The tragic death of two children who died after being electrocuted while swimming near a dock on the Gravois Arm has heightened awareness of the dangers of mixing electricity and water.
Alexandra Anderson, 13, and her brother, 8-year-old Brayden Anderson, both of Ashland, Mo., were pulled from the lake Wednesday afternoon after adults who were watching the children heard them screaming. The adult reported feeling a tingling sensation when they jumped in the water. The adult swam to a nearby dock until the power was shut off. Once the children were pulled from the water, the adults tried to administer CPR.
The children had swam in that particular area many times without a problem.
The preliminary investigation indicates improper wiring and the dock did not have a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI), allowing electricity to travel into the water. Sources could be a boat lift and/or a pump for a water slide. The Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Patrol Division is investigating. An official cause of death will be released when autopsies are completed.
GFCIs are designed to prevent electrical shock by breaking the circuit when there is a difference in the currents in the hot and neutral wires. The advantage of a GFCI is that it can detect small amounts of electricity (that your fuse or circuit breaker can’t) and effectively turn off the circuit to avoid potential dangers.
In the last decade, a number of people have died as a result of the deadly combination of electricity and water. Countless other accidents have been reported involving adults, children and even family pets who have been shocked when swimming near docks or structures that were not equipped with GFCI's or had other wiring problems.
Electrical wiring can be a problem on any dock, but especially older structures where it has been exposed to weather, stress and a lack of proper maintenance. The use of a GFCI is recommended regardless of the age of the dock.
Currently, there are no rules or regulations for docks that were permitted before 2006 when Ameren Missouri, in partnership with some lake area fire districts, began requiring electrical inspections before a permit was issued.
The inspections apply to docks for residential, homeowners' associations and commercial structures and those that are being expanded. However, for existing structures permitted before 2006 that are subject to the rules due to an expansion, the entire structure is not inspected. It is only the new construction that falls under the provision of the permit.
Up until 2006 there were no rules or regulations on the books to ensure the public's safety when it came to wiring on private residential docks. The responsibility fell primarily to the property owners.
Although the codes and inspections only apply to new docks or those being expanded, property owners with existing structures can contact their local fire districts to see if they offer courtesy inspections.
Page 2 of 3 - According to Osage Beach Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Ed Nicholson, OBFPD does quite a few courtesy inspections every year for dock owners with older structures who want to make sure their wiring is up to code.
In 2011, OBFPD did 108 inspections of new or expanded docks. Since 2006, the district has conducted a total of 498 electrical inspections on docks.
Currently, seven fire districts are inspecting docks at Lake of the Ozarks; they include Osage Beach FPD, Lake Ozark FPD, Mid-County FPD, Sunrise Beach FPD, Rocky Mount FPD, Northwest FPD and Camdenton Fire Department.
According to Mid-County Fire Protection Fire Marshal Chris Bachman, the need for safety on docks can't be stressed enough.
"It is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure that all power sources on boat docks or other structures near water must utilize protective measures such as Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters or low voltage systems," he said. "I encourage all homeowners to take the initiative to physically inspect their dock for potential hazards. Just because a GFCI outlet is located on a dock does not mean it is operational."
Bachman said the outlets have a recommendation from the manufacturer to test them on a regular basis to ensure they are still operating as designed. GFCI outlet testers can be purchased at any hardware store that sells building supplies for under $10. The outlet tester will do two things, it will indicate if the outlet is wired correctly and it will confirm that the GFCI is functioning correctly, he said.
"Once you have confirmed that all the outlets trip when tested, you then need to inspect the conduit providing the power to the outlet to make sure there are no visible wires showing or physical damage," he said. "Even if your dock was wired to code and has passed all necessary inspections, routine maintenance inspections should still take place because it still has the potential to have deficiencies occur over time with the amount of movement that occurs with the dock from large waves and lake level fluctuation. As an added level of protection, it is a good idea that every dock circuit be GFCI-protected at the circuit breaker rather than just protecting the outlet."
This protection will help eliminate the potential for electrical currents to enter the water if damage has occurred on an electrical circuit and is not discovered.
For additional information on the current standard for dock electrical installation requirements, go to www.amerenmissouri.com. Click on the “Lake of the Ozarks” section in the gray box, and then click on Dock Electrical Safety on the lefthand side of the page. There are four documents at this link which include installation requirements, dock wiring check sheet, dock wiring diagram and electrical permit application form. It is also recommended that qualified electricians servicing docks have completed the Dock Inspection Training Program provided by Ameren.
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