Today, Jason Brozen from Electrical Power Safety Company (EPSCO) joins the show to talk about electrical safety. He shares his experience of surviving an arc flash accident. Check out live footage from his accident at https://youtu.be/oFhssQtv0tY.
Jason starts by narrating what transpired during the incident and describes the injuries he sustained. He compares his experience to possible electrocution accidents in residences which are more fatal. Then, he further discusses the horrors of shock and electrocution injuries.
Reuben asks about the basic safety measures for homeowners and home inspectors, the dangers of hand-to-hand electrical contact, and improper screws that may cause injury or fire. Tessa inquires about what to look for and where to get PPEs such as recommended boots and gloves for professionals. Bill highlights that DIYers must do their research.
Get hold of Jason Brozen at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Jason is a former master electrician, but you went through a serious accident on the job and it rocked your world, just to put it mildly. Welcome everyone, you’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our brain. I’m very excited for today’s episode because we’re gonna talk about electrical safety, a very tantalizing topic, yes, but we’ve got a special guest with us today, Jason Brozen, who has a very interesting story that he’s been relating to contractors and home inspectors, and I think Jason… Probably anybody else who’s willing to listen. But Jason is a former master electrician and maybe you’re still doing electrical work, I’m not sure Jason, but you went through a serious accident on the job, it’s something that snuck up on you after doing probably countless hours of electrical work and it rocked your world, just to put it mildly. And when I was doing some research for the podcast, I read your story online, and… I don’t know if you watch football or watch sports, and any time you see a violent injury, you just get that sharp stabbing pain and you’re like, “God, that hurt.”
BO: I can’t even imagine what you went through. We’re gonna let you explain your story here shortly, but I wanted to just start by introducing you and then kind of let you dive into your story and the journey you’ve been on since your injury, and I think it’s gonna be really powerful and informative for anybody who puts their hands on electricity at any point in their life, be it a homeowner, a home inspector, an electrician, or anybody else who’s dilly-dallying around with something that you either have tons of experience with, or if you’re like me, virtually no experience. So Jason, thank you for giving us some time today, I really appreciate it. Again, we’re talking with Jason Brozen. He currently is with EPSCO, E-P-S-C-O. And without further ado, Jason, let’s kinda let you introduce yourself and lay out the pages of this story.
Jason Brozen: Awesome, thanks for that great introduction. I’m here to actually make it a four-legged stool, which is much more stable. I have fallen off of three-legged stools, so I don’t intend to do that with this tool.
Reuben Saltzman: It’s a good safety reference. I love it.
JB: Yeah, we wanna be safe around here, we don’t want any broken bones from three-legged stools, so that sports injury, that’s one of our previous quarterbacks, Alex Smith, when he broke his leg, that was a big deal. I remember that with Washington. So yeah, I can relate, but yeah, I’m with EPSCO, which is Electrical Power and Safety Company, but I’ll back up. So I’ve been a master electrician since around ’96, I think July of ’96. So I’ve been in the construction industry for close to 30 years, so I actually started in the plumbing industry and realized very quickly that that’s not where I wanted to keep going, so I moved into electrical, went to school and just kinda did my time and I spent 20 years in the service industry, so enormous amount of residential experience working directly with homeowners and their specific needs as well as commercial, but got to see a lot of unsafe things, a lot of bad wiring, a lot of do-it-yourself-ers, and as I turned 51 in July, it was time to get out of the field, I was just getting tired. So I moved on to other things that didn’t require me working so hard out in the sunshine. So I just kinda moved into a project management position running large electrical projects, and I’d always done work with ASHI [the American Society of Home Inspectors].
JB: I think they’re a great organization, great inspectors. And while I was in the service industry, I was looking for revenue streams, how can we increase our business, and I had read so many inspection reports that were flawed. And it wasn’t ’cause anybody was stupid, you just don’t know what you don’t know, or you just repeat… Yeah, you just repeat the same things you’ve heard and you assume or you just expect that whatever you’re being told is correct. So I remember shaking my head at a few of those and saying, You know, why don’t I just help be part of the solution. And so I contacted ASHI and said, Hey, I’d be willing to come out and train you guys for free, just do some seminars, whatever you guys have, answer questions, be available, and it was a great relationship ’cause I got to help those guys be better. They consequently referred us as a business and got to be friends with several of the presidents and did some ASHI Nationals, and I’ve been all over the country doing the regionals, so it’s been a great relationship. I’ve got to see a lot of the inspection reports and help train them and it’s been a good relationship.
