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Electrocution Hazard Awareness

During Hurricane Sandy, the storm that hit Northeast United Sates, a woman was unaware of a downed power-line that led to her death.  Others watched in horror as she stepped into the unseen hazard while taking videos of the storm.  On lookers were stunned by the sight and their inability to help.  One man had to be tackled by police to stop him from going to her and becoming the second victim.
Electricity is a hazard that must be respected.  In this case, the electrical wire was not where it was suppose to be, in the air.  During and after storms, one must be diligent about looking for downed power-lines on the ground.  Movies depict power-lines jumping and sparking that would make them obvious, but that is not what really happens.
Power-lines can lay on the ground, on a building, across a vehicle, etc. and never spark or jump.  This type of power-line is designed in such a way that, unless it comes into direct contact with one of the lines that make up the circuit, it is not going to throw sparks.  If you can imagine that when the line is laying on the ground, electrons try to find their way back to their source.  The amount of electrons where the power-line is touching the ground is greater than it is a few feet away.  When someone walks close to the line, the difference in the amount of electrons in the ground can cause current to flow through the person’s legs.  The usually leads to them collapsing on the ground and further causing electrons to flow through thr body which interrupts their heart and or burns them internally.  If a bystander attempts to rescue the person and grabs them, the number of electrons where they are standing is much less than the electrons in victim’s body.  This difference of electrons causes the flow of electrons (current)to pass through the rescuer.
If the original victim is passed out and their body is laying on the ground with zero difference in electrons  along the entire body (think about the bird on a power-line), they could be safe until the power is cut-off.  When a rescuer grabs the victim, they may actually cause the victim to die because of the current now flowing through both bodies.  This is why emergency response professionals are taught to assess the situation and do nothing until the power is cut-off.  Electricity can be very complicated and, for this reason alone, OSHA requires anyone within reaching distance of bare, energized electrical wires to be properly training in the recognition, evaluation, and control of electricity.
When you are taking a walk in your neighborhood during the day, after a storm, or taking videos during a storm, beware of electrical hazards.  Minimum approach distance should be 10 to 30 feet, but there are many things that can cause the electricity to track further than that from the energized line.   If you see a downed power-line, call 911 and tell them where the downed lines are located, stay back as far as you can, and keep everyone else away.  Keep in mind that unless you are trained in rescuing victims of an electrical hazard, you may become victim number 2 or cause the death of the first victim.
Be Safe!
Carl Potter, CSP

One Response to Electrocution Hazard Awareness

  • Terry Shannon says:

    Good story. I just talked to one of our managers that is out there with crews and they had a very similar incident, only they knew enough not to touch the wire. Ended up being energized at 4 kv. and laying on the ground. Could have been the same end result though.

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