Compliance with permitting regulations combined with public education and awareness may be making a difference in the number of electroshock incidents reported at Lake of the Ozarks this year, based on a survey of several lake area fire districts.

Compliance with permitting regulations combined with public education and awareness may be making a difference in the number of electroshock incidents reported at Lake of the Ozarks this year, based on a survey of several lake area fire districts.

Ameren Missouri and lake area fire districts have been pushing public awareness about dock electrical safety after a series of fatal electroshock incidents in the last several years. Those deaths spurred a rush to coordinate dock electrical inspections involving Ameren Missouri, fire districts and municipalities whose boundaries touched the Lake. Area officials learned that docks were not regulated by the same sets of rules, that regulations were often interpreted differently and in some cases docks weren’t even being inspected for electrical safety.

Ameren Missouri has partnered with fire districts since 2006 in inspecting and permitting docks. It’s docks outside of the participating districts that cause the most concern. Of the estimated 25,000 docks on the Lake of the Ozarks, there are about 5,000 that do not fall under the jurisdiction of any participating fire district.

So far in 2016 there have been no deaths attributed to electroshock and in a handful of incidents reported to fire districts, no injuries have been reported.

Of the districts surveyed, Osage Beach Fire Protection, which has a large number of docks within their boundaries, has not responded to any electroshock incidents in 2016 while Mid-County and Sunrise Beach have each had a couple of calls. Graves Mills officials report emergency crews responded to one report of a possible problem but upon arrival were unable to find any measurable current in the water.

While that’s good news, fire district officials said there is still work to be done.

“In the big picture, I think there are a lot of folks who are aware and a lot there are not. We have so many complicated issues associated with this. A lot of our folks are just weekend residents. They don’t have a steady source of information they follow. Human nature is to get complacent over the course of time and I think that is starting to take hold,” SBFPD Chief Dennis Reilly said. “I have said this a hundred times but I think the biggest part of the problem is the lack of formalized licensing for electricians and the large number of docks that fall outside the criteria for being inspected. Anytime you mix metal, electricity, and water there is a potential for problems. Until 2007 there were no guidelines at all. With the number of docks that are out there, and the resources we have available it would take us years to actually inspect every dock, even if we had the legal authority to do so, which we don’t.”

The problem is docks with electricity running to them can create a dangerous, even fatal hazard if not properly maintained. Even with maintenance and inspections, there’s the potential for problems. Mid-County responded to an incident reported after a thunderstorm where the dock owner had installed a voltage detection system that, after inspection, the fire marshal said may have been damaged during the storm or was otherwise malfunctioning, as no stray voltage was detected.

Outdated wiring and a lack of proper safety equipment and routine maintenance on docks and boats can cause such situations where electricity “leaks” into the water. According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, between 10 and 15 milliamps, which is just 1/50 the wattage of a 60 watt light bulb, can cause drowning. They also report that many ESD deaths have occurred around private docks and boats plugged into shore power while docked. It’s a particularly dangerous hazard because it’s impossible to tell by sight if the water is energized.

Ameren Missouri has taken a multifaceted approach. In addition to working with the fire districts, Ameren Missouri has contacted all permitted dock owners to make sure they know dock safety is their responsibility, as well as providing a list of the steps to take and a checklist. Ameren Missouri has also partnered with Missouri Coops and Safe Electricity to promote dock safety and the swim away message.

What to do if you feel an electrical charge:

Safe Electricity recommends that individuals do not swim around docks with electrical equipment or boats plugged into shore power. If a person is in the water and feels electric current, that individual should shout to let others know, try to stay upright, tuck your legs up to make yourself smaller, and swim away from anything that could be energized. Do not head to boat or dock ladders to get out – if possible, swim to the shore.

If people see someone who they suspect is getting shocked, they should not immediately jump in to save them. Throw them a float, turn off the shore power connection at the meter base, and/or unplug shore power cords. Try to eliminate the source of electricity as quickly as possible; then call for help.