RS: You know, I just wanna pause and underscore this because Jason, I was the president of our local ASHI chapter for about five years here in the Twin Cities, and it was just always a task to try to find local speakers to come in and teach on subjects and it’s like… I’d try to find people to talk on plumbing and electrical and HVAC and all this different stuff. And so often I’d have people say, “Well, what do you want me to talk about? Well, what do you pay? Well, what do I get out of it?” Me, me, me, I, I, I… And it was just always so short-sighted, and I’d say, Well, you get to be in front of a huge group of people who would be natural influencers for you, these are all people who would refer you business. And this could turn into bigger stuff. And I saw you speak in person at one of those inspection world conferences, and you told your story about how… I was like, Didn’t you join the chapter as an affiliate member or something?
JB: I did.
RS: Yes. And I just thought…
JB: I was a local and national member. It was worth it. It was a short…
RS: You’re the only person I’ve ever heard of who did that, you joined ASHI not as a home inspector, but just as somebody who wanted to teach and I thought, This is incredible. I love your mindset, your abundance mindset saying, I’m gonna come to this group, I’m gonna teach and I’m gonna give, and then as it turns out, all of this ends up coming back to you, I just… I love your story there, and I think about it all the time when I’m trying to get other people to talk, and I think, Man, you should have a conversation with Jason, ’cause look at where you are now, teaching nationally on all of this stuff, and it all started with a willingness to teach others and to help. Alright, sorry, I just wanted to make sure that…
JB: No, it’s all good, I appreciate that.
RS: I just wanted to make sure that we don’t gloss over this really quickly, so I’ll give it back to you, Jason. Thank you.
JB: Yeah, that’s true. A lot of people are kind of short-sighted when it comes to that, they don’t wanna put the work in, put the understanding in the beginning, everything takes… It’s always steps, steps on a ladder. I think that if you don’t use your experiences or accidents in my case as well, to help other people, you’re really missing… You’re missing something in life. You’re not using what God gave you to help other people, help themselves. That’s what we’re here for.
BO: Jason, can we go back to that day? And can you kind of explain the beginning of this abundance mindset and likely you had it long before this too, but this was a pivotal moment in your life, can you kinda take us through what happened?
JB: So are you talking about the accident?
BO: Yeah, yeah.
JB: Okay. Yeah, great. So yeah, I’d been in the field… This was when I was with that service company for 20 years, and you know, I’d already had a pretty solid safety mindset, and I probably more arrogantly thought that I was safe than actually being safe, ’cause I would still take chances and it was because I had successfully made stupid decisions so many times in the past, and it finally just caught up with you, and that’s generally how accidents happen, it’s guys that have been in the field for at least 10 years or more, and they’ve just successfully made poor choices, and eventually it comes back and it gets you. Even if it’s not your fault, you’re… Somebody left some parts in a panel or whatever, but it comes back to get you eventually, it will, it’ll always come back…
JB: So I’d been there about 11 years, I think, and just going to do a standard job, and let me go back track a little bit. You can see my video on YouTube, if you just type in Jason Brozen, there’s a 15-minute and there’s a 45-minute. The 45-minute video is part of a safety series that EPSCO put out for free as well, because we have the same mindset, that’s why I got a job there is ’cause we all believe the same thing that we need to keep people safe, and that’s what we’re here for… But that 45-minute is a part of the one moment training series that they did, it really will go into detail about my accident and show a lot of pictures and video, if you haven’t seen that. So back to that day. So I was just going out to do a typical task that electricians do, this just happened to be a commercial project, installing a large breaker into a large piece of electrical equipment, and I just made a lot of poor choices, it’s cutting some tape off of an energized busbar where the breaker fits in, and I sacrificed a lot of safety moments to just get the job done, so much so that…
