With the arrival of summer and the July 4th holiday weekend just around the corner, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is reminding people about potential electrical hazards that exist in swimming pools and hot tubs, onboard boats, on docks and piers, and in waters surrounding boats, marinas, and launch ramps.
While most people are unaware of electrical dangers posed in water environments such as electric shock drowning (ESD), each year people are injured or killed from these hazards. ESD can occur when an improperly installed or maintained electrical system results in electrical current in the water, which can then pass through a person’s body, causing a level of paralysis that can ultimately result in serious injury or drowning.
“With continued education about the presence of electrical hazards in water we can help reduce the risk of electric shock drowning from happening,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “Before engaging in water activities, have a qualified electrician inspect your boat, swimming pool equipment, hot tub, and spa, and have them regularly maintained to ensure life-saving measures and protection systems are functioning properly.”
Tips for swimmers and pool and boat owners include:
• Never swim near a marina, dock, or boatyard.
• While in a pool or hot tub look out for underwater lights that are not working properly, flicker or work intermittently.
• If feeling a tingling sensation while in a pool, immediately stop swimming in the direction you are heading. Try and swim in a direction where you had not felt the tingling. Exit the water as quickly as possible; avoid using metal ladders or rails. Touching metal may increase the risk of shock.
• Pool owners must be sure the wiring is performed by an electrician experienced in the special safety requirements for these types of installations.
• Have a qualified electrician periodically inspect and — where necessary — replace or upgrade the electrical devices or equipment that keep your pool or hot tub electrically safe. Have the electrician show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
• Make sure any overhead lines are positioned at the proper distance over a pool and other structures, such as a diving board. If there are doubts, contact a qualified electrician or your local utility company to make sure power lines are a safe distance away.
• Boat owners should avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. These areas can contain stray electrical currents in the water, possibly leading to electric shock drowning or injury from shock, including death.
• Each year, and after any major storm that affects the boat, have the boat’s electrical system inspected by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes of your area, including those set by the American Boat & Yacht Council. Make the necessary repairs, if recommended.
• Check with the marina owner who can tell you if the marina’s electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes of your area.
• Have ground fault circuit protection (GFCI and GFPE) installed on circuits supplying the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that bear the proper listing mark for marine applications when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.
• Never modify the electrical system on a boat or shore power to make something work. The code-required safety mechanisms in place are intended to alert people if something is wrong with the boat and with shore power. Find a licensed, qualified professional to help determine the cause of the problem.
For more information, visit www.nfpa.org/watersafety.