LARGER IMAGE Basic Electrical Safety Equipment & Procedures for Electrical Inspectors & Home Inspectors

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Safety tips for electrical inspectors: this electrical safety procedures article lists the critical equipment and procedures for the electrical inspector, home inspector, or other professionals who examine residential electrical systems. These electrical inspection safety suggestions are not a complete inventory of all electrical safety procedures.

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General Safety Suggestions for Electrical Inspectors

Open electrical panels are dangerous (C) Daniel FriedmanElectric shocks are responsible for about 1,000 deaths in the United States each year, or about 1% of all accidental deaths.- Refs.

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.

Reports of deaths during home inspections: ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, has reported (to DF) a single death of an inspector while at work. A Canadian home inspector fell from an improperly installed steel ladder "affixed" to a multi-story building. That tragic death which was reported (by NY Metro ASHI News) in 1990.

Inspectors climbing in, on, around buildings should guard against becoming complacent, overconfident, or careless. ASHI Standards of Practice provide that an inspector may refuse to enter, inspect, access any component based on concern for safety. In our photo the inspector is pointing out how easily an inspector might touch live electrical components while also becoming grounded by a gas pipe.

High-tension current generally causes the most serious injuries, although fatal electrocutions may occur with household current (e.g., 110 V in the United States and Canada and 220 V in Europe, Australia, and Asia).

Contact with alternating current at 60 cycles per second (the frequency used in most US household and commercial sources of electricity) may cause tetanic skeletal muscle contractions, preventing self-release from the source of the electricity and thereby leading to prolonged exposure.

The repetitive frequency of alternating current also increases the likelihood of current flow through the heart during the relative refractory period (the "vulnerable period") of the cardiac cycle.

This exposure can precipitate ventricular fibrillation (VF), which is analogous to the R-on-T phenomenon.-- - September 2008

Pay attention, look carefully, move slowly before opening or exploring electrical equipment. Learn to recognize indications of a problem, such as but not limited to the examples in this article.

Do not assume anything when performing dangerous tasks such as inspecting electrical equipment.

Do not touch live wires or connections. Watch your hands and other body parts. Handling live electrical wires without special training and equipment is highly questionable and often fatal.

December 12, 1988 - Madison, WI - Michael E. Hammes, 26, died in an apparent electrocution while working in Madison. Hammes had been hired by CUNA Mutual Insurance Society to change ballasts on fluorescent lights. Authorities said he was replacing a fixture in a fourth floor bathroom while standing on a stepladder when he slumped to the floor.

Hammes apparently was electrocuted when he touched live wire with one hand and a metal partition with his body or other hand, according to Dana County Coroner Ray Wosepka.

Hammes was a first-year electronics student. Wosepka said his investigation showed the light fixture had been properly wired. Hammes apparently replaced a ballast, a [transformer] that controls the electrical flow to the light bulbs, and was attaching the live wire when it electrocuted him, Wosepka said. -- Ibid.

If in your opinion unsafe conditions exist at a property you are inspecting you should notify all parties concerned, including building occupants/management/owners, realtors involved, and other appropriate authorities.

December 18, 1988 - Smyrna, GA - A Smyrna family's troubles with a faulty circuit breaker in their mobile home ended in tragedy when a fire broke out and killed 18-year-old Jeffrey Scott Auton. Auton's family, experiencing problems with the main circuit breaker, went to a home products store to buy a new one for their trailer, said Fire Investigator David Herndon.

The store did not have a circuit breaker to fit the family's needs and a new one had to be ordered. .... Herndon said the fire was started when the circuit breaker shut down completely as three space heaters were running. The family had a history of problems with the breaker, particularly from a load put on it by a large heating unit. Herndon stated that after the fire there was not a trace left of the circuit breaker; it was completely gone from the panel. -- Ibid.

For example, what if the case above had happened the day after the property described had been examined by an ASHI inspector? Were there perhaps clues which telegraph a developing problem? What about anecdotal reports from the occupants of recurrent breaker tripping, visible signs of overheating in the panel, widespread and unusual use of electric heaters, or evidence of work in the panel by untrained people? These risks to occupants are also a hazard to the inspector on several bases.

How much electrical energy would it take to kill a home inspector?

Wet skin (standing in water, sweaty) has a resistance of about 1000 ohms. (Dry skin will have a higher resistance, and of course an inspector wearing protective gear such as rubber gloves, rubber-soled shoes, standing on an insulated mat, will have still higher electrical resistance, and safety.)

At this skin resistance, a current of only 0.1 to 0.3 amps at 100 Volts is sufficient to cause potentially fatal ventricular fibrillation. -- Wikipedia September 2008.

Protect yourself and your client from injury using but not limited to the suggestions we provide here and just below.

Electrical Inspection Safety Suggestions from Rex Cauldwell, a Master Electrician

OPINION-RC: "As a master electrician, here is how I teach opening a service panel in my seminars: "The lucky 7""

  1. Eye protection: Wear safety glasses--electrical panels have been know to explode upon opening.
  2. Insulating gloves: Wear rubber dishwashing gloves--panels have been known to become electrically hot as a screw falls when cover is removed.
  3. Look before touching: Don't approach the panel until you give an overall look of the surrounding area to see if anything looks wrong--such as water on the floor under the panel.
  4. Avoid Shock Pathways: Don't have any part of your body touching items adjacent to the panel.
  5. Insulating floor pad: On a concrete or dirt floor, lay down a thick rubber Welcome mat and stand on it as you open the panel (wear rubber-soled shoes).
  6. Insulating tools: Use insulated handle tools--I use a Milwaukee electric screwdriver.
  7. Panel Door & Screws: Once door is open (in a Federal Pacific panel (and some other models) beware of falling trim and breakers that pop out), set door aside and don't lose the screws

-- Rex Cauldwell

Further Safety Warning --DF: these are helpful electrical safety suggestions from an experienced electrician. No list of suggestions is complete and these presume that they are being followed by an experienced, licensed electrician. [Thanks to reader Mike D. for careful editing.]

For example, there are almost certainly gloves and/or boots specifically recommended for this application; there are specific safety details to look at and for before touching an electrical panel, and procedures for using electrical test equipment to test or examine a suspect electrical panel.

Recommended books on electrical wiring:


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