 939'0, were able to remove one of the three styles of protec-
tors. Since the child's age influences the barrier function of some of these
-
protectors, the outlet protectors should have age-labels based on their effec-
tiveness, and these age-labels should be based on testing with appropriate
samples of children by an independent testing laboratory. (2) Manufacturers
of protective barriers for outlets and consumer safety organizations should
jointly prepare industry standards to assure safe and effective barriers are
available for home use.
REFERENCES
AMERICAN SOCIETY
FOR
TESTING
AND
MATERIAIS.
(1995)
Standard Consumer Safety Specification
on Toy Safety.
Annual Book of
ASTM
Standards,
15.07, 511-536.
BAKER.
M.
D.
(1989)
Household electrical injuries
in
children: epidemiology and identification
of avoidable hazards.
American Journal of Diseases of Children,
143, 59-62.
BOND,
M.,
&
WEITZMAN.
M. (1989)
Strategies to prevent household electrical injuries
in
chil-
dren.
American Journal of Diseases of Children,
143, 1130-1 13
l.
GOODSON,
B.
D.,
&BRONSON,
M.
B.
(1985)
Age labeling guidelines.
Washington, DC: US Con-
sumer Product Safety Commission.
HUNTER.
R.
M.
(1990)
Cognitive rkill based child-resistant safety belt buckle.
Bozeman,
MT:
Yellowstone Environmental Science.
PHILLIPS, B.
(1995)
Keeping kids safe at home.
Home Mechanix,
91, 20.
VANDERVORT,
D.
(1988)
Making your home child-safe.
Menlo Park, CA: Lane Publ.
Accepted December
11,
1996.
Article
Among burn injuries, electrical injuries constitute a small but devastating fraction. To describe the epidemiology of electrical injuries in Canadian children, data on deaths and emergency department visits related to electrical injuries, including lightning strikes, were obtained from provincial coroners’ offices and the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) respectively, for the years 1991–96. Twenty one deaths and 606 emergency visits highlight that electrical related deaths, more frequent among school age children, are more likely the result of high voltage and lightning strike, while emergency department visits, more frequent among younger children, are more likely the result of low voltage. While the introduction of legislated standards for child safe outlets and educational programs for parents, children, and youth are recommended strategies toward reducing the frequency of these incidents, these strategies require further evaluation before their effectiveness can be estimated.
Article
Full-text available
Among burn injuries, electrical injuries constitute a small but devastating fraction. To describe the epidemiology of electrical injuries in Canadian children, data on deaths and emergency department visits related to electrical injuries, including lightning strikes, were obtained from provincial coroners' offices and the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) respectively, for the years 1991-96. Twenty one deaths and 606 emergency visits highlight that electrical related deaths, more frequent among school age children, are more likely the result of high voltage and lightning strike, while emergency department visits, more frequent among younger children, are more likely the result of low voltage. While the introduction of legislated standards for child safe outlets and educational programs for parents, children, and youth are recommended strategies toward reducing the frequency of these incidents, these strategies require further evaluation before their effectiveness can be estimated.
Article
• The medical records of all children with household electrical injuries were reviewed. The children were seen from 1980 to 1986 at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. Injuries occurred predominantly in children younger than age 6 years, most commonly while meals were being prepared. The most frequent cause of injury was oral contact with electrical cords or cord sockets, or contact with wall sockets either directly or via conductive foreign objects such as keys or pins. Data reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission were also analyzed and corroborated our findings. We suggest a series of prevention strategies based on these data. A new wall outlet cover design is described. (AJDC 1989;143:59-62)
Article
The medical records of all children with household electrical injuries were reviewed. The children were seen from 1980 to 1986 at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. Injuries occurred predominantly in children younger than age 6 years, most commonly while meals were being prepared. The most frequent cause of injury was oral contact with electrical cords or cord sockets, or contact with wall sockets either directly or via conductive foreign objects such as keys or pins. Data reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission were also analyzed and corroborated our findings. We suggest a series of prevention strategies based on these data. A new wall outlet cover design is described.
Standard Consumer Safety Specification on Toy Safety. Annual Book of ASTM Standards
  • American Society
  • Testing
  • Materiais
AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR TESTING AND MATERIAIS. (1995) Standard Consumer Safety Specification on Toy Safety. Annual Book of ASTM Standards, 15.07, 511-536.
Cognitive rkill based child-resistant safety belt buckle
  • R M Hunter
HUNTER. R. M. (1990) Cognitive rkill based child-resistant safety belt buckle. Bozeman, MT: Yellowstone Environmental Science.
Keeping kids safe at home. Home Mechanix
  • B Phillips
PHILLIPS, B. (1995) Keeping kids safe at home. Home Mechanix, 91, 20. VANDERVORT, D. (1988) Making your home child-safe. Menlo Park, CA: Lane Publ.