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Electric Shock

Dear Mike,

I am a two year apprentice and about four weeks ago I was working in a commercial building and was electrocuted by a 277 volt nite/emergancy lighting circuit. I was working in a room by myself while my boss was working next door. He told me that all the lights were all dead and to take down the fixtures. About halfway into the job I found my little 277 volt SURPRISE. One florescent lighting fixture had four dead bulbs, but it was connected to the night light circuit!! What Luck!! I was hung up (shocked) for about 10 to 15 seconds before I was able to dip the ladder and fall 8 feet flat on my back. I burned the palm of my hand with third degree burns, and burned two holes in the chest of my shirt.

I have not missed one day of work or plan to take any legal action against my employer. That is not why I am sending you my little story. I think the Code needs a requirement to place a warning label on all lighting fixtures that are supplied from more than one power source. I hope to hear from you and I hope your answer is not "You should have used your tester", which is true but I feel this could have been avoided if the lighting fixture had a warning label. Hope to hear from you soon! [Dean M Moran,]

Dear Dean,

The NEC does allow the mixing of conductors as you described [300-3(c)(1), 410-31 and 700-9(b)] and it does not contain any requirement for warning label. I agree with you that this should be a NEC requirement and I encourage you to make a proposal for the 2002 NEC to Sections 410-31 and 700-9. Instructions on how to submit a proposal are contained in the last four pages of the 1999 NEC. In addition proposals can be submitted electronically through the NFPA Web site: [Mike Holt]

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After just discovering your web site, and browsing around a little, I read the story of a gentlemen that received an electrical shock while working on a 277 Volt lighting system after his boss said it was dead. This story really hit home with me because in 1977, here's what happened to me:

I had been working as an apprentice electrician for several months, and was assigned the task of replacing some 277 volt flourescent fixtures in a warehouse. I have always been a very safety conscience worker and after installing a locking device at the panel on the circuit that I was to work on, I went to the light switch and "tried" the circuit.

Everything was dead. The first part of my task was to go up into the ceiling, open the junction box, disconnect the splices to make a tie in. As always, even after the checks I'd already performed, I pulled out my faithful Square D wiggy. After making my checks and confirming the circuit was dead, I took my cutters and cut the splice.OUCH!!!

I got my first lesson on what can happen when you run across a COMMON NEUTRAL. I received some small burns on my left hand, felt dizzy for some time, and had chest pains for about a week. Not only do people need to learn what can happen when you break a common neutral, but the harmonics in a circuit containing a lot of flourescent light fixtures can really jar your eye teeth. 22 years later, I'm still in the electrical craft, much wiser, still alive, and STILL LEARNING. Thanks for the oportunity to pass this on.
Dennis Hall,

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I thought I was the only one who got bit by neutral. I was attaching some fixture whips to outlet boxes. One box was real hard to reach, so I had squeeze thru some ductwork and copper pipes to reach the box. As I splicing the whip into the box, my arms seized up as the contacted the neutral, I felt current flowing thru my arms, and then I passed out.

I found out later that my co-workers tried to knock me off the ladder, but it didn't work because I was stuck in the ductworks and piping. One of my buddies climb up another ladder, opened up the junction box and shorted the hot wire. Thank God it tripped the breaker and he saved my life. I seem to be okay, but I did receive 3rd degree burns.

I was extremely lucky that day because I had qualified coworkers working with me and I was extremely stupid because I did not check the circuit to be sure that they were de-energized.

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Dear Mike,

We recently had an incident on which I'd like your feedback. A foreman was attempting to push a fish steel through a conduit stubbed out at the telephone room to an exterior junction box, located in the switchgear yard. The foreman was unable to push the steel through, due to some type of blockage. He went out into the switchgear yard to try pushing the steel back the other direction, from the exterior junction box to the telephone room. As he pushed the steel into what he thought was a conduit leading to the telephone room, he received a "tingle". He was actually pushing the steel through a spare conduit, within the same exterior junction box, which went directly back to the 21 KV switchgear. Thank God, no injury. What are your thoughts?


Mike Holt's Comment: God was letting you know that He is real. Hope your both appreciated His love and attention. When you get a few minutes, thank Him.

