Electric shock drowning- what you need to know
In the summer, the enjoyable activities of swimming and boating can quickly become dangerous. While water-safety behaviors such as wearing life jackets and maintaining safe boating speeds have become commonplace, a serious hazard remains that is often overlooked. This silent killer, known as electric shock drowning, occurs when an electric current escapes boats, docks, electric lines or lights, shocking and paralyzing nearby swimmers making them unable to swim to safety. There are no visible signs of electrical current seeping into water, and many electric shock drowning deaths are usually recorded as drowning because victims show no signs of burns, so many instances remain undocumented.
But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from the hidden danger of electric shock drowning and common boat electrical hazards with these handy tips from Electrical Safety Foundation International.
- Never allow anyone to swim near docks. Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat.
- Always maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between your boat and nearby power lines. When fishing, make sure to cast the line away from power lines.
- If you feel a tingle while swimming, the water may be electrified. Get out as soon as possible and avoid the use of metal objects such as ladders. Don’t ever go in the water to save someone who has been shocked because you could be shocked, as well. Turn off the power and then use a nonmetal object to pull the swimmer out of the water.
- Have your boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician who is familiar with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes 303 and NFPA 70.
- Have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) – fast-acting circuit breakers designed to shut off power when they sense an imbalance – installed on your dock, boat and outlets for lighting around pools and spas and test them once a month.
- Consider having Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCIs) installed on boats to protect nearby swimmers from potential electricity leakage into the water surrounding your boat.
- Only use shore or marine power cords, plugs, receptacles and extension cords that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL).
- Never use cords that are frayed or damaged or that have had the prongs removed or altered.
- Never stand or swim in water when turning off electrical devices or switches.
- Build pools and decks at least five feet from all underground electric lines and at least 25 feet away from overhead electric lines.
- Do not put electric appliances within 10 feet of a swimming pool and use battery-operated appliances near pools if possible.
- When you get out of the water, don’t touch any electrical appliances until you are completely dry.
Safely hunting the Right of Way
Hunters have their sights on wild game when preparing for hunting season, but Central Alabama Electric Cooperative (CAEC) urges hunters to take precautions and be aware of potential electrical hazards while hunting. In a state dominated by hardwood hollows and pine thickets, wildlife can often be seen along rights of way.
For landowners and their guests, this wildlife activity and low cover provide a unique and fruitful hunting experience that can be enjoyed by both seasoned and first-time hunters. But like any other hunting scenario, caution must be taken in these areas, and additional precautions are necessary when hunting near power lines.
In many cases, landowners should place hunting structures along the edge of rights of way and maintain at least 15 feet from existing structures on the cooperatives lines. On transmission rights of ways (tall high voltage lines) more distance is required and a call to the owner of the lines would ensure safe placement of structures.
To ensure the rights of way remain safe for property owners and to provide access for proper operation and maintenance of lines, the following structures, even if temporary, are prohibited and are subject to immediate removal or relocation:
- Any structure attached to a transmission tower or power pole
- A structure blocking access or located too close to facilities
- Structures underneath high-voltage lines
Note the location of power lines and other electrical equipment before you begin a hunt. Be especially careful and observant in wooded areas where power lines are easy to overlook.
Up, up and Away! Fly Drones Safely
In backyards and neighborhoods across the country, aviation enthusiasts are able to take to the sky thanks to drones–unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). As a result, there is an increasing need to ensure that these craft are flown safely, especially when around power lines and electrical equipment.
If a drone flies into a power line, it could cause power interruptions. In October of 2015, a man flew a drone into power lines, causing an outage affecting nearly 650 people in West Hollywood. If a drone does get caught in power lines or equipment, such as a substation, you should never attempt to retrieve the aircraft. Call the power provider to safely remove the drone. Drones can even result in downed lines, which is a dangerous safety hazard. Don’t touch the drone, power lines or anything in contact with the lines (such as a fence or tree limb) and call 911 to notify emergency personnel and the utility immediately.
Remember these simple, but vital, tips if you’re taking your drone to the skies:
- Before flying, check the drone for any damage and have it repaired.
- Never fly drones beyond your line of sight.
- Do not fly in bad weather conditions, such as low viability or high winds.
- Never fly recklessly. You could be fined for endangering other people or aircraft.
- Do not fly near substations.
The simplest tip is to look around. Know where power lines are and keep them in mind as you take the skies.
• If you’re close enough to the storm to hear thunder, you’re most likely close enough to be struck by lightning. Seek shelter immediately.
• Do not seek shelter under trees, picnic or rain shelters or in open-frame vehicles.
• Don’t plug in or unplug anything electrical during the storm.
• Don’t use corded telephones – phone use is the number one cause of indoor lightning injuries in the United States.
• Avoid contact with water, pipes, washers or dryers.
• If you can’t find shelter in a building or in a closed-frame vehicle, keep your feet together and sit on the ground away from water, high ground or open spaces.
• If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and care for the victim immediately. You can not be harmed by touching the victim after he or she has been struck.
Many lightning victims are caught outside during a storm because they did not act promptly to get to a safe place, or they go back outside after the storm has passed. Be weather aware and keep yourself and those around you safe!
