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Illinois Country Living

Michael L. Ashenfelter, Sangamon County Electrical/ Mechanical­Inspector

Safety & Health:

Changing a light bulb can kill you
Sounds like a joke, but even simple tasks can be deadly

On a recent trip to Kansas City to visit my daughter, we stopped at our favorite restaurant. While eating suddenly an incandescent light bulb exploded over a table directly across from us. Fortunately the hot glass fragments did not injure the occupants at the table.

The manager contacted a busboy to cleanup the table and informed him to replace the light bulb. The busboy proceeded to wipe off the table with a wet rag and then started to use the rag to remove the broken pieces of the lamp still inside the fixture.

If the exploding lamp did not get the attention of the patrons around us my best dad’s voice did. In a stern and loud voice I said, “Son I would not do that if I were you!”

Well, he turned and looked at me with the same look my kids give. It was like what are you talking about old man? Leave me alone, I know what I am doing.

I then proceeded to explain to him that the broken fragments inside the lamp could still be energized and by using that wet washcloth he would receive the shock of his life.

Well, that got his attention as well as everyone around us. He went and got his manager. I informed him that he should probably perform this task when power could be shutoff to this circuit. He agreed and moved the patrons to another table and closed off the table, hopefully for the day.

While I was reviewing this column and getting ready to post this near-miss story on my blog, a coworker came in and shared a similar story.

The bulbs were out in his ceiling fan. When he went to change them they exploded in his hand. It tripped his breaker in his panel. He went to reset the breaker but it would not reset. A well-meaning friend with just enough knowledge to be dangerous told him he would come over and change the 15-amp breaker to a 20-amp breaker because maybe it was just overloaded.

He was consulting me to find out what could cause the resetting problem. I informed him that by changing the breaker on a 15-amp circuit on 14-gauge wire to a 20 amp breaker could cause a worse problem. An immediate fire hazard would be created should it not trip.

It is important to remember that even changing a light bulb can become deadly. General safety measures to remember when changing light bulbs are:

1. A general knowledge of safe electrical practice comes in handy. If you do not have knowledge of electrical safety, even changing broken light bulbs should be left to professionals.

2. Always de-energize the circuit before changing a light bulb. This can simply be done by turning off the switch to the fixture. Light bulbs can have broken screw shells that when turned can break and short out in your hand.

3. Light bulbs should be allowed to cool before removal. A hot lamp can exceed temperatures of 5,000 F and can cause severe burns.

4. Never stand on chairs, tables, or aluminum stepladders to do electrical work. Use wood or fiberglass ladders that have been tested and inspected for that use.

5. Inspect the steps and rungs of ladders before use. If they are broken or damaged do not use them, destroy them so that others will not get hurt should they use them. More people have been injured by falls when working with electricity than by shock.

6. Never stand on the top step of a ladder and never overextend your reach. Use the right size ladder for the job.

7. When working with power tools, make sure they are in good operating condition. Check to make sure that they are not frayed, that the insulation is in tact and the ground prong of the chord is intact.

8. The same goes for extension chords. Make sure they are not frayed or damaged in anyway. If they are, take them out of service or repair or destroy them.

9. Last, but not least, always use a ground fault circuit interrupter when using power tools and extension chords.

You can start by learning more at

For More Information:

Michael L. Ashenfelter is the Sangamon County Electrical/ Mechanical­Inspector and a member of the Safe Electricity Advisory Team (, 217-747-5111.

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