QO Load center (C) Daniel Friedman Electrical Panel Cover Removal Safety Hazards and Panel Cover Removal Procedures

  • REMOVE ELECTRICAL PANEL COVERS - CONTENTS: suggestions to improve safety before removing the electrical panel cover. What to look for before touching an electrical panel cover. How to improve the safety of bystanders during removal of the electric panel cover during a repair or during an electrical inspection.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about life safety hazards during touching or removing the cover on an electrical panel or fuse box.
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Elecrical safety: hazards when removing the electrical panel cover.

This article discusses hazards that can be spotted at the electrical panel before even touching it and provides safety procedures to protect bystanders during an electrical inspection. Home inspectors & electrical inspectors can reduce the hazards of this very dangerous step (opening the electrical panel) by looking carefully at conditions before approaching the task. We also provide suggestions to improve the safety of bystanders during an electrical inspection.

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Safety Suggestions for Inspecting the Electrical Panel Interior

Rusty electric panel face (C) Daniel FriedmanThese electrical inspection suggestions are not a complete inventory of all electrical safety procedures nor of all electrical components that should be inspected; these notes focus on identification of conditions that may present special electrical hazards for the electrical inspector. Contact Us by email to suggest changes, corrections, and additions to this material.

Fatal Shock Hazard Warning: Inspecting electrical components and systems risks death by electrocution as well as serious burns or other injuries to the inspector or to others. Do not attempt these tasks unless you are properly trained and equipped.

Homeowner advice for electrical panel safety: These safety suggestions are for professional inspectors and are not a guide for homeowners. Homeowners should not remove the cover from an electrical panel - it is unsafe to do so.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Homeowners should look at their electrical equipment for signs of trouble and should contact a licensed electrician to address any concerns that arise. Without removing the electrical panel cover, but by opening the hinged electrical panel access door, homeowners can access the main circuit breaker or fuse, as well as individual circuit breakers and fuses. These devices may be turned on or off by the homeowner as safety or other needs require.

8.3.C. [The inspector is NOT required to] dismantle any electrical device or control other than to remove the covers of the main and auxiliary distribution panels.

How might the astute inspector spot trouble in an electrical panel cover before opening it?

At least one death, that of an electrician, has been reported to have occurred during the removal of a panel cover

Atlanta GA, a licensed electrician was opening the panel for inspection.] Apparently there was an incipient problem with the spring-loaded bus-bar assembly. When the cover was removed the bus assembly moved, an arc caused an electrical explosion, killing the inspector. -- J. Aronstein to D. Friedman, personal communication, 12/1991.

The following photos and text provide examples of external evidence that may let the inspector avoid trouble or a nasty surprise when inspecting electrical equipment.

Before touching the electrical panel the inspector should look for these conditions:

Water dripping into an electrical panel (C) Daniel Friedman

A cold water pipe produces condensation which drips on the panel top. This pipe is too close and is in a poor location over this electrical service box.

Is there:

The pair of photographs below show two clear warnings that water has been entering an electrical panel - watch out for rust, and for circuit breakers that may not trip in response to an overcurrent, due to internal corrosion.

This defect is not one for which a home inspector (nor most electricians) can reliably test in a home, but the warning remains appropriate. Replace such breakers, and if the electrical panel is badly corroded the entire panel needs replacement.

Rusty electric panel face (C) Daniel Friedman Rust at knockouts on electrical panel face (C) Daniel Friedman

See RUST in ELECTRICAL PANELS for a detailed account of the sources of water and rust in electrical panels and the frequency of observation of rust and water damage in that equipment.

What about Testing a Suspect Panel Enclosure Box or Cover to See if it is Electrically Charged?

The electrical panel enclosure can be tested for electrical safety before it is touched by hand. Do not perform this task using the "handyman" procedures suggested by some people who rap or tap the panel with one hand. Use the proper electrical test instrument and procedure to make this safety check instead.

See these three articles for details on how to use test instruments to check for live voltage where it should not be. Touching Electrical Equipment (don't do it),  Guide to Electrical Test Equipment (what are some common and inexpensive electrical test tools used by home inspectors and electrical inspectors), and  DMMs VOMs SAFE USE OF (how to use electrical test devices properly).

Safety Procedures for Removing Electric Panel Covers: for Electrical Inspectors & Home Inspectors

QO Load center (C) Daniel FriedmanASHI Standards 8.1.B [The inspector shall observe] service equipment, grounding equipment, main overcurrent device, main and distribution panels.


Continue reading at ELECTRICAL PANEL COVER SCREWS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.



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