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Dear Mike,

I am a residential home inspector, generally hired by an intended buyer. A couple of years ago I was inspecting a house in an affluent Long Island neighborhood. The present owner had divided the house in half - left & right, to provide an illegal rental. He had done his own makeshift and dangerous wiring.

When I was checking the main distribution panel (200 amp, 240V) I realized the panel cover only had 2 screws, but didn't think much of it - screws are always missing. The panel was crammed with wires from adding circuits. Did I mention that the panel screws were POINTED sheet metal type? I replaced the panel with the screws in the opposite diagonal corners from the way the owner had them.

The buyer happened to be a commercial electrician and happened to be outside while I was working on the panel. The screws were binding so I put my left hand on the drywall next to the panel so I could LEAN into it. As I turned the screw slowly due to resistance, I heard a sizzling noise and immediately backed the scerw out.

I removed the cover and realized I had punctured the jacket of the 200 Amp main. The Buyer came in and asked if everything was alright! I said yeah, why? He said, "there were flames shooting off of the utility pole outside!" I came pretty close to having a bad hair day.
Dear mike, I'm the same inspector with the Long Island story. I moved to Southern Cal. I was inspecting a condo with an electric water heater and saw that the B/X cable entering the top was loose. The B/X had come apart. I was explaining to the buyer how this could be dangerous if the tank moves due to seismic activity. I pulled lightly on the cable to further evaluate. With my luck (it's TEXTBOOK) the coductor was bare and shorted accross the metal fitting in the tank shell. I got nailed slightly. My elbow hurt and I burned some hair off my arm, but didn't burn my skin. Electricity is WICKED. It's explainable, but then again, it's not. Thanks for listening.

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Electric Fires

Dear Mike,

Your site is really cool. I'm 18 and I just graduated high school. I've had a part-time job at Menards, a home improvement center, for two years. I've worked in electrical and I've learn a lot. I'm really into it and I have an intresting story.

Last summer, we had some really hot weather in Hastings, MN. The air-conditioners at our church were really working overtime and one Wednesday night we had a problem with the electricity. Our church is over thirty years old and there have been many add-ons, but no upgrade to the electrical. That one Wednesday night, all of the lights dimmed, came back up, then cut out. I believe that God was in control, because one guy went down to the electrical room and open the door to be flooded in smoke. He found the main disconnect, killed it, and when the smoke cleared, he found 3/0 copper wire arced to the 2" rigid conduit. The problem was having two wires coming off of each lug. The AC was kicking on and off so much that the expanding and contracting of the wire caused it to come loose and short out. The disconnect still had the big fuses and were probally time-delays. That is probally why there was so much danger in the situation. God really does work miricles because he had the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
God bless, Greg Kvamme

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Fire Stop - Section 300-21

Fire Safety in Dispute at Venetian
By Gary Thompson LAS VEGAS SUN

Clark County building inspectors have ordered the builder of the $1.5 billion Venetian hotel-casino to prove the walls in its suites are safe before the mega-resort can open. The walls don't conform with building-code guidelines brought to the attention of the county by a fired employee who is now suing the construction company, officials said.

The Venetian issued a statement today saying its life-safety consultant, Rolf Jensen & Associates Inc., has issued an opinion that the walls "meet both the letter and the intent of" the Uniform Building Code. Therefore, the statement said, "This matter will not delay the opening of the Venetian, since all construction is per code and applicable."

A spokesman for the construction manager, Lehrer McGovern Bovis Inc. (LMB) said the company will argue that county inspectors have already approved the disputed work. A county official, however, said that doesn't constitute sufficient proof the walls are safe.

County building inspectors issued a correction notice this week after the International Conference of Building Officials said walls separating suites at the Venetian don't comply with the Uniform Building Code adopted by all 50 states. In particular, the ICBO said the code requires electrical outlet boxes on opposite sides of walls between rooms to be separated by at least 24 inches. The purpose of the separation is to ensure the integrity of the walls' resistance to fire.

An LMB spokesman acknowledged that electrical outlet boxes in some suites don't meet the UBC guidelines. The Venetian has 3,036 suites, but the spokesman didn't have information on the number of nonconforming walls. Independent sources said the number could be in the thousands. "Because of the architect's design, they wanted to have a data port in each room," LMB spokesman Sam Singer said Thursday. "In some instances, there are less than 24 inches of separation, and the determination was made that to meet safety codes, they'd have to put in fire pads."