JB: Like I say in my video, at one point, I called my boss and said, Hey, this is pretty sketchy, and my boss didn’t encourage me to turn it off, so if he would have said, Hey, maybe we should turn it off, I probably would have turned it off but I made the choice to continue on and did some sketchy things and then was ready to put the breaker in and there were some loose parts and it exploded. So it blew up in my face, and it’s called an arc flash, there’s no shock involved in this particular… An arc flash is not a shock event, it’s an explosion. So electrical explosions can be 3.5 times hotter than the surface of the sun, so approximately 35,000 degrees and it will get that hot in less than a quarter of a second, so you can’t turn your head in time, you can’t get out of the way, you won’t see it coming. So because there’s such an explosion, there’s injuries to your eyes like welders get from flash burns, you’ll have 160 dB explosion, which is about the volume of a Top Fuel dragster, if you’ve ever heard… So you’ll have…
JB: You can have some hearing loss, you can have several thousand foot pounds of pressure on your chest from the explosion injury, not to mention all the shrapnel, and then the intense heat will ignite your clothing typically, we’ve got some… In my training we’ve got some videos showing, testing. So there’s mannequins that they’ve got regular cotton clothing on and they’re instantly on fire, we’ll say in a 60th of a second, they’re instantly on fire head to toe, so you’re not gonna stop, drop and roll that out, and you’re gonna be dealing with the flash burns plus the fire. In anything over 50% burn, you’re probably not gonna survive. So after this explosion or during it, they say Your mind slows down in accidents, so if you’ve ever been in an accident, you probably will understand that, if you haven’t, there’s no way anybody could understand it, but electricity is 60 cycles, you’ve heard 60 hertz in power, you see it on power supplies, that means that it’s 60 cycles per second. So it’s super fast. Well, every time that cycle goes up and down, that’s a pulse in an explosion for an arc flash, and you can see in videos, you’ll see the explosions will actually pulse…
JB: I could feel those individual explosions, I could feel it, boom, boom, boom! If I had to guess, I probably got hit with maybe seven or eight cycles-ish, 15 cycles is only a quarter of a second, so it’s over before you have a chance to really react. But I knew it was going on and I could hear it. It was noise, I could hear this… Just the loudness of it, I could feel the heat until it burned nerves, and then just like I say in my video after it was over, literally, the first thing I thought was, Oh my God, am I on fire? ‘Cause I’d seen so many videos, and this was all within about a second, all this was happening, literally like one second, so I just… I couldn’t see anything ’cause the room was dark and it’s… You get flash, like flash photography, you can’t see for a few minutes. So then I got out of the room, the hotel manager… The fire alarms were all going off, so the hotel manager came to see what was going on, he opened the interior door into the hotel area, and I saw that light, crack in the darkness, I saw that light, and I exited out just to see what was going… Check out my hands and face, ’cause I knew my hands were smoked, but I was petrified, my face got burned off, I had no idea.
JB: You have no idea, you just… You get burned, you can’t really feel anything anymore ’cause of the burns, so once I saw that, I didn’t look like the Elephant Man… I knew my hands were pretty smoked, I thought, Yeah, that’s gonna be a few months of out of work probably. I just started making phone calls, which you can see in that video, on my super awesome Blackberry, ’cause that was the cool thing back then. So I called a bunch of people and got my boss out there and said, You gotta get out here. It’s bad, I’m going to the hospital, so that’s kind of how that went. Quick version.
BO: Amazing that you had that composure after that accident to even go through that problem-solving. I think it speaks to who you are as a person, you started reaching out to other people knowing you’re in trouble, obviously, but yet, Hey, I need you to come and help, Holy cow, that just… It’s mind-blowing to me.
Tessa Murry: Do you think, Jason, you were in shock too, that… Part of that, do you even remember making those phone calls?
JB: Oh yeah. Oh, absolutely, yes, and yes. I’m sure, I’m absolutely sure there was a level of shock and panic. I’m not a real panicky guy. I’m the guy when my kid steps on a toothpick, my wife would flip out, and go, “Oh my God.” And I’m the one that runs and then yanks it really fast before anybody has a chance to think about it. I just don’t… I don’t get real panicky. And I’ve had so much exposure to arc flash just via YouTube and spending time in the NFPA 70E, which is a book like the National Electrical Code geared just towards safety shock and flash safety.
TM: So Jason, can you tell everyone that’s listening what the actual injuries were and what your recovery was like from that?
