May is National Electrical Safety Month and the theme this year is “Electrical Safety During Natural Disasters.” While this event is sponsored by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), still so much of what we do here at NFPA is closely aligned with the mission of this campaign. We aim every day to keep everyone safe from electrical hazards during a natural disaster and all other times of the year.
Electrical safety during a natural disaster is often the last thing on the mind of those who are watching their entire lives floating away in flood waters. Often in this situation emotions are on high and the concern is with preserving and saving items within a home that represent far more than just physical objects. Think about how many items you might have in storage that hold a sort of sentimental value. Items that if lost in a flood would be devastating to give up. Personally, I can think of a few boxes that live in my basement that are 100% irreplaceable.
But what would I do if I suddenly found my basement full of water from a storm? Would I attempt to rescue the precious memories stored within those boxes? Are there any dangers to attempting such a daring rescue? Unfortunately, I would have to ride this one out. During a flood, there are often times where water will rise to above the receptacle height and can become energized. Combined with the fact that underneath this watery intruder lays numerous paths that provide a way for current to get back to the source. Flooded basements can often become a potential killer.
Entering flood waters in a basement for any reason can be fatal, but there are a few precautions that you can take to ensure that you don’t find yourself wading through water that you might never return from.
First, if you know the possibility of a flood exists or that an upcoming storm presents strong wind and lightning potential, it is a good idea to turn off all non-essential circuits. However, making the call on what is considered “essential” or not can be tough if you don’t know the ins and outs of how your house is wired. Therefore, many recommend turning off the main disconnect to the home to prevent damage to the wiring system that might occur due to line surges and high voltage crossovers. This also de-energizes any equipment that could lead to an electrical hazard if flooding occurs. If there is a back-up generator installed for the home, turning it off as well can help prevent electrified flood waters.
Second, if at all possible, move precious or important items to “higher ground.” If you know that a big storm is coming and the possibility of a flooded home is real, move your important items to an upper level of the home. This way you are not tempted to forge your way through potentially hazardous flood waters to save your things. In past flood disasters, there have been many instances where folks have been injured due to electrified water; being prepared for this kind of event can keep you from adding to the statistics.
Third, It is also important to ensure that all safety devices such as GFCI and surge protective devices are in good working order. The manufacturers of these items will spell out how to test and maintain this equipment. Keep in mind that most manufacturers have recommendations for regular testing and maintenance to make sure these devices will function when needed. So before putting your life on the line or assuming that your home theater is protected by that surge protection device, verify that these devices are in good working order by following the recommended testing procedure.
Lastly, DO NOT re-energize any electrical equipment that has been submerged in flood waters. It is impossible to know the extent of the damage without having a competent individual such as an electrician or inspector evaluate the equipment prior to turning it back on. Flood waters usually consist of more than just water and even though equipment might be completely dry, there is no telling what else could have been left behind. Often equipment that has been submerged in a flooded home will just need to be replaced. Some equipment might be able to be refurbished, however when you weigh the cost of refurbishing vs replacing, it is usually more cost effective and quicker to replace the damaged item.
These are just some high level items to help keep us all safe this storm season. While many of you are already on NFPA Xchange and regularly consume safety-related content like this, we all have family and friends who might have no idea what to do in a storm to protect their belongings and stay clear from danger zones that can be present after disaster strikes. Please share this blog and additional information that can be found on the NFPA Emergency Preparedness website. Until next time, be safe!
Spring is right around the corner and after the winter that many of us have experienced, especially in the northern regions of this country, I know I’m not alone when I say that it can’t come soon enough! The snow will melt, the grass will grow, trees will bud, and people will flock to the water. But there is a hidden danger - electricity - in marinas and boatyards that many of us may not be aware of. So whether you own the marina or you're a contractor who services one, there are key safety steps that must be considered and acted upon.
As many of us know, electricity finds its way into the water through a myriad of ways and often can be deadly before an issue is noticed. However, many of the problems that can exist in and around docks and marinas can be prevented or mitigated. Actions can be taken to ensure that the equipment designed to keep us safe remains functional. Regular inspections, testing, and maintenance help to find deficiencies in the system and lifesaving equipment such as ground-fault circuit interrupters. When docks and marinas open up in the springtime they need to be ready to operate safely.
So what does this entail? Taking a deeper dive into the integrity of the electrical system before the boats arrive. What exactly should a marina owner be looking for? Where should they be looking and what should they be doing to make sure that the summer doesn’t start off in tragedy? The following are three considerations you must keep in mind:
1. Test, test, and test some more!
Devices like GFCI receptacles and ground-fault protection circuit breakers always come with a recommendation from the manufacturer to test their functionality on a regular basis. Each device needs to be tested to ensure that it will work when it needs to work. Every manufacturer has their own process, but the basics are the same. Activate the test function, often a button with the word “TEST” on it, and verify that the circuit has indeed been interrupted. This can usually be accomplished without the need for fancy testing equipment, often a simple plug-in circuit tester is sufficient to show power is on and off after the “TEST” function of the receptacle or circuit breaker has been activated. It should be noted that it is important to use the provided test button and not one on a “tester” as the manufacturer put it there for a reason. Many manufacturers require the provided test button be used to verify operation of the unit, but you should check with your specific equipment as to what is allowed.
2. Check the physical condition of the wiring system
The shoreline of a body of water can be an unforgiving place and is brutally hard on electrical systems that are installed in and around the water. Raceways can come apart at fittings from movement due to waves, collisions with boats can damage wiring methods or shake loose connections, and moisture can wreak havoc on anything metal. And if your marina is close to the ocean, all of these issues can be far more exaggerated. So where to look? Wiring around expansion joints or where a dock or pier connects to a solid structure tend to be exposed to movement that is likely to separate conduits whether they are glued or mechanically connected. Another point in the system that is prone to damage is where conduits or other types of raceways connect to fixed equipment. For this reason, keep an eye out for raceways that have pulled loose from boxes and terminations around equipment like shore power outlets or lamp posts. Also, make sure that raceways are still adequately supported. Often the corrosive environments around water can lead to screws and fasteners rusting and falling apart. This can then put a strain on the raceway terminations and ultimately the conductors themselves.
3. Obtain a leakage current measurement device
A leakage current measurement device is a tool that every marina owner should have. In fact, per the 2020 National Electrical Code® these devices are required where there are more than three receptacles that supply shore power to boats. This allows the boats themselves to be tested to see how much current is leaking into the water from the boat. However, they will only work to prevent hazards from the boats if marina owners have them and use them.
So remember, inspecting electrical systems is the first line of defense against this silent killer that can turn fun into tragedy without warning. Testing the lifesaving devices like GFCI receptacles and GFP circuit breakers can ensure they operate when we need them the most. And having the right tools to determine where the problem is coming from can also help prevent problem boats from connecting to the electrical system and putting a hazard on your shores.
For additional, related information, please visit NFPA’s NEC webpage.
Historic flooding in the Missouri River and Mississippi River basins has plagued the Midwest in recent days. While Nebraska and Iowa are seeing the worst of the flooding, still more rivers in six states at over 40 different locations have reached record levels.
In response to this crisis, NFPA is offering a timely video resource to help contractors in these areas assess electrical equipment that has been exposed to water through flooding. The video is part of NFPA’s popular and ongoing NFPA Live series and appeared in September 2017. During this live video event, host Gil Moniz, a former Senior Electrical Specialist at NFPA, answered follow-up questions submitted through the commenting tool.
The presentation provides information on how to assess electrical equipment that has been exposed to water through flooding. Moisture from flood water or contaminates in the water may affect the reliability and functionality of electrical equipment. Electrical equipment exposed to water can be extremely hazardous and must be properly assessed before it can be put back into service.
NFPA has additional, related information on this topic including NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, which provides a useful framework for recovering electrical equipment and systems after a disaster.
Is the electrical industry 'qualified' for safety in the same way we require workers to be qualified? NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace provides a definition for a "qualified person" and requires that only qualified workers perform work involving electrical hazards. However, the fact remains that in many aspects, the electrical industry as a whole is not supportive of a safety culture.
In my recent NFPA Live, I presented examples that demonstrated how, as an industry, we have yet to adopt safety on the same level as energy efficiency and functionality. During the live event I answered this question from a member. I hope you find some value in it.
NFPA Live is an interactive video series in which members of NFPA staff address some of the most frequent topics they receive through the Member's Only Technical Question service. If you are currently an NFPA Member you can view the entire video by following this link. If you're not currently a member, join today!
Keeping employees safe from electrical hazards is a number one priority in a facility; it is also the law. Developing and implementing an electrical safety program (ESP) is a key step to creating a workplace that doesn’t put employees in harm's way. However, building a program from scratch or rebuilding a flawed program can be quite daunting. To help you, NFPA developed a new workshop that provides you the opportunity to practice many of the steps needed in developing an ESP. The first offering of this application-style workshop is being held in August on the island of Maui in Hawaii and promises to provide attendees with the needed experience to develop effective electrical safety programs in their own facilities.
In my recent NFPA Live session I focused on one of the exercises from this new workshop, which is designed to help you determine if a task is justified to be performed while energized. I received this follow-up question from a member. I hear this question a lot so I’m sharing my answer here with you.
