Lake-area residents continue to have serious questions and concerns regarding the safety of their docks based on a forum Tuesday morning sponsored by Lake Regional Hospital.
More than 75 people turned out for the informational meeting, and many had questions for the Osage Beach fire marshal, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Lake Regional trauma nurse coordinator. Each agency had a representative who covered a different aspect of problems associated with dock safety and the consequences of improper wiring.
Lake Regional coordinated the forum in the wake of three electrocution-related deaths at the lake this summer. Topics included electrical safety and precautions, first aid for electrical and water-related injuries and water safety.
Ed Nicholson, Osage Beach fire marshal, provided a detailed explanation of how GFIs (ground fault interrupters) work, and how they can become faulty. He explained how electricity is conducted in dry, damp and wet locations, and the basics of electrical shock including the impact of milliamps on a human relative to electrocution.
Nicholson said lake-area fire departments and Ameren Missouri have been working on problem since before upgraded dock regulations were implemented in 2006. He said the fire districts are “working very hard” to establish a consistent set of guidelines and rules among the districts.
“The program we have now is very good, but we’re always looking at ways to improve it,” he said.
Many questions from the audience involved technical aspects of how a dock should be property wired, including GFI systems, the use of grounding rods, placement of electrical disconnects, how often docks should be inspected, etc.
That prompted one audience member to comment: “If you have so many questions, then ask the fire department to come out and check for free. Don’t take a chance.”
Stacey Mosher, a Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Division officer, shared some of her experiences on the lake.
“We all should have basic respect for the water and the power of electricity,” she said.
The first electrocution-related death she covered at the lake was in 1999. The Water Division today has two devices available at the lake that actually measure electrical current in the water. She said the Water Division has ordered that docks be shut down when there’s the potential for electrocution or electrical shock.
“You can’t trump personal responsibility with regulations,” she said, encouraging dock owners to have their docks inspected.
Marcia Whitter, trauma nurse coordinator at Lake Regional, said there is a need to increase awareness of issues related to electrical shock.
“Dock safety is commonly overlooked,” she said in a recent statement to the media. “Just as homeowners change the batteries in their smoke alarms every six months to ensure safety, dock maintenance should be done regularly to stay safe in the water.”
Page 2 of 2 - One suggestion that was made several times and made with emphasis is that dock owners should get their docks inspected by a state-licensed electrical contractor.
One theory discussed during the forum was that the dry weather conditions can affect dock safety. In order for ground rods to work, there needs to be enough precipitation in the ground. With high temps and no rain, there simply is not enough water in the ground. One local electrician agreed with the theory. “Unless that ground is wet, that ground rod that we are installing are virtually doing nothing. I’ve been telling my customers to get their sprinklers down there,” Robert Phillips, owner of Tri-Lakes Electric, said.
Due to the amount of interest in Tuesday’s forum, Lake Regional is discussing future forums and adding dock safety information to their website.