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Static electricity occurs when the electrons in an object that holds an electric charge move from that object onto another one with an opposite or neutral charge. If the receiver object is a conductor of electricity the electric charges will move quickly and in large numbers. If is an insulator, the charge will be much weaker. Because various levels of electrons are found in almost every object, it's important to educate kids about what dangers can occur when playing or experimenting with static electricity, because it is, at its core, a form of electricity, which can cause injury.
One of the dangers kids can face with static electricity is an electric shock. Shocks can range from being mildly uncomfortable to very painful depending on the amount of electric present at the time. Metal is an excellent conductor of electricity and when kids pick up electrical charges from their surrounding environment, such as by walking on a carpet while wearing socks, and then they touch a metal object, they can receive a shock that, while not life threatening, can hurt.
Static electricity is built up from electrical charges in an object and when it transfers quickly from one object to another, a shock is present. Typically shocks from static electricity are mild, however, there are instances when shocks from static can cause real injuries. Young children are especially vulnerable because the children don't understand how powerful charges can be and may do things like stick objects into electrical sockets which, when combined with the static on the body from crawling or walking on carpet with socks on can cause a shock bad enough to stop the heart, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and can lead to cardiac arrest, which is most often fatal, according to the American Heart Association.
Static electricity poses a fire hazard because, although it holds a lesser charge, it is still a form of electricity, which can lead to igniting a fire in the right circumstances. For example, being around flammable materials when a static is present can lead to a quickly ignited fire or can cause an explosion that may even be fatal. Some parents allow children to help pump gasoline into the car, which according to Dr. William D. Hakkarinen from the Maryland Academy of Family Physicians, is a very bad idea because of the potential fire hazards to a child whose face is close to the gas hose and tank of a car.
Lightning is a form of natural static electric discharge. A lightning bolt is a highly charged form of static electricity that forms when positively charged electrons in clouds jump to negatively charged electrons on the ground. Being struck by lightning is often fatal to humans. Children should be taught about how to be safe in the event the kids are outside during times when lightning is in the sky or is striking the ground by using methods like staying away from water and seeking indoors shelter immediately and staying away from trees which can attract lightning.
- U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, Controlling Electrical Hazards
- The Baltimore Sun; Physician warns about letting kids pump gas
- Kidshealth.org; Why do I get an electric shock?
- Science Made Simple, Static Electricity Learn about static charge & static shock
- Emergency Dude, Lightening Safety
- U.S. National Library of Medicine; MedlinePlus; Electrical Injury
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images