Surviving Auto Accidents Involving Power Lines
Having a power line fall on your car can be one of the most frightening experiences you could ever have involving a motor vehicle. When a power line falls on your car, the potential exists for the vehicle to be energized with electricity, therefore if you attempt to exit it as you normally do, you could be electrocuted. The natural path for electricity is to the ground. And because tires are not good conductors of electricity, your body might become the conductor if you touch the ground and the vehicle at the same time.
In some cases, the vehicle can remain energized and anyone who touches the vehicle and the ground at the same time could be electrocuted.
If you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation, follow these safety rules:
- If your car isn’t on fire, call 911 and stay in your car. If you don’t have a cell phone and aren’t able to dial 911, ask anyone who approaches if they will call for you, but let them know not to touch the vehicle. Do not have them hand you the phone; instead, tell them to call 911, explain the situation and provide your location.
- Be extremely cautious not to touch the car’s frame. If there are other passengers in the car, communicate with them that the safest thing you can do is to stay inside. Even one person exiting the car incorrectly could put everyone in danger of electrocution.
- Be aware of other automobiles coming behind you or approaching the power lines from the opposite lane; honk your horn to signal to them that they should not get near the line.
- Alert those in the area not to touch your car or get anywhere near the fallen power line.
- Once the responders arrive to the scene, they may approach the car and possibly ask questions or give you instructions. Follow whatever advice they give you, as they will be able to assess your individual situation. Only exit the car after the utility has disconnected and grounded the power line and it is safe to get out of your vehicle.
- If you think your car is on fire, make sure before taking the risk to evacuate. If you see smoke but no flames, watch the smoke to make sure that it isn’t exhaust or steam from the radiator coming from your car. Smoke is thick and won’t dissipate quickly, whereas exhaust will fade into the air. If you see flames, your car is definitely on fire and you should vacate as quickly and carefully as you can. Proceed by following these important steps:
- Open the latch of the door and push it open. Remove any loose-fitting clothing like jackets or scarves. The metal frame of the car could be charged with electricity by the power line, so it’s important not to contact the car and the ground at the same time.
- After you open the door to the car, hold your legs together and bring them slightly inward toward your body. Rotate your body, making sure to not let your feet or any other part of your body touch the ground while touching the car at the same time. Jump, don’t slide, out of the car. Your body should be in the air, not sitting in the car, when your feet touch the ground.
- Shuffle away from your car as fast as you can, keeping both feet together on the ground at all times. Alternately, you could also hop away from your car. If you choose to hop from the car, make sure that both of your feet hit the ground at the same time. Keep going until you’re at least 40 feet from the car.
- Call 911 – tell them your exact location and let them know that a power line has fallen onto your car and that the vehicle has caught on fire. They will instruct you as to the safe measures needed to get you and your passengers to safety.
Remember, fallen or broken power lines may still be energized, even if they’re not sparking, smoking or making a buzzing sound. A basic knowledge of electrical safety can change the outcome of any disastrous incident.
Make room for roadside crews
When the winds blow and storms roll across our area, you might be more alert and expectant to see our line crews on the side of the road working to restore power. But do you expect to see them roadside on a bright and sunny day?
To maintain our 5,000 plus miles of line, CAEC’s crews and contractors work not only during storms, but on clear days as well, a time when you might find yourself more easily distracted while driving. To help make our roadways safer for drivers, utility workers, emergency responders and maintenance personnel, The National Safety Council (NSC) observes April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. This recognition draws attention to the dangers of not having your full attention on the road around you.
One of the leading causes of distracted driving is motorists being preoccupied by mobile devices—causing 1.6 million crashes and 330,000 injuries each year according to the National Safety Council. To help combat this issue, Alabama bans texting while driving for all motorists and cell phone use for novice drivers (age 16 to 17) with fines and punishments for those caught breaking these laws. Additionally, in 2009, Alabama passed a law (Move-Over Act) designed to protect law individuals who are conducting business on Alabama’s roadways.
In addition to these laws, CAEC personnel take safety precautions to make drivers aware of their presence, including signs to warn motorists they are in the vicinity, such as cones around vehicles at the work site, rotating and flashing yellow lights and reflective traffic vests. If you approach a crew while traveling on a two-lane road, moving over to the next lane might not be an option. In this case, slow down when approaching roadside crews. If you approach a crew while traveling on a four-lane road, and safety and traffic conditions allow, you should move over into the far lane.
Also, remember these tips whenever you’re behind the wheel:
- Drive without reading or sending texts, email, using the internet or social media of any kind.
- Wait to text or call others until they have stopped driving and stop texting or end a phone call with others if you learn they are driving.
- Utilize Bluetooth technology to either conduct your phone calls or to send an auto reply text message to inform those texting you that you are driving and cannot respond.
- If driving with a passenger, ask him or her to text or make calls for you.
- When alone, turn your cell phone off before starting to drive.
- Pull over to a safe location to eat or apply make-up—these can prove just as distracting as a cell phone.
- If you are the passenger of a distracted driver, point out the danger of his/her action and offer to help with the task.
