Last week we read in the paper that a plumber was tragically killed while repairing a domestic gas boiler.
According to the article, the Health & Safety Executive spent many days on site investigating the incident and early indications were that the victim received a fatal electric shock while dismantling a filter unit next to the boiler.
The plumber had isolated the electric supply and tested that the supply was isolated, he then isolated the heating flow & return valves to enable the filter unit to be removed.
What happened next was uncertain but once the filter unit was removed, one of the pipes managed to become electrically live, which when touched by the plumber discharged the fatal shock that killed him.
The paper reports the cause of this electrical potential was a mystery to the HSE until the system was inspected in greater detail. In the bathroom the householder had fitted a towel rail to the heating system, which was heated by the boiler. However in the summer when the heating is turned off, a small electric heating element is supplied as an accessory, to enable the water in the rail to be warmed independently.
When the element was removed from the rail, it was found to be “leaking to earth”. This is when the flow in both the Live (Supply) and Neutral (Return) conductors of an electric circuit are unbalanced, indicating that some of the current starting in the Live conductor is not reaching the Neutral conductor and is instead “leaking” elsewhere. Even a tiny amount of leaking current can be deadly - the electric heating element in the reported case was only rated at 20w!
This tragedy brings home the importance of electrical safety, as the HSE have concluded that the plumber was in no way to blame, having taken all the appropriate steps to try to prevent any accident occurring.
It is essential that any towel rail being wired into the mains, whether it is an electric-only rail or one with a dual fuel option, is installed and earthed correctly and then wired into a fused spur with a built in Residual Current Device (RCD) by a trained electrician or Part P qualified plumber.
If this had been done correctly when the rail was installed, it is very likely that the RCD would have detected the imbalance in the flow, cut the circuit and that this tragic death would have been prevented.
To keep this from ever happening to any of our customers, and to ensure the continued safety of our valued plumbers and electricians, we STRONGLY urge you to only use fused spurs and back boxes with fully integrated RCDs.
This article was written by Sam Brown, Marketing Manager at TradePlumbing. Tradeplumbing.co.uk is a trading name of Clayton Horsnell LTD,a privately held company with headquarters in Colchester, UK, providing a wide variety of plumbing products starting with bathroom suites, baths, showers, towel rails, furniture, sinks, heating system, and radiators and finishing with taps and water treatment products.
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