JB: Yeah, so my face was a deep second degree burn with points of third degree, and I had pieces of copper that they kinda had to pull out of my face, I had some copper on my teeth, and then like a week later, I blew my nose and had a BB-sized copper that was stuck up in my sinuses came out, so that copper… To go back to that explosion, copper expands 67,000 times its solid form. Water will expand around 6000 to steam, copper is around 60,000 to its gaseous form. So I had a lot of heat damage, miraculously I didn’t go and breathe in, and once you breathe in the copper smoke and the heat you’re done, your lungs will not heal from a burn injury, you can cough the smoke out, which I did for a couple of weeks, but the heat injury, you won’t recover from.
JB: And then my hands, the back of my hands were a deep third-degree burn, and my palms were a deep second, so it required skin grafts on the backs of my hand, and then the palms just… They just healed. But in places… I had a big heavy gold wedding ring on and it instantly got that band hot enough, it burned all the way down to my tendons on my finger, I still have a ring around my finger on the inside, scarring, which is pretty intense. I carry my… If I’m local, I’ll take my coat with me to show… ‘Cause I had a coat on, and again, I’m a portly fellow, so you don’t usually wear coats ’cause I’m already warm, so I had a coat on, otherwise I would have had a lot of burn on my chest and left arm. I was only a 14% burn, which is slight, you would think. I’m not sure how much on my face and hands, what percentage was which, but that put me in ICU for two weeks and off work for seven months, and I rushed back at seven months, I was doing work in compression gloves and got right back into the saddle.
TM: Well, we’re glad you’re here with us, Jason, and really grateful that you’re sharing your message too with so many people. You’re literally saving lives, doing what you do now.
JB: That excites me. It really does. It gives me such a… I’m just… I get pumped about that, I’m just like, Yes, this is making a difference. I know it’s making a difference.
RS: And I just wanna reiterate for anybody working on panels, what mistakes did you make here?
JB: Okay, so going back, how does this… So really, the big question is, how does this apply to our normal residential? This was a 120/208 3-phase, it had what was called a high incident energy, and it turns out that when I got this job at EPSCO, all we do is engineering and safety. That’s all we do. We train, we go to plants and we put stickers on the equipment that shows what kind of PPE you should be wearing and all that stuff, so we did a calculation on my accident, and it turns out that there wasn’t even any PPE that would have been appropriate… It would have… It would have killed me, it should have killed me. It was about a 96 calorie incident energy, and at the time there was only 80 calorie suits, those are the moon suit that you put on to wear in front of electrical panels, so it was a really high incident energy. Again, so many miracles that it didn’t kill me or cause any major… I’m gonna call it major permanent damage, obviously, I can move my hands and I’m still eye candy, I can still… My face didn’t get burned off and…
RS: Yeah you are.
JB: I still can fulfill that role.
BO: But you can breath, and that’s a pretty important part of…
JB: Yeah. No, lung damage, no eye damage, no ear damage. No… It took me seven months to get a complete movement of my hands, I’m probably 95% and have some loss of feelings, and my nails are… They look terrible, all bumpy. I tell people I could have been… I don’t know if you’re any Seinfeld fans here, but I could have been a hand model, George Costanza.
JB: My wife always told me, You have the greatest hands. And now they’re smoked.
TM: They’re beautiful in their own way now.
JB: Yeah, I didn’t grab an iron, but it gets on bigger, but so, how does this apply to residential folk. The incident energy is much less in a residential panel, those panels typically are rated at 10,000 AIC, that’s the most amps that those things will withstand, the utility doesn’t provide so much. So whereas my accident is much more appropriate for the commercial crowd, the shock safety portion of it is what’s gonna mostly apply to you because somebody dies every other day from arc flash, my accident, so three to five per day get injured from arc flash, but one… Only one every other day.
JB: There’s still like three to five people who die from electrocutions every day, so the electrocution hazard is a much higher probability of injury, electrocution or shock to a residential… To a homeowner. And you can have some arc flash events and residential customers that have large homes with 600-amp services, but obviously, that’s way more rare than the normal 100 or 200 AMp panel that you’ll encounter. There have been multiple arc flash on a smaller scale events that I can relate to with a residential panel. Pushmatic panels, the breakers screw in, and they use a really hard… Hardened screws, so screwdrivers are really slick on that screw. So people will try to bolt those in and the screwdriver will slip off that screw and hit the back of the panel and blow up, and…
BO: Just to reiterate, this is working on a live panel, right?