There’s plenty of room for all. Let’s work together to keep everyone safe on our local roadways.
Know What’s Below: Call Before You Dig
Spring and summer bring with them many outdoor projects. If your planned projects include digging, like planting a tree, adding a deck or
bringing in a backhoe for trench work, always plan ahead so you’ll have a few extra days so the job can be done safely. Underground utilities, such as buried gas, water and electric lines, can be a shovel thrust away from turning a spring project into a disaster.
To find out whether utility lines are located on your property, simply dial 811 from anywhere in the country a few days prior to digging. Your call will be routed to a local “one call” center. Tell the operator the address of where you’re planning to dig and what type of work you will be doing, and the affected local utilities will be notified.
In a few days, a locator will arrive to designate the approximate position of any underground lines, pipes and cables with flags or marking paint so you’ll know the location of the infrastructure. Then the safe digging can begin.
Although many homeowners tackling do-it-yourself digging projects are aware of “Call Before You Dig” services, the majority don’t take advantage of the service. A national survey showed that only 33 percent of homeowners called to have their utility lines marked before starting their digging projects, according to the Common Ground Alliance, a federally mandated group of underground utility and damage prevention industry professionals.
And while light gardening typically doesn’t call for deep digging, other seemingly simple tasks like planting shrubs or installing a new mailbox post can damage utility lines. A severed line can disrupt service to an entire neighborhood, harm diggers and potentially result in fines and repair costs.
Never assume the location or depth of underground utility lines. There’s no need: the 811 service is free, prevents the inconvenience of having utilities interrupted and can help you avoid serious injury. For more information about local services, visit www.call811.com.
Safety with Outdoor Extension Cords
Whenever the weather gets nice, it’s a ritual to begin or continue yard work and ambitious outdoor projects. With the aid of outdoor extension cords, many people have already been mowing, trimming and tackling outdoor tasks for several weeks. When using these cords, it is extremely important to use them properly and safely to avoid hazards. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 400 people are electrocuted each year using electrical appliances and about 9 percent of electrocutions involve the use of lawn and garden equipment and ladders.
The most common question regarding outdoor extension cords is: Extension cords are classified for either indoor or outdoor use. What’s the difference between the two?
Simply but importantly, the insulation, or jacket, of an outdoor-rated extension cord is made of a tougher material, which is designed to withstand temperature changes, moisture, ultraviolet rays and some chemicals. While it’s fine to use an outdoor power cord indoors, never use an indoor-rated extension cord for an outside job— doing so could cause electric shock or create a fire hazard.
So whether you’re doing routine yard work or a special outdoor project, following these tips can help protect you, your family and home from harm.
- Use only weather-resistant heavy gauge extension cords marked “for outdoor use.” These extension cords have connectors molded onto them to prevent moisture from seeping in and the outer coatings are designed to withstand being dragged along the ground. In addition, these cords have added safeguards designed to withstand the outdoor environment.
- Examine cords before each use — damaged cords should be replaced immediately.
- Even though they’re rated for outdoor use, keep all outdoor extension cords clear of standing water and protected from the elements.
- Keep your work area clean and free from debris.
- Store cords inside when not in use. If left outside for long periods, the materials that make up the cord can break down and cause dangers such as sparking, fire or possible shock.
- Do not hang cords over items such as nails, beams and pipes which can cause stress on the covering.
- To prevent overheating, do not cover cords with cloth, paper or any other material while plugged in.
- Extend the cord fully while in use — coiled cords risk the danger of overheating.
Be mindful to keep outdoor wall receptacle covers closed when not in use because moisture causes hazards when you are using an extension cord outdoors. When moisture enters an electrical circuit, it can short out the circuit and cause an electrical fire or electrocution. Using these precautionary tips for outdoor extension cords can help you stay safe while being productive.
Splashing into Summer Safety
During the summer when you may be enjoying outdoor activities such as swimming, it is important to keep in mind that dangers are present whenever water can potentially come in contact with electricity. Review the following tips to avoid hazards and potentially serious injuries:
- Keep cords and electrical devices away from pools.
- Never handle electrical items when you are wet.
- Don’t allow power cord connections to become wet.
- Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries. Portable GFCIs require no tools to install and are available at prices ranging from $12 to $30.
- Use outlet covers on outdoor receptacles near swimming pools.
- Electrical devices such as circuit breakers, fuses, GFCIs, receptacles, plugs and switches can malfunction when water and residue get inside. Replace those that have been submerged.
- Indoor outlets or electrical cords that have become immersed due to flooding may energize water, a potential deadly condition.
- If a switch or an appliance has become wet or submerged, have an electrician check the house wiring and the appliance to make sure it is safe to use before flipping a switch or plugging in an appliance.
- When using a wet-dry vacuum cleaner, or a pressure washer, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid electric shock.
- Boating is another seasonal activity. Sailboats often have masts of 30 feet or more, which are dangerous when they come into contact with overhead power lines. Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines to help prevent lethal electrical hazards.
Electrical safety awareness near water can help keep summer outdoor activities from becoming disasters for everyone.