Skip to main content

Fused for the holidays


Like many people I was outside putting up my Christmas decorations, adjusting them and making sure all of the bulbs were good. I do not have the new-age LED type of Christmas lights, I still have the old fashioned colored light bulbs (being unemployed you only purchase the have-to’s) to string around my trees.

Before placing my lights I test them to be sure they would work and replace those that don’t. I have my ladder readily available to safely access heights and I have a hook-pole to get the wire onto the branches, so I don’t overreach while on the ladder. After a while I have the trees decorated and they look very festive. As dusk approaches the lights get plugged in and I check that they are evenly spaced and look for any missed burned out bulbs.

Yes indeed, like me, a few of them don’t want to work in the cold. So I give them a little thump with my fingernail, twist it in and out of the socket, to see if they will light. A couple of them illuminate after a slight thump, some just needed to be tightened. But there was one bulb that my thumping didn’t work and when I twisted it, it popped. When it popped, there was a nice popping sound and a little spark, and little glass pieces in my hand, and it definitely startled me. Oh yeah, the entire string of lights are now dark.

In most circumstances daisy-chaining electricals are not a good idea, (like power strips) but with these strings of lights you can. Because the entire string is dark I first check to make sure I haven’t tripped the breaker, which it did not. Then I checked the in-line fuses on the light string, you know, those little 7A fuses that are in the plug end of the string. Sure enough it is blown, no problem, I still have some little boxes of little fuses, and it gets replaced. Plug the lights back in… and no lights. It turns out that every fuse in each 25’ string needs replaced. So, with my curses to the electrical gremlins, I have to disrobe the lights from the trees and I get to replace each fuse.

My incident got me thinking about those little fuses and how they protected me from a nasty shock when the bulb popped. Most work environments require workers to plug their tools into GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) protected receptacles. The GFCI is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. Fast enough to keep you from harm.

As a worker you should check your extension cords and your power tools to be sure they are protected, not with just the circuit breaker, but the GFCI. A circuit breaker does not trip as fast and if you ground out the tool, you are at risk. The electrical current may then take an alternative path to the ground through the user (that’s you), resulting in serious injuries or death. Look at it this way, a circuit breaker protects the tool from an electrical overload, the GFCI protects you. When you have your tools plugged in you want your GFCI as close to the electrical source as you can and be sure to test them regularly.

Remember, thinking about what you are about to do and how it can hurt you is the best way to protect yourself from workplace hazards and from hazards you have at home.

Have a safe holiday.