Since the 1970s, GFCIs have saved thousands of lives and have helped significantly reduce home electrocutions. But what if they did not exist?
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. Prior to 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.
In the years between 1971 and 1980, there was an estimated average of 1,101 electrocutions in the United States, including 491 consumer product electrocutions, every year. 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% drop in electrocutions since the introduction of GFCI protection in bathrooms and a 93% 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.
Major GFCI Mandated Requirements in the NEC
- 1971: Outdoor receptacles
- 1975: Bathroom receptacles
- 1978: Garage wall receptacles
- Countertop receptacles within 6 feet of kitchen sinks
- At least one basement receptacle
- 1990: Crawl spaces
- 1993: Within 6 feet of wet bar sinks
- Outdoor receptacles, including balconies
- All kitchen receptacles serving countertops
- 1999: Electric heating cables in all floors
- 2005: Within 6 feet of laundry and utility sinks
- 2011: Within 6 feet of any sink
- Within 6 feet of any bathtub or shower stall
- Laundry areas
- In receptacles or junction boxes for kitchen dishwashers
- 2017: Commercial kitchens
- Outdoor hardwired outlets
- Sump pumps
- Larger home appliances, like clothes dryers and stoves
Decrease of Electrocutions and Consumer Product Electrocutions Because of Expanded GFCI Protection
|Year||Estimated Number of GFCI Protected Homes||Total Electrocutions||Consumer Product Electrocutions|
In recent years, states have petitioned to remove GFCI protection on dryer and range receptacles. The 2020 NEC introduced this protection in response to multiple children being electrocuted by these appliances. The removal of 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 the question, “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, which is a total increase of 114%. Using this information, there could have been up to a 603% increase in electrocutions, and a 1,118% increase in consumer product electrocutions, over the last 44 years. This shows that these devices save lives and continue to drastically reduce the number of electrocutions.
ESFI recently created a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) and the National Electrical Code (NEC) book to educate about why these devices are critical to decreasing electrical shock and electrocution. This quick resource guide was designed to help outline the high points of why the code should be adopted with GFCI protection intact. The book outlines the importance of the NEC and how it works, as well as detailing how GFCIs operate and where they are required for both dwelling units and non-dwelling units. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the NFPA, consumers and the unsuspecting public simply expect the electrical systems within their homes to be safe and meet the latest safety requirements, but if their state does not follow the most recent version of the NEC, that is not the case. Legislators that adopt the NEC have the benefit of a document that has been developed and maintained by qualified technical committees with a single-minded purpose in advancing electrical safety through an open consensus process. As electrical equipment has become more complex and widespread, the NEC has adapted to meet new challenges. The above code book can be downloaded and shared with consumers and governing bodies alike to promote the prompt adoption of the most recent NEC.
Electricity is a necessary part of our lives that we tend to 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 adopted in full, consumer electrocutions would have continued to tragically increase. For free materials about GFCIs that you can share throughout your home, community, or workplace, visit esfi.org.