JB: Yes, absolutely.
TM: Oh my gosh.
JB: And a lot of people do that, and there’s a lot of… I can tell you, I’m also… To help you, I’m also… On the weekends, I’m a virtual diagnoser, master electrician for Nationwide Insurance. So they’ve got a program that I’m with. And so on Sundays, I just basically, virtually help homeowners diagnose electrical issues. And there’s a lot of DIYers out there, man. Even… You see them when you do home inspections, there’s a tremendous amount of DIYers. And also as you see, a lot of them should not be doing DIY stuff. You can walk into a house and see the sheet rock mud and the paint and know instantly if it’s a DIY person or not. And it’s awesome and empowering when you can help somebody DIY something the right way, but a lot of these people don’t do it the right way. They’ll YouTube video and they can get some bad advice.
BO: Yeah, a lot of the time, we’ll be doing home inspections and we’ll see crummy electrical work stuff that’s just blatantly wrong. And people will kinda look at us and say, “Well, do you think they used an electrician?” And I go, “Well I sure hope not.”
JB: Not a good one. The worst houses I’ve ever seen in my career, were engineers, electrical engineers and utility lineman. They were absolutely the worst because they thought they knew what they were doing and they were so far off, they missed the mark. Now, I’m sure that doesn’t blanket at all of them, but the really bad ones I saw just so happened to be those groups.
BO: Yeah, I’m sure there are some engineers out there who are evil, I totally agree.
JB: Right, right.
RS: Please send comments to Reuben at… No. [laughter]
JB: Yeah, right.
BO: No, no, no.
RS: Okay, so Jason, as home inspectors, part of the job we have to do is pull the panel cover off and look inside and make sure all the wiring is correct and there’s nothing unsafe. What should the average home inspector or a homeowner, if they’re gonna pull the cover off of their panel, do as a safety measure?
JB: I would say the minimum amount of PPE, personal protective equipment, that home inspectors should have are a good set of boots with the center hardened lug so you can climb ladders safely, a decent tread. All the boots I wear are EH rated, just in case you come into contact with something electrical. One of the worst shocks I ever got was pulling a panel cover off, a dead front off, and it was 277/480, but my pinky touched something that was exposed, so that leads me into my second part of PPE, you should have a good set of gloves.
JB: Now, it’s pretty easy, you could buy a set of double O electrical rated gloves. They’re rubber. They’re very pliable, you can do fine work with them. That will protect you if you come into contact with something. Now you’re supposed to get those tested in every six months. They’re about 100 bucks or 80 bucks for some gloves, and then you’re supposed to get them tested every six months. As a home inspector not doing that on a regular basis, you’d be just fine not probably testing them. I’m not gonna tell you that’s okay, ’cause that would go against everything I train, but the reality is you’re not using them like an electrician would all the time. Those will come with some lightweight leather protectors.
JB: So now you’ve got your boots on, you’ve got some gloves on, just in case there is a loose wire or something does blow up. I mean, you can get a small burn, nothing major. It’s not gonna put you in the hospital. More likely something’s gonna blow up and you’re gonna drop the panel cover on your foot. Or are you gonna drop it and it’s gonna pull some breakers out or it’s gonna create a little bit more of a cascading type accident.
JB: And then thirdly, at a minimum, you should have some safety glasses on. So as I’m getting older, I need reading glasses to see. I just bought some reading glass safety glasses, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread… Or goggles, whatever makes you feel comfortable that protects your eyes. You generally don’t have, like I said earlier, you don’t have the incident energy, which is the arc flash potential to create an explosion that’s really gonna harm you. It could be loud, but it’s probably not gonna cause any ear damage. It’s gonna startle you, so really the accident potential is more in a secondary accident of you freaking out and falling over something in a basement, falling down and breaking your arm, hitting your head, dropping a panel cover on your foot. You know what I mean, stuff like that. And then also the shock hazard is way more likely for home inspectors. So generally, when I go get into a panel, I will feel the top of the panel and make sure nothing can fall in, you just use your senses.
JB: Do I smell anything burning? Like burning electronics? Make light, they make the breakers out of… Do I feel any heat? Is there anything on top of the panel? Anything that I should note. Can you see water that’s run down the concrete? Is the panel cover rusty? You just kinda do a quick… It’s called a risk assessment. And in my world, what I train is doing a risk assessment. And that’s all part of it, you just look at your surroundings. Often I think as home inspectors, and I’ve done a lot of home inspections on the electrical side, you tend to get kind of in your groove. Like a little race car, track race car. And humans are creatures of habit. You’re gonna go. “Okay, I’m gonna go do this, and then I go do this and I go do that.” And if you don’t make that safety portion of it part of that race track, you will miss it, you’ll just go right by it, and eventually it’ll catch up with you.
RS: Great advice for homeowners too, if you blow a breaker, pop a breaker or something and you’re gonna go into your panel, just kind of do that quick once over from a safety perspective.
BO: For anybody doing any work on any panel, I would assume you’d say, “Be sure the power is off first.” Right?
JB: Absolutely. Yeah, always turn the power off. Even if you’re a seasoned DIYer, I’ll just say, “Look, turn the power off.” It takes less… Well, GFIs are 5 milliamps to protect you. So that’s barely anything. So if you get a hold of an outlet, depending on how damp or moist or sweaty your hands are, if you’re working, the human body’s resistance varies by how damp your hands are, or if you’re barefoot on concrete or whatever. So it’s not hard to get to that 5 milliamp threshold, but once you get past there, you reach a let-go threshold. So in my training courses, I’ve got a video of a guy in a commercial kitchen who gets electrocuted. He’s in shorts and he’s working on a piece of equipment, he reaches a let-go threshold and nobody has a clue. So as a homeowner, you go down. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of homeowners have called me over the years. And I’m on the phone, it’s an emergency call, their power’s out, and they tell me, “Oh, I’ve got the panel cover off and I’ve jiggled this wire.” And I’m like, “Sir, ma’am, keep your hands… ” You’re like, “Oh my God.” There’s such an electrocution hazard involved in that, so… Yeah, it’s pretty dangerous.
RS: Well and home inspectors typically aren’t turning the power off when they’re entering these service panels.
JB: Right, in my NFPA 70E, you’re allowed… There’s certain times where you’re allowed to not… To not turn the power off. But there’s boundaries that you can’t cross and you have to have PPE on. So, like I said, with the residential panel being a lower arc flash potential, if you do a risk assessment and you see, Okay, this is a… This is a brand new Square D Homeline panel… There’s no water damage, nothing’s hot, I don’t smell anything, I’m gonna tell you, it’s very safe to pull that panel cover off. The breakers cover the bus bar, where there’s breakers. I think most home inspectors know what is open bus bar, where there’s knockouts not taken out, and breakers aren’t installed, you can typically see that silver or copper bar, you know not to touch that. You pull a panel cover off, you have your safety glasses, gloves on, and you’re doing your visual inspection, and you’re not really crossing into a restricted area as far as that goes. So there’s not a ton of hazard as long as you’ve got some correct PPE on, and you know what you’re doing, you’re a qualified individual.
TM: Can I go back to the type of boots and gloves that you would recommend, Jason, because you mentioned something like EH Rated boots. Do you have any advice for people that are looking to buy this protective equipment, where they can get it, and what they should look for?
JB: Yeah, if you’re a professional… I’ve been in the construction industry for 30 years, so I’ve worn so many different kinds of work boots, from 100 bucks, to 300 bucks, every brand, American made. I just got a set of work boots, because I’ve got some hiking boots made by KEEN, which I absolutely love. They’re amazing. And it turns out they have an industrial side, and they make… KEEN makes work boots, and they are the most amazing work boots I’ve ever put on my feet, oh my God. They’re like 250 bucks, but Composite Toe, incase you drop something on your foot, and they’re EH Rated, which is an Electric Hazard Rated. And just, they’re insulated for electric hazards. Now, does a homeowner need that? No. Honestly, a pair of flip-flops will keep you insulated between a concrete floor and your foot if you inadvertently touch a bus bar. I’m not saying you should try that, or test that theory out…
JB: But I can tell you from experience that I’ve worked on a personal house, and been stupid and done stuff like that. So as an inspector, as a professional, you should have a good set of work boots that protect your feet from all the different things, and gloves. And it’s not just electrical hazard, just to say a quick blurb. I mean, if you’re checking out a sill plate, or a rim joist looking for termite damage and you moving insulation, there’s just as much of a high likelihood that you might get bit by a Brown Recluse up there, as anything else, or a Black Widow, or whatever. It’s good to have gloves on anyway, doing your job, or climbing ladders with a good set of boots, and that fit right on your feet, not… Don’t put the New Balance velcro tennis shoes on to walk across a 12/12 pitch on a roof.
