Magazine article Risk Management

The Shocking Truth of Electrical Risks

Magazine article Risk Management

The Shocking Truth of Electrical Risks

Article excerpt

Electrocution, severe burns, debilitating shocks - these are some of the terrible injuries that can result from accidents with electricity. Due to changes in the nation's electrical codes and the fact that problems exist with the wiring in many buildings, electrical safety is a critical issue in both industry and the home, said Edward Eagan, a special assistant to the New England regional administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "Electricity is different than other types of risk because it's hard to detect - you can't see it, hear it or

The first problem is the fact that 50 percent of the nation's electrical outlets (or "receptacles") are miswired, and many are no longer serviceable, said Mr. Eagan. This problem is partly due to the fact that wiring in plugs traditionally had to be color-coded until regulatory changes in 1975 removed this requirement from the code. Consequently, man electrical plugs are miswired and mechanics, when they attempt to repair existing wires that are all one color, may become confused. This, in turn, can result in accidents.

"Since all the wires are now one color, we have a problem," said Mr. Eagan. "Supposedly, this problem was fixed in 1990 when regulations said that you had to identify voltage and the phase of the conductor. But that hasn't been done."

Further complicating matters is the fact that many of the nation's buildings contain wiring that is old and in need of replacement. In some buildings, for example, decades-old, rubber-covered wires are still in existence, despite fire codes that mandate their replacement. In extreme cases, this rubber insulation, when handled, will actually crumble. Also, some older fire codes mandated that some of these wire casings not be exposed to temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Clearly, in a country with many months of hot weather, these codes are violated on an average summer day.

"This is the insulation that is in your homes today," said Mr. Eagan. "We're burning down the nation. Go to any old neighborhood and see how many fires they have." Yet no regulatory agency will undertake the task of changing these laws, he said. …

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