Singer said LMB and the Venetian's architects, the Stubbins Associates of Boston, "are submitting to the county documentation that shows LMB and its subcontractors put fire putty pads behind the outlet boxes, each and every one of them." "All this material has been approved by the county's on-site inspector as the building was being constructed, so it already has approval from the county," Singer said.

"This is nothing new and not a big deal and won't affect construction or opening of the hotel," he said. "No one has any reason to believe this submittal won't be approved. "The county's on-site inspector has signed off on each floor with the knowledge that there was a variance there but knowing it was a safe variance," Singer said.

"So LMB and the architects will provide the documents showing that." But the county said the contractor will have to provide more than documents signed by an on-site inspector.

"That's not going to work," said Ron Lynn, assistant director of the county's building-inspection department. "They have a correction notice on them. "We cannot approve through error or omission or conscious action anything that's illegal or wrong," he said. "The obligation for meeting the code is on the contractor. And if we have an impasse, we won't issue a certificate of occupancy.

"It's true we do inspections there, but we could have made a mistake," Lynn said. "And they have a legal obligation to comply with the code." The county's correction notice says the 1994 Uniform Building Code requires the 24-inch separation but that the Venetian's South Tower room walls "are not in compliance with this section. Call for a reinspection when the discrepancies have been corrected."

"They have to address that," Lynn said. "They did put putty on the back of the outlet boxes, but I don't know what kind of putty it is. They may actually be OK if they got the right putty, but they've got to prove it. "If they simply come back and say, 'Hey, you guys didn't notice until too late,' that's not going to work. I'm going to assume they're going to studiously address this situation in a professional manner."

Lynn said that means LMB or Stubbins "will have to conduct an analysis based on what's actually there and compare it with a wall built with 24-inch separations, but we can't tell them how to do it." John Prendeville is a former LMB procurement manager who has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the Venetian has defects. Prendeville's allegations about the safety of the resort's walls prompted the country to seek the ICBO's opinion, Lynn said today.

"Prendeville is accurate when he says it doesn't comply with the code," Lynn said. "The question is, 'Are there mitigating features that make it OK?' The jury is still out on that." Prendeville, an electrical engineer, said one way to test the walls is to compare them with an experiment performed by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. last June 25.

The test concluded that a wall built to the specifications of the Venetian's nonload-bearing walls "will afford one-hour protection against the passage of flame and dangerous transmission of heat when exposed to fire from either side of the assembly." But Prendeville said the UL test was on a blank wall sample that contained no electrical outlet boxes or other so-called "membrane penetrations." He said a fire-resistance test of a wall with boxes less than 24 inches apart may be the only way to ensure the structure is safe.

Lynn described the UBC as a "living document," noting that technological advances and other factors can mitigate nonconformance with the code's guidelines. "It makes provisions for alternate methods of material or construction or design," Lynn said. "In such cases, we can require sufficient evidence or proof to be submitted that would substantiate any claims made regarding the alternatives."

In the Venetian's case, sprinkler systems, alarms, concrete bracing and fire-resistant materials are mitigating factors that could allow the walls to "conform with the philosophical intent of the code without lessening its fire- and life-safety integrity," he said. "What they need to do is perform the required analysis and provide us with documentation that we can then analyze," Lynn said.

"That needs to be completed prior to opening. In my opinion, it's firmly back in their court to complete the analysis. We aren't going to allow something that's manifestly unsafe." Once an analysis is provided to the county, "We look at what they've done to make sure it's a scientifically verifiable process," Lynn said.

"The Venetian is perhaps the largest nonpublic-works structure being built anywhere in the world today," he said. "If the walls conform with the philosophical intent of the code, we'll write it down and say it's an acceptable technique. Other people can use it if it works.

"The bottom line is that we want a safe building. And I'm certain that the owner wants a safe building. But if there are discrepancies, they need to be addressed." The county says about 70 percent of the hotel-casinos built since county building codes were revised after the MGM Grand fire in 1980 have received construction correction notices.

The following story appeared in Las Vegas Sun: March 12, 1999
All contents copyright 1999 Las Vegas SUN, Inc.
Note 1: If you would like more information on this issue click here.

Well I guess somebody should have read NEC Section 300-21, before they started roughing-in the building [Mike Holt].

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