Sheet  metal screw shorts wire in electric panel (C) Daniel Friedman Electrical Panel Cover Screw & Fastener Safety Hazard Warnings

  • ELECTRICAL PANEL COVER SCREWS - CONTENTS: Electrical Panel Cover Screw & Fastener Safety Hazard Warnings. Non-standard sheet metal screws, loose screws, pierced electrical cables, & related safety warnings
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about screws or other fasteners used to secure the electrical panel cover; replacement of lost electric panel screws.
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Shock & short circuit hazards at electrical panel covers & cover screws: this article discusses safety hazards involving the screws used at some electrical panels and suggests safety procedures for the electrical inspector, home inspector, or other professionals who examine residential electrical systems. Safe electrical inspection procedures and safe use of volt meters, DMMs, multimeters, and similar electrical test equipment is discussed at the end of the article.

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Electrical Panel Cover Fastener Screws & Electrical Meter Box Mounting Screw Hazards

Rats nest of electrical wires - low voltage (C) Daniel Friedman

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At an inspection the author had encouraged a nervous buyer to accompany him into an ugly dark muddy basement to inspect the mechanical systems.

The client, a woman not properly dressed for an inspection, wore high heels and a tight skirt.

She was wobbling in the dirt floor in a dark crowded corner of the basement, terrified and already shaking in the dim light. The author, encountering a maze of wires in the way of the electrical panel, forgot to edit his thoughts, and muttered aloud: "geez what a rats nest."

The client screamed "RATS!!!" and ran terrified from the basement, falling towards the dark stairs.

As I just touched an electrical panel cover screw with my Milwaukee screwdriver I saw a tremendous flash of light - as bright as the sun. I was certain I was dead. As moments passed I realized I was still standing there, alive. Am I alive? I asked myself. I learned that from behind me and my client, the real estate agent had chosen that moment to take a flash photograph of the proceedings. - to DF Randolph MA 09/2008

This distraction is more risky than it may appear. A sudden flash, a sudden shout or movement, could cause an inspector to lurch, touching an electrically live and dangerous component. It is important for the inspector to learn and practice calm, steady movements and to resist distractions.

How to Look for Unsafe Panel Cover Screws & for Evidence of Burning and Arcing When Approaching the Electrical Panel

The pair of photos just below shows at left, electrical arc flashover soot, and at right, the repair - tape on the electrical wire, but the wire is still too close to the screw mounting hole for the panel cover.

Electrical panel wire arc flashover (C) Daniel Friedman Electrical panel wire damage from cover screw (C) Daniel Friedman

Sheet  metal screw shorts wire in electric panel (C) Daniel FriedmanSharp sheet metal screws: If you find that a sharp-tipped sheet metal screw has been used (usually to replace a lost original fastener) you should be alert for pierced, damaged, short-circuited wires in the panel - both during removal and during panel cover replacement.

We will not reinstall a sharp-pointed screw in a panel cover if wires are crowded close to the screw opening. Having seen more than one shorted and burned panel from precisely this cause, we warn clients about this unsafe detail. It is trivial to correct.

It's an easy fix: use a blunt tipped screw, or file off the sharp point of the SMS.

Before re-installing the cover of the electrical panel, check to assure that no electrical wires have moved close to the panel cover screw mounting holes where they might be pierced or damaged.

ELECTRICAL INSPECTOR SAFETY PROCEDURES describes important basic safety procedures, clothing, and equipment for home inspectors and electrical inspectors.


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