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, GFCI requirements have expanded as in-home electricity use and the risk of potential contact with water and electricity in homes increased.
In the 10 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. As GFCI requirements expanded, the number of electrocutions dropped significantly. Between 2011 and 2022, there was an estimated average of 246 electrocutions per year, including 41 consumer product electrocutions. This has led to 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 Electrocution|
In recent years, petitions have been submitted to remove GFCI protection for dryer and range receptacles. The 2020 NEC introduced this protection as a result of multiple children being electrocuted by these appliances. The removal of GFCI protection for dryers and ranges will place home occupants at risk of shock and electrocution. When states or local jurisdictions do not adopt the NEC in a timely fashion as published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), they risk the lives of their citizens 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.
Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) asked the question, “What if GFCIs did not exist?” to investigate the number of electrocutions that would occur 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 would be an estimated 603% increase in electrocutions and an estimated 1,118% increase in consumer product electrocutions. This data proves that these devices save lives and will continue to drastically reduce the number of electrocutions from occurring.
ESFI makes it a priority to educate consumers on the importance of hiring qualified persons to complete all electrical work, including installing safety devices such as GFCIs, and urges them to locate those workers through the Independent Electrical Contractors. We inform consumers to confirm the electrician they are hiring is licensed, insured, and bonded in their state and trained and up-to-date on the edition of the NEC adopted by the state or local jurisdiction. These electricians also have four to five years of on-the-job training, leave a paper trail and pull required permits, can be reached by multiple methods, stand behind their work, and also complete safe work. ESFI also educates consumers about the NEC and that it is a homeowner’s responsibility to ensure that their property is up to code. Homeowners should have their property inspected by a qualified electrician every 10 years.
Electricity is a necessary part of our lives that we tend to take for granted, but using it safely is vitally important. Thousands of people in the United States are critically injured and electrocuted as a result of electrical fires and accidents in their own homes each year. As every aspect of our lives and homes becomes electrified, the safety devices required by the NEC 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 as published, consumer electrocutions would increase. For free materials about GFCIs that you can share throughout your home, community, or workplace, visit esfi.org.