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Product safety tips

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)

NOTE: This information is from a previously printed press release, newsletter, or other dated document. It is presented here for archival purposes only.

December 20, 2003 -- UL periodically revises requirements in its Standards for Safety to harmonize with international requirements, address code and safety issues, and accommodate new product developments as applicable. UL has adopted new and revised requirements for ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) that become effective January 1, 2003. Among others, these requirements include enhanced requirements for immunity to voltage surges, resistance to moisture and corrosion, reverse line-load miswiring, and resistance to environmental noise. Though products meeting these revised requirements will soon enter the marketplace, they are not required to have any special markings to distinguish them from models made prior to January 1, 2003. Models of GFCIs Listed by UL that were manufactured and labeled prior to January 1, 2003 still may appear in the marketplace after January 1, 2003, and until such time as old stocks of GFCIs become exhausted.

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) can help prevent electrocution inside and outside the home. GFCIs are an effective means of protecting against electrical shock, however, they must be tested regularly -- UL recommends once a month -- to verify they are working properly.

"Ground faults" are often the result of damaged appliance cords or consumers who use electrical products in wet environments, such as bathrooms or swimming pool decks. By installing GFCIs in every home in the United States, the U.S. Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than two-thirds of the approximately 300 electrocutions occurring each year could be prevented. The advantage of using GFCIs is that they detect even those amounts of electricity too small for your fuse or circuit breaker to activate and shut off the circuit.

Like all products, GFCIs can be damaged. GFCIs damaged by lightning or electrical surges may fail to provide adequate protection. A simple test once a month and after any violent thunderstorm should be conducted.

To properly test GFCI receptacles in your home:

  • Push the "Reset" button located on the GFCI receptacle, first to assure normal GFCI operation.
  • Plug a nightlight (with an "ON/OFF" switch) or other product (such as a lamp) into the GFCI receptacle and turn the product "ON."
  • Push the "Test" button located on the GFCI receptacle. The nightlight or other product should go "OFF."
  • Push the "Reset" button, again. The light or other product should go "ON" again.

If the light or other product remains "ON" when the "Test" button is pushed, the GFCI is not working properly or has been incorrectly installed (miswired). If your GFCI is not working properly, call a qualified, certified electrician who can assess the situation, rewire the GFCI if necessary or replace the device.

"GFCIs are proven lifesavers, however, consumers need to take a few minutes each month to do this simple test. By taking action, you can help protect your family from the risk of electric shock," says John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager at UL.

Several types of GFCIs may be installed in/around your home. Look for the UL Mark on GFCIs when purchasing them or when specifying the product to your electrician.

  • Wall receptacle GFCI -- This type of GFCI -- the most widely used -- fits into a standard outlet and protects against ground faults whenever an electrical product is plugged into the outlet. Wall receptacle GFCIs are most often installed in kitchens, bath and laundry rooms, and out-of-doors where water and electricity are most likely to be in close proximity.
  • Circuit breaker GFCI -- In homes equipped with circuit breakers, this type of GFCI may be installed in a panel box to give protection to selected circuits. Circuit breaker GFCIs should also be checked monthly. Keep in mind that the test will disconnect power to all lights and appliances on the circuit.
  • Portable GFCI -- A portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install. One type contains the GFCI circuitry in a self-contained enclosure with plug blades in the back and receptacle slots in the front. It can then be plugged into a receptacle, and the electrical products are plugged into the GFCI. Another type of portable GFCI is an extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in using receptacles that are not protected by GFCIs. Portable GFCIs should only be used on a temporary basis and should be tested prior to every use.