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Can These Common Home Safety Hazards Actually Kill You?

Just how dangerous is it to plug in a toaster with wet hands, or to eat a silica gel packet? Find out the real risks presented by some of the most common household safety hazards.

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Home safety hazards - electrical outletsPhoto: Shutterstock

Are Electrical Outlets a Safety Hazard?

The Fear: If you stick a fork or a bobby pin in a socket, you’ll be electrocuted.

The Reality: If you stick something in a socket, you could get a nasty shock. The left slot is connected to the neutral wire, the right is connected to the hot one, and the electricity flows from hot to neutral. Sticking something into either slot will disrupt the flow and send it into you.

Will It Kill You? It might. A jolt from a standard 120-volt outlet could trigger cardiac arrest. Learn to spot the silent signs of a heart attack.

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Home safety hazards - toasterPhoto: Shutterstock

Are Toasters a Safety Hazard?


The Fear: Fishing a slice of bread out of a toaster with silverware will electrocute you.

The Reality: While chances of electrocution are slim, it’s still a bad idea to stick anything besides bread into a toaster, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Even if you unplug the appliance, you could damage the heating element, which could shock you or start a fire the next time you make toast.

Will It Kill You? The odds are pretty remote. You largely risk a shock or perhaps a burn.

Check out these myths about house fires you probably believe.

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Home safety hazard - small appliances around waterPhoto: Shutterstock

Is it a Safety Hazard to Use Small Appliances Around Water?


The Fear: If you plug in an appliance while your hands are wet, moisture will transfer the current from the plug to you.

The Reality: Since water conducts electricity extremely well and electric currents flow where there is the least resistance, they will usually go through that water—and into you—if the opportunity presents itself. Your body is more likely to resist electrical current if your skin is dry.

Will It Kill You? It could. If your hands are wet when you plug in your iron, you might get just a shock. But if you do it straight out of the shower when your whole body is wet, then yes, you could die from a fatal shock to your heart.

How well do you remember your CPR training? Take a crash course on the essential CPR steps.

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Home safety hazards - silica gel packetsPhoto: Shutterstock

How Serious a Safety Hazard Are Silica Gel Packs?


The Fear: The gel packs in product packaging all say “Do not eat,” so they must be deadly.

The Reality: The American Association of Poison Control Centers documented 33,705 incidents of people eating silica in 2010, nearly 90 per cent of them involving children under six. But none died from poisoning, because silica is chemically inert and nontoxic. The real danger is from choking on the packets.

Will It Kill You? No, but keep the packets away from young children.

Psst—this is the real reason you find silica gel packets in pretty much everything you buy.

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Home safety hazards - microwave ovenPhoto: Shutterstock

Are Microwave Ovens a Safety Hazard?


The Fear: Microwaves emit radiation that causes cancer.

The Reality: There are two types of radiation. Ionizing radiation, the kind that’s emitted after a nuclear explosion, is the bad stuff. Microwave ovens emit non-ionizing radiation, a less dangerous kind, and at a low level. Microwaves operate at about three gigahertz, which is fairly low on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Will It Kill You? No. Go ahead and hover while you wait for that Hot Pocket. (But you should never microwave these things.)

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Home safety hazards - plastic food containersPhoto: Shutterstock

Are Plastic Food Containers a Safety Hazard?


The Fear: Microwaves pull chemicals out of plastic and allow your food to absorb them.

The Reality: Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in hard clear-plastic takeout and food-storage containers, does leach into your food when microwaved. Although studies have linked it with asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and reproductive problems, among others, Health Canada maintains that the amount of BPA in everyday plastics is safe.

Will It Kill You? No. But best to use a non-plastic (glass or ceramic) dish labelled “microwave safe.”

Next, our experts answer: Is it safe to wash and re-use resealable bags?

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Home safety hazards - cell phonesPhoto: Shutterstock

Are Cellphones a Safety Hazard?


The Fear: Radiation from your mobile phone will cause brain cancer.

The Reality: The good news is that cellphones, like microwave ovens, give off non-ionizing radiation—the safer kind. Your phone emits about two gigahertz of radiation per second, less than a microwave oven. But a few studies have shown an increased risk of brain cancer with heavy cellphone use.

Will It Kill You? Probably not. But research is ongoing.

Here are more rampant cancer myths you need to stop believing.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada