Electrical worker on residential power line (C) Daniel Friedmanh Outdoor Electrical Safety Hazards for Electrical Inspectors & Home Inspectors

  • OUTDOOR ELECTRICAL INSPECTION SAFETY - CONTENTS: Safety procedures during inspection of outdoor electrical components. Standards for Electrical System Inspections. How to use test equipment during electrical inspections - Using DMMs and VOMs Safely
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to safely conduct the inspection of outside electrical components at buildings
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This electrical safety procedures article discusses outdoor safety hazards at residential properties and suggests safety procedures for the electrical inspector, home inspector, or other professionals who examine residential electrical systems.

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The Electrical Panel Inspection for Water & Rust Begins Outside

Service conductor inspection start point (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesASHI Home Inspector Educational Seminar Proceedings: ASHI-NE Chapter Annual conference, September 22-23, 2008, Randolph, MA. -- by Daniel Friedman.

8. System: Electrical Inspection Standards for Home Inspectors (ASHI and other Associations & State Regulations)
8.1.C. [The inspector shall observe] amperage and voltage ratings of the service

Keep in mind that this determination is required by ASHI Standards and is to be derived based on visual inspection of the wiring and equipment. It is not required to use test equipment for this purpose. Sketch courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

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.

These 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.

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Electric 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.

See ELECTRIC METERS & METER BASES for a discussion of examining the electric meter and meter base portion of the service entry.

See AMPS& VOLTS DETERMINATION for determining the ampacity of an electrical service: How to determine the electrical Ampacity and Voltage provided to a building discusses in detail how to determine the service amps and voltage by visual inspection.


8.1 The electrical inspector shall observe:

Electrical service masthead sketch (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Observe does not mean touch except where removing access covers or operating certain devices is explicitly required.

8.1.A. Electrical service entrance conductors Inspection Procedure

When new service entry cables are installed don't assume that those exposed bare ends of old SEC you see are "dead." Non-contact voltage sensing devices can determine if any questionable wiring is "hot."

Sketch courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

Electrical worker on residential power line (C) Daniel FriedmanhWatch the location of overhead lines when moving ladders to access roof and if the roof is walked, watch for the location of power lines, antennas, guy-wires, and masts when getting to, walking on, and getting off the roof.

November 10, 1988 - Marshall, TX - Donald Cleveland Jones, 45, was electrocuted when equipment he was moving came into contact with electrical wires, according to deputies. -- Same source as previous news report.

If you see fallen wires do not go near them. Notify the utility company and appropriate others promptly.

Also watch out for TV antennas which can be pushed into or fall onto electric wires. -- advice from NY Central Hudson Gas and Electric Company, G&E/1-2/85 consumer safety pamphlet.

Use extreme caution in crawl spaces and wet crawl or basement areas - avoid contacting electrical components.

We advise against entering wet or flooded sub areas at all. we have an unsubstantiated report of an inspector [or contractor] death by electrocution while inspecting a damp crawl space using a light plugged into an extension cord.

Use battery-powered lighting or if an extension cord is required, inspectors should provide their own portable GFCI protected receptacle.

Cut service entry cable may still be live (C) Daniel Friedman Don Hartley

Do Not Assume that "Old Wires" are "Dead"

The Tiff Tic TracerTM [Figure 2, page 11 in the original article, and shown in the next text section below] will not make a quantitative measurement of voltage.

But this instrument is very helpful in checking for live 120/240V voltage at wires and devices.

Without physical contact, the instrument will indicate the presence of a nearby live AC voltage field.

We found a property at which the old service entry cable (SEC) at the building corner was left in place, cut with a hacksaw about 6' from the ground, bare wire ends exposed, electrically live - it had been left connected in an old main panel which was used by the installer as a "sub panel" when the new larger main was installed.

This was an exciting installation!

See AMPS & VOLTS DETERMINATION for details of how to determine the ampacity and voltage of electrical service at a building.

Advice For Handling Immediate Threats to Life and Safety at a Building Inspection

If in the inspector's judgment equipment is an immediate threat to life and property, such as a boiler whose flue connection has fallen off, we recommend that dangerous equipment be shut down and the appropriate people notified. See Shutting Down Unsafe Equipment. In some cases "appropriate people" includes not only the client and building owner, but also building occupants.

In some instances such as sparking electrical panels, gas leaks, or evidence of a fire, the inspector and everyone else should leave the building immediately and from outside, call the fire department and as appropriate, the gas company, police, or rescue personnel.


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