A 14-year-old boy recently died in Texas after “stepping in a puddle” that had a submerged extension cord running through it. There had been heavy thunderstorms that week and the South Texas region was experiencing heavy flooding that submerged an extension cord that was powering a mobile home.
You can find more about Step & Touch Voltage Hazards here:
According to a Facebook post on the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s Office, someone had stretched a power cord from a house to a nearby trailer, laying it on the ground, which with the torrential rains had become submerged. While there are a few conflicting reports as to whether the teenager had been merely stepping in the puddle or had been trying to unplug the cord at the time, what is clear is that he was electrocuted because of it.
One of the saddest parts of the entire event was that work crews from the city were actually on-site at the time helping to deal with the flooding, so the response time to help the boy was within seconds… but to no avail. Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of this young man. Please know that it is the dedicated mission of E&S Grounding Solutions to help make our electrified world a safer place for everyone, so we hope that by using this tragic example, we may help save someone else in the future.
While many blame the poor family, including the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s Office, for powering a motor home with an extension cord on the ground, we at E&S Grounding Solutions believe that there are protective measures that could have, and frankly should have, been implemented. These simple measures should be mandated by the City and the State, and regulated within the National Electrical Code (NEC). What is that simple protection? Mandatory Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) for every circuit in every panel.
For over a decade now, the European electrical standards have required mandatory GFCI (they call them RCD’s or residual current devices) on every single circuit in the home. These RCDs (aka GFCIs) are installed at the main electrical panel to ensure that every single circuit in the structure or home is protected. Modern appliances such as refrigerators no longer have any issues working safely and effectively on a GFCI protected circuit.
In the recent 2020 edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC), or NFPA 70, the code writers finally added Article 242, which mandates Surge Protection Devices (SPD’s) in every main electrical panel, which the EU codes have been required since 2015.
These circumstances beg the question: why are our national code writers adopting overvoltage protection (i.e., SPDs) within a few years of the EU, which arguably is mostly to protect equipment, but taking so long to enforce the single most important human-safety device we have, the GFCI? No one knows, but it seems a serious lapse in duty on the part of electrical code writers everywhere.
E&S is not aware of any justifying reason to NOT have GFCI circuit protection on every electrical circuit in the home and workplace. Certainly, there will be some industrial-level exceptions, but for the most part, code writers are supposed to be helping to make electrical systems safer, and GFCIs are one of the best automatic-disconnect systems for human safety. America has waited over 50 years and suffered thousands of needless deaths waiting for the code writers to simply mandate what the Europeans have done now for over a decade.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) have been in use since the early 1970s and our implementation of these life-saving devices has been painfully slow. While no one knows for certain, but some estimates indicate that as many as 2,000 people in America are saved by GFCIs each year. How are the GFCIs thanked? Typically, we yell and scream at them for tripping right when we need to urgently move along to our daily tasks.
When looking at the electrocution rates in England, we can see that they are between 3 to 5 times (adjusted for population) less likely to suffer electrocution than we are here in America. Now, exactly how much of the credit goes to the widespread use of GFCI technology is not known, but it is certainly a major component of the reduction in accidental death from electrocution in the UK.
Therefore, would this Texas teenager have been saved had the circuit powering the extension cord been GFCI protected? While no one can say for certain, GFCIs are specifically designed to protect people from scenarios exactly like this; so most likely, yes.
The perplexity is why did it take the EU only 40 years to adopt GFCI technology across the board and America still has yet to adopt this simple common-sense safety system for every circuit?
E&S urges everyone, as individuals, to take more control of your safety, and ask yourself what can you directly do to help protect your family on this 4th of July holiday and beyond?
First, make sure that all of your outdoor extension cords have a built-in GFCI system. You can find cords such as this at Home Depot, Lowes, on Amazon, etc.
Second, consider having a certified electrician install GFCI breakers in your main electrical panel. This is often faster, cheaper, and easier to do than replacing numerous receptacles..
Third, have a discussion with your family about the importance of electrical safety. Remind them about keeping electrical systems away from any source of water. Here are a couple of videos you can watch to help you get ready for the summer:
Fourth, have an electrician make sure your electrical panel has a properly installed grounding electrode. While the source transformer will almost certainly have numerous ground sources, this is one thing you can do to make sure that automatic-disconnect systems powering outdoor circuits will function properly.
Lastly, write the NFPA at the link below and ask them why America doesn’t deserve the same level of protection as the EU?
It is important to note that GFCI / RCD systems do not replace the need for proper grounding and earthing within the circuit. There is a common myth that GFCIs do not need a ground source to function - that is not true. While a GFCI may not need a dedicated ground conductor (wire) to operate, it does need some form of ground source to allow enough current to flow onto another conductor other than the neutral wire, in order for it to detect a fault. That source could be the earth itself, a water pipe or drainpipe, metal conduit, building steel, etc. The point is, GFCIs, like all circuit protection devices, function better in a properly grounded system, than in one that is not.
We here at E&S Grounding Solutions wish you all a safe and happy holiday.