A lack of grounding caused a bridge to become energized on the property of a water system plant site.
In April 2019, two teens jumped into a canal in Dixon, CA, in order to rescue a dog that had fallen in. As they climbed out of the water, they grabbed one of the metal railings of a bridge. A witness report states that the young men were “unable to release their grip from the metal bridge.” A third boy jumped in the water and knocked the first two off the bridge. He then pulled the two victims out of the water and onto a levee. They were unresponsive at the time and were later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Solano Irrigation District is responsible for the maintenance of that bridge. According to a complaint filed against the water agency, “employees re-routed the electrical supply to bypass the over-current breaker protection and used a modified fuse system, but again, did so without properly grounding the system and to include the conduit, resulting in a free flowing current.”
Solano Irrigation District announced it immediately began inspecting 300 power stations across its service area after this incident. They are pursuing a long-term modernization program of all its electrical facilities.
A December 2019 article reported that each family of the deceased agreed to a settlement with the water district.
Need for Regular Maintenance
As publicly-owned electrical equipment ages, the need for inspections and subsequent repairs increase. It is imperative that these inspections are performed in accordance with accepted best practice standards. Compliance with standards like NFPA 70B and NETA’s Maintenance Testing Standard, as well as with the National Electrical Code as adopted by each state, can easily prevent unnecessary injuries and fatalities like the two mentioned above.
In the filed complaint, an unqualified worker (or workers) intentionally bypassed existing over-current protection. It is never advised to alter or bypass any electrical over-current protection. This is true for any workplace and especially those areas accessible to the general public.
Companies and utilities have a moral and legal obligation to maintain electrical systems and keep areas safe to personnel. Basic maintenance practices like GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) testing, outdoor equipment semi- or annual inspections, periodic testing of grounding and bonding systems are critical maintenance activities. It is always shameful to see a tragedy, or in this case, multiple deaths, be the reason that companies are alerted to poor electrical practices.
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