JB: It’s not gonna be a smart thing to do.
BO: You talk about this… I gotta share a quick story that I think we’ve probably shared this on the podcast in the past, but one of our inspectors was going through a basement, and he put his hand up to some metal ductwork for the furnace that felt loose and he got a tingle, like there was a short, something had come in contact with that ductwork. So he put it in his report. And he went back out there to do the re-inspection at this house, there was a handful of things that the sellers were supposed to do, or there was something he was supposed to look at again, and it was just kind of a quick pop in and out, he was gonna be there for five minutes. So normally, all of our inspectors wear indoor shoes during our inspections, but this was just… He’s running in and out, so he didn’t bring his indoor shoes in, or any of his tools. He just slipped his shoes off, went down there in his socks, unfinished basement, in his likely sweaty socks, dead of summer, he’s standing on the concrete, he happened to touch that same ductwork, this time he got lit up. I mean, he thought it’s…
BO: I mean, it was a…
JB: That’s a miracle it didn’t kill him, literally.
BO: Yeah, exactly. And it’s all the difference about having tennis shoes on or not, ’cause it’s the exact same shock as he got before, but now he’s got a really good path to the Earth. I think that’s the only ER visit we’ve had for anybody on my team, ever, for anything, was over that incident.
JB: That’s a great story, and it’s a segue into a couple of things. So one, yeah, I remember my boss telling a story where he was up in an attic, and put his arm, it was all hot and sweaty up there, put his arm on some ductwork and just got completely lit up. So I just… It was a bad shock. I’ve seen in my career so many things like that. A lady called and said, “Every time I take a shower, I feel like I’m getting shocked.” And it was the most unbelievable thing. It took me a couple of hours to find it, but it turned out that it was a house that was all copper pipe, and venting, and someone had stolen the copper out of it at some point, so they went back and replaced it with PVC. Well, the stack that went out the roof was copper, and there was a wire wrapped around it, and it was an older wire, a cloth wire or something, and every time it rained there would get… There was a short… An open in that wire that would touch that pipe.
JB: And the drain was grounded, but that… Or the shower… One of the two was grounded, but the vent was energized. So she would be standing in the shower on the drain, and the water was literally energized as it was hitting her, as it was coming through slightly energized. So it was totally true, she was getting shocked. I’ve found aluminum, or steel siding on houses that have been energized, because of whatever reason. The ductwork is largely ’cause they didn’t ground something properly and you have a fault inside of the furnace. So there’s a lot of situations like that. And that’s a great point, is that he could feel some leakage through his tennis shoes, so that just kind of proves what I said, is you need something that has good insulation, in case you encounter that.
JB: A big hazard for you guys is crawl spaces, ’cause you’re on your knees. And there’s been home inspectors electrocuted in crawl spaces, because a wire’s hanging down, hits you on the head, or back of the neck, you’re on your knees, and it’s energized, and it gets you. The second point I wanted to make on what she said, I’m glad to hear that he went to the hospital, because nowadays, our mindset has really changed in electrical shock. In the old days, literally, there is a electrician’s handbook, and up until 1960… This is in my training, ’cause it’s so absurd, but it talks about how it’s okay to use your fingers to touch-test electrical… Hot electrical stuff, and by noting the intensity of the shock, that’s how you determine if it’s hot, or neutral, or hot to hot. And until 1960 it was in there. It was American electricians handbook, by McGraw.
