By Greg Rowell
I wanted to share a very serious incident that I read about on ABC news a couple of days ago, because it demonstrates how serious electrical faults can be.
[Update: Sadly it appears that this child has suffered brain damage as a result of this accident and will not recover]
Our electricity network is very complex, and it is getting more complex as years go by.
In Australia, we have a network that uses an MEN system – This means Multiple Earthed Neutral.
I started to write about what all of that means, but I soon realised that most of what I was writing wouldn’t mean anything to most of my clients… I have therefore abandoned that approach 🙂
The MEN system helps to keep our electricity network stable; it also provide some safety within our homes.
Should it become faulty, people can be injured or die. The link above is a very sad incident, showing how serious things can be if our electricity system within our home becomes faulty.
So what should you do?
Most clients don’t realise that every electrician that carries out electrical work on your home is supposed to supply you with a CCEW (Certificate of Compliance Electrical Work) – see my compliance page.
Where an electrician alters an existing circuit, or installs an additional item, the electrician es required to undertake certain mandatory tests. These tests are set out in AS/NZS:3000/2007, with extensive instructions in AS/NZS:3017/2007.
Within the two rule books mentioned above, it is noted that we are to undertake certain mandatory tests. These mandatory tests are carried out alongside the new/altered circuit tests and include tests or inspections of the main earth electrode, equipotential bonding (to pipes or other building components). We may not need to physically test these components, but we are REQUIRED to inspect them. See below.
AS/NZS:3000/2007 – Verification:
- MEN connection
- Earth electrode
- Earthing conductors, e.g. size, identification
- Equipotential bonding conductors, e.g. size, identification
- Connections, joints and terminations
- Protection against external influences
- Connection to earth arrangements for other systems
So… Why test the earth?
This doesn’t mean the soil by the way, but the earth resistance 🙂
[the earth is the safety part of the electrical installation].
As mentioned above, the MEN system relies on an earth electrode, but it also relies on good connections, low resistances and interconnections with your pipes and building materials.
When any one of these connections start to deteriorate, the safety of your premises decreases, and lives can be put at risk.
With regards to the article mentioned above, it is likely that one or more of the connections I have mentioned above were faulty, and no-one had picked it up. This resulted in a little girl in very serious health difficulties.
When contact with electrical wiring occurs (electric shock), the nerves throughout the body are burned and sometimes destroyed. If the person survives, significant disability or brain damage may occur. Electric shock can be very serious or fatal (electrocution).
Electric shock: contact with electrical wiring that causes pain, skin and tissue burns at contact areas, temporary or permanent damage to nerves, temporary or permanent disability.
Electrocution: death by contact with electrical wiring.
Why am I mentioning this?
Many electricians that undertake electrical work, don’t test their work properly, or they don’t do a thorough inspection at the completion of their work. It takes time, it eats into their profits; clients generally want the cheapest jobs and contractors sometimes cut corners to get work. Also, some electricians cut corners to make more money and don’t understand the risks of doing so – or don’t care.
I am particularly careful with my work. I have a detailed form that I fill out at the completion of every electrical alteration or addition. This details the tests that have been completed, and shows the results of testing. It INCLUDES testing or visual checks of the earth electrode and bonding if able to be tested.
What if the tests or inspections show faults?
Should I find a fault at your home, I am required to report it before leaving the premises. If the client refuses to let me repair the fault, I am required to write a written report to the client. The client, under the Electricity Safety Act, is required by law to repair it.
What if I am asked by the client to leave the premises?
Once I have been asked to leave the premises, I can submit my report to the client. I would also report the situation to Fair Trading. It is then up to the home owner if they choose to repair the fault or not. Should someone be injured or killed, they will likely be prosecuted under the Electricity Safety Act.
The rules and our obligations continue to change.
In the past I have reported serious electrical hazards to Ausgrid Inspectors, and to Fair Trading. In a recent issue, a contractor was fined $7,300.00 for breaches of the Home Building Act. I have no problem reporting my peers who put the lives of others at risk.
Under NSW Law, I am required to operate in a manner that complies with good Workplace Heath and Safety requirements. This includes disconnecting circuits that are deemed unsafe, repairing or reporting unsafe conditions when found, or making urgent repairs where required.
Why would I go to these lengths?
The above ABC article shows clearly how serious electrical accidents can be. While we don’t know the full circumstances of the fault that occurred, a child’s life is on the line because of an electrical fault – that was possibly avoidable if proper checks had been carried out.
If we carry out the above checks, deterioration is more likely to be found; if found, it can be rectified and nobody is injured. While not all faults are easily found, if the checks are done, the risk is therefore lower, and injuries or accidents might be prevented.
I quote the last paragraph of the ABC article:
…work will now be done to determine what caused the open circuit neutral to occur, with the most likely causes erosion, loose connections or workmanship…
- Erosion and loose connections:
When proper inspections are done, erosion and loose connections are more likely to be found.
If no checks are done – people can die!
- Workmanship – well that is an easy one – choose a reputable trades person, and make sure that they give you a receipt and a CCEW for ALL work!
Check their license with Fair Trading – permanent records are kept on all compliance breeches.
Make sure that they are insured for work done.
Does testing the earth show up all faults?
I have specifically mentioned testing of the Earthing system. But Does testing the earth show up all faults?
In the ABC news article, the mentioned fault (the suspected fault until testing is completed) is an Open Circuit Neutral.
An open circuit neutral should be suspected when you might have a fluctuating voltage (lights dimming, appliances not working properly), tingling from water pipes or shocks on metal appliances. (these symptoms can sometimes be caused by other problems as well)
In this instance, the mandatory tests shown above might not find an open circuit neutral – but it might.
However, should you ever experience fluctuating voltage, tingling from water pipes or shocks on metal appliances, it is imperative that you contact an experienced electrician to test your home as a matter of urgency.
Very specialised tests will ascertain if you have this type of fault, but as it is a potentially dangerous test, home owners are requested to vacate the premises for the duration of the test – this is mandatory before tests can proceed.
I hope that this sheds some light on the importance of proper inspections and regular maintenance.
Bye for now,
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