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Column originally published Jul 4, 2006

Important To Prevent Children From Electrocution

Question: A nine-year-old boy in our community was recently electrocuted and died when he climbed a tree and touched an electric wire. This tragedy devastated his family and our small community. Please let your readers know the importance of teaching our children about the dangers of these high voltage electric wires.


It is a real tragedy that this boy didn’t recognize the danger of touching an electric wire. Our society has become so dependent on electricity for just about everything nowadays; most households have electric appliances that are either plugged in electric outlets or powered by batteries. However, electricity can be very dangerous, and sometimes deadly, if we are not careful.

Virtually every home in Canada is connected to the electric power grid that supplies electricity across the country. In a few very large cities, the power lines are buried in the ground. However, in most other cities, towns, and communities, the power lines are supported above-ground by wooden poles. They are more accessible for any service and repair, and probably cheaper to maintain.

However, in most communities, trees are also planted close to the power lines. As the trees grow, they can get very close to these lines. Every year, utility companies send their crew to trim the branches around the power lines so that these branches won’t affect the function of the power grid.

Although the utility workers try their best to remove those branches that are getting too close to the power lines, there would always be some that are missed. That was likely the case in the situation that you described.

As a society, we want our children to be safe with their activities, whether it is inside or outside of their home. That is why we emphasize that any family with small children should have gates across the stairs to prevent them from falling down the stairs. We also advise having safe playground equipment for children to prevent them from serious falls and injuries. For the same reason, we tell children to wear helmets when they ride their bicycles, and don’t get on ATVs until they are 16 years of age, and only after they have received the proper training.

The same kind of caution is necessary when it comes to using electrical equipments around the house. Families with young children should use plastic safety caps to block off any unused electrical outlet around the house. Children are naturally curious, some will poke at these outlets with just about anything, and they can get a nasty shock or burn on their little fingers.

Children also should learn that they should not touch any electric appliance like hair dryer, telephone, or radio when they are in a bath tub with water. Even if these items are not turned on, children can still get electrocuted if they are plugged in. Adults should unplug any electrical appliance as soon as they have finished using them.

For the same reason, if they are standing on a wet floor, children should learn that they should not turn the light switch or touch any electrical appliances. Parents have to be careful and make sure their young children do not chew on electrical cords. Their little teeth can bite through the plastic covering that insulates the wires. The resulting electric burn on their lips can be very nasty and may require surgery to repair.

Some of this education needs to start in early childhood by the parents. They also need to be reinforced in kindergarten and elementary school. They should also learn what to do when there is lightning and thunderstorm. Open water like swimming pools, lakes, and rivers can be dangerous during these storms. Getting under large trees or being on high grounds, as well as being close to metal objects can increase their chance of getting electrocuted by the high voltage if lightning strikes. The safest place is inside the house, or even in the car.

Many children love to climb trees. Although it is rare for a child to climb high enough to touch an electric wire and get electrocuted, whenever it happens, it devastates the family as well as the community. As a paediatrician, I have seen many more children suffering from serious injuries as a result of falls from trees: head injuries, internal injuries to the lungs and internal organs, not to mention about broken arms and legs. Trees are very important to us for many reasons, but they are really not very child-friendly from this perspective. Parents should discourage their children from climbing trees.

I hope this child’s family and community can recover from this tragedy. More importantly, I hope more effort will be spent on preventing any similar accidents in the future. Sometimes it does require a tragedy like this for us to recognize the dangers around our children, and become more proactive in our effort to make their environment safe for them to enjoy their childhood.