Have you ever been shocked?

Some simple rules and useful tools that protect against electric shock

By Claire Marchand

Who among you hasn’t at least once in your life received an electric shock, for example while changing a light bulb? In most cases you don’t feel much and it has no serious consequences. So much so that you will not do anything about it once the new light bulb is in place. That’s where the problem starts. An electric shock is a first sign that something may be defective in the electrical installation of the building.

Electrical installation in a building (Photo: Breen Electrical Contractors, USA)

Safety taken for granted

In most countries we just take it for granted that electrical installations in residential, commercial or industrial premises have been designed to ensure safety in and around the house, and that we can use electrical or electronic equipment without a care in the world. This is true in the vast majority of cases: architects, engineers, electricians, equipment and appliances manufacturers or retailers rely on Standards and conformity assessment for the design, building and installations of cables, wires and electrical equipment in residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

The human factor

Electrical appliances may offer all the safety guarantees expected of a new product bought from a trusted retailer, however, use and wear can change this.

Take electrical garden tools for example:  A lawnmower cable can be damaged when winding around sharp stones or a hedger cable can be cut when becoming entangled in thorny bushes.

An internal defect in an oven or a water boiler can make the slightest touch of their metal housing extremely hazardous or even deadly.

Human behaviour can also be the cause of serious or fatal injuries. The bathroom can become a potentially dangerous area if basic safety rules are not respected. How many times do we read of electrocution due to  a hairdryer used in the bath or shower? Even without going to that extreme, some important measures need to be taken before plugging in an electrical appliance in the bathroom. Wet skin is an excellent conductor of electric current: always dry hands, observe a respectable distance from any water source, check regularly for cord damage, etc.

Electrical safety thanks to IEC International Standards…

IEC Technical Committee ( TC) 64 prepares International Standards that cover requirements for electrical installations and protection against electric shock. Its publications “determine characteristics for the selection of electrical equipment to enable the safe use of electricity and the proper functioning of the equipment in the installation environment”.

TC 64 publications do not include product requirements. This is why the Committee works in coordination with many product TCs and Subcommittees (SCs) that stipulate specific requirements for the products or equipment they standardize. The product Committees include TC 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, TC 72: Automatic electrical controls, TC 108: Safety of electronic equipment within the field of audio/video, information technology and communication technology, or SC 23B: Plugs, socket-outlets and switches and SC 23J: Switches for appliances. TC 64 publications are regularly cited as normative references in International Standards issued by these TCs and SCs.

...and IECEE certification

Designers and builders of electrical installations, manufacturers of electrical equipment and appliances can rely on IEC International Standards to develop state-of-the-art products that meet the strictest safety and energy-efficiency requirements. Going a step further, they can rely on the IECEE (IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components) to have their products tested and certified.

The IECEE CB Scheme, through its registered CBTLs (Certification Body Testing Laboratories) and NCBs (National Certification Bodies), focuses on multiple aspects. These include installation accessories and connection devices, protection against access to live parts, input and current, endurance, abnormal operation, mechanical hazards and strength, switches, internal wiring, supply connection and external flexible cords, provisions for earthing and resistance to heat and fire.

Defective or damaged electrical goods can be harmful

Having products and installations tested against IEC International Standards and certified by IECEE provide manufacturers and consumers alike with the assurance of a safe access to electricity within their home or office environment. However, users need to follow basic safety rules and make sure that appliances and devices they use are not damaged in any way.

For more information on IECEE: www.iecee.org

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