If you’ve ever noticed hospital outlets upside down, you’re not alone in wondering what’s going on!
There’s a good reason for installing upside-down hospital outlets, and it concerns safety.
In general, outlets are installed upside down so that if anything metallic accidentally drops onto a partially plugged-in outlet, it does not touch the vertical pins and trip the circuit breaker. If they were ‘right’ side up, it would increase the chances of a short circuit and create a potential fire hazard.
Right Way Up and Upside Down
First, let’s see the difference installing an upside-down outlet makes.
In our home, an outlet is normally installed such that the (vertical) live and neutral slots are at the top and the rounded ground connection is at the bottom. By having it ‘upside down’ instead, the ground slot will be at the top and the vertical slots at the bottom.
The difference the two arrangements make is when you consider what would happen if something fell onto the outlet from the top:
- With a ‘right way up’ outlet, it would touch (and possibly short circuit) the hot and neutral prongs of the plug.
- With an ‘upside down’ outlet, it would touch the ground prong.
So, if you drop something on your right-side-up outlet and it ends up short-circuiting, there are a few possible reasons why this could happen:
First, the object might have damaged the wiring inside the outlet, resulting in a short circuit. This can occur if the wiring is pinched, cut, or compromised.
Second, if the object that fell on the outlet caused it to shift or move, it could loosen the internal connections. Loose connections can lead to electrical arcing, which could result in a short circuit.
Third, if the object that fell on the outlet caused one of the devices connected to it to become unplugged, the remaining devices on the circuit could draw too much power, leading to an overload and a short circuit.
Upside Down Outlets in Hospitals
Hospitals have many tools and instruments lying around, and some of them are metallic.
Suppose, by chance, any metallic object falls onto an outlet below. In that case, it could directly touch a connected plug’s hot prong or potentially both the hot and neutral ones, thereby connecting the two and creating a short circuit. But that’s only if the outlet faces the ‘right way up.’ This scenario could potentially cause a fire and put patients’ lives at risk.
If, however, outlets are installed ‘upside down,’ such a risk is avoided. A falling metallic object would fall onto the ground prong first instead. That object could be something external, but it could also be the outlet’s screw!
Let’s run through each of these reasons in more detail below.
It Doesn’t Short Circuit
The ground prong only has a current if there’s a fault, i.e., if something disrupts the normal current flow.
But it is designed to provide a safe path for current to flow to the ground, hence the name. It might happen, for instance, if a wire gets damaged or a metallic object touches a conductor.
Unlike a typical home, a hospital is a chaotic environment where various diagnostic, monitoring and other devices are plugged into sockets. Technology must be arranged to support them in these vital tasks, not hinder them or put their lives at risk.
If a metallic object does fall and hit the ground prong’, it is safer than if it hit the hot or neutral ones, which would cause a short circuit. Such accidents have happened in hospitals, so turning off outlets upside down has become common.
Can I install outlets upside down in my home?
It would look odd in a home, but if you prefer it, or if there’s a similar risk in a particular location, you can install them upside down.
Why are some outlets red in hospitals?
Besides upside-down outlets, you may have noticed red outlets in hospitals as well.
These are emergency outlets that operate on backup power. Hospital staff only use them in case of an emergency. The red color helps to identify them easily; to distinguish them from regular outlets that operate on the regular power supply.
The red outlets are also typically installed upside down for the same reason.
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