Check out the video to hear the question and response, then get more info and register for this groundbreaking electrical safety training in paradise. I hope you find my response valuable and hope to see you in Hawaii. Mahalo!
Derek Vigstol is an electrical technical lead at NFPA. NFPA Live is an interactive video series in which members of NFPA staff address some of the most frequent topics they receive through the Member's Only Technical Question service. If you are currently an NFPA Member you can view the entire video by following this link. If you're not currently a member, join today!
I'm often perplexed at what is the most effective method of improving the safety of electrical installations around the world. Should we focus on providing the installation community with better tools, assistance and guidance on installing electrical equipment or should we focus on supporting the inspection community and rely on the AHJ community to ensure that installations are safe upon completion? To me it's a little bit of a chicken and egg paradox. On one hand, better and more thorough enforcement of Code requirements will lead to more installations that meet or exceed the requirements of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC). But on the flip side, if we focus on helping the installation community, it leads to compliant installations long before the AHJ ever steps foot on a job site.
Each approach presents its own unique set of pros and cons. For instance, creating a culture where inspection is less needed due to better installations opens the door down the road for installers to cut corners where they know inspectors won't look. It also allows government officials to use a "lack of citations" as fuel for discussions around manpower. If a jurisdiction is seriously looking at cutting staff salaries to meet budget constraints, they might look upon this as an opportunity to cover larger territories with less inspectors; after all, the electricians in the area must really know what they are doing when inspectors rarely cite NEC® violations. I think for now the answer lies somewhere in the middle between the two extremes: provide tools, training, and solutions that set installers up to be able to install electrical system while reducing the friction that exists when referencing the NEC. At the same time, provide the inspection community with guidance and training on how to perform electrical inspections and needed guidance on professional qualifications for electrical inspectors.
NFPA has been busy over the last year developing two new documents to provide this needed guidance. NFPA 1078: Standard for Electrical Inspector Professional Qualifications and NFPA 78: Guide on Electrical Inspections were created in response to a call for help from the inspection community. Recently, NFPA’s Jeff Sargent discussed the development of these documents during an NFPA Live Member’s Only event. Here is the portion of the video where he breaks it down.
Simultaneously, NFPA has been busy putting together a plan for how to reduce friction between the NEC and its users. As we all know, the book itself can be difficult to read and understand. Providing training and products that offer a better explanation of code requirements and how to apply provisions of the NEC has been a core focus of NFPA lately. Tools and solutions that both save time and present needed information to the installation community at the time that they need it will work two-fold in improving electrical safety. By making both the installer’s job easier and more efficient, they are able to serve more clients while fostering a better understanding of NEC requirements. When more jobs are being completed by qualified personnel and being completed in compliance with the NEC, the safety of our installations increases significantly.
It is an exciting time here at NFPA as we focus on transitioning a 120-year-old standards development organization to a modern-day information and knowledge provider committed to improving the safety ecosystem and eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.
Shutting off the electric supply to a building in the event of a fire or other emergency has been a problem that has plagued firefighters for many years. As they attempt to put out a fire and rescue occupants, electrical systems pose significant line-of-duty hazards. In many instances, when a house is fully involved and the fire does not present a rescue situation, fire departments will rely on the electric utility to arrive and shut off the power supply to the building, a delay that often results in a total loss. Firefighters have argued that they could work safer and be more effective if they could simply turn off a building’s electric supply themselves.
To address this issue, electrical experts put the subject on the table at the recent first draft meeting of the 2020 NFPA 70: National Electrical Code, along with other topics that point to evolving technology and building practices that can help improve safety.
Learn more about this issue in my recent In Compliance column in the March/April 2018 issue of NFPA Journal where I discuss some of these key topics as well as a handful of proposed revisions such as Article 230 of the NEC, in greater detail.
If you've played the NEC Challenge App, then you have answered the questions, competed against electrical code fanatics from around the country and improved your NEC knowledge. But do you have what it takes to come up with the actual questions for the Challenge? If so, NFPA has a way for you to join in its creation. If you can send an email; you can be participate!
How? It's easy. Just submit your questions to NECChallengeQs@nfpa.org. Questions should be submitted in a word document attached to the email, and they must meet the following criteria for consideration:
Keep in mind that selected questions will be entered in the NEC Challenge App game and contestants only have a limited time to answer. Also, this is not the place to submit questions for NFPA technical experts; these questions are best handled by calling 1-800-344-3555 and submitting your question through NFPA's technical question service. Please note that the technical question service is available to NFPA members and AHJs.
So what are you waiting for? Get your questions in today and be part of the NEC Challenge!