JB: And so the cultural drift and change of how we think about electrical safety is not any more being lit up or bit or zapped or whatever… It threw me across the room. Now, we have to think about electrical safety in the terms of fatal and non-fatal contacts, so was it fatal or was it non-fatal? And we’ve learned in the last 10 years, and really in the last five, that electrical shock injuries can be progressive, you can get shocked… I’ll give you an example before I go any further, we had a guy that got… We worked on a lot of kitchen equipment, and he was working on a fryer, 120 volts, it was a gas fryer with electric ignition in it, and he went to get up and he put his hand on the fryer and then his other hand on a hot food holding table which is also 120 volts, there’s a heating element in it, and when that heating element gets hot, it expands and the heating element had touched the side of the steel case, the stainless, and the ground prong was broken off of the plug.
JB: So what happened is that whole table was energized, the fryer was grounded and he got shocked, hand-to-hand, which is the worst kind, and he was fine, he was able to fall off of that, but later his brain swelled and consequently, he’s out of work, it did permanent damage, brain damage, and you can have an injury and not know until later, so it’s really, really, really, really, really important as a homeowner or professional, if you get shocked at any level, go get checked out, ’cause it can really affect enzymes, heart rhythms, brain function, and later in life it can take an effect nerves and all kinds of stuff.
RS: So take me to this hand-to-hand combat… Or contact, excuse me. [chuckle]
JB: I don’t know. We can talk about either one.
RS: Why is that the most dangerous? Is that because of the pathway, is like your heart’s directly in between?
JB: Yes, there’s certain paths that are worse than others, so whereas there’s… I’ve got a video on my training that kind of explains what determines the severity of shock and it’s from what point to what point? Obviously, the amount of voltage current, your body’s resistance, it all is a factor, it all makes a difference. So like the example with the socks and the shoes, your body’s resistance makes a difference as well as the direction… The path of travel. So if you’re going hand-to-hand, it’s going across your heart, and it does make a difference. Electricity… They always say electricity follows the path of least resistance, but actually it follows all paths. It will follow differently, different paths based on resistance. So if you’re barefoot and you touch something hand-to-hand, you’re gonna get a hand-to-hand shock and you’re gonna get a hand-to-foot shock. So it’s not just limited, just wanted to add that in there. Hand-to-hand’s across your heart, hand-to-foot on your left side is worse, hand to right foot is least, foot-to-foot is less than that even. I used to touch-test, electrical, 120 volt, whatever.
JB: Finger-to-finger is less… Don’t touch this. I just did that. And it’s funny because I read that verbiage out of that American Electricians’ Handbook, and it says, Some men can’t endure the electric shock, so this method is not feasible in all cases, and I laugh because to so many electricians, they couldn’t do it and I laugh ’cause I remember saying, That’s so true. Anyway, so yeah, that’s the way that path… That current takes through your body and the amount of that current, which is based on the resistance, having sock feet on concrete would increase that… It would lessen the resistance.
BO: I remember back in the day, my dad was a carpenter, his dad was a carpenter, and as such, he’d always get into other stuff. You’re doing electrical work too, that you should have been qualified for. What my grandpa always told me is, if you’re gonna see if a wire’s hot, you always touch it with the back of your hand, ’cause of that let-go thing, so if you close your hand quickly you’re pulling it away, that was the one big trick that I learned from my grandpa.
JB: Yeah, that’s… It’s not actually terrible advice, but to touch it’s where it all went wrong but… There’s advice like that for sure.
RS: Jason, homeowners, home inspectors, I think one of the more dangerous things they might encounter are improper screws, holding the panel covers on sharp screws that have maybe pierced a wire or something like that? What’s the potential there from an injury perspective and/or fire perspective. Does one become more serious than the other?
JB: No. Generally, towards the latter years of reviewing inspection reports, I would see that they would note improper or missing panel screws, which was good, it’s a code thing. My opinion on all that, just to back up one little step, is that anything you see, you should report that’s not a code item or report it as you need to get an electrician out to verify or whatever, ’cause you’re either gonna do it or you’re not gonna do it. I think some inspectors feel guilty for reporting everything ’cause you’re like, Dang, they’re not gonna get the… Then the sale is not gonna go through if I report everything and then I get that whole thing, but panel screws, cutler hammer panels, the classic, the 10… Black with 10 handles, those were infamous, because they had a dual piece of metal that the screws went through and wires would get caught in there. Pointing screws hitting wires, generally, would happened in my experience, ’cause I’ve done that multiple times, is that you get a wire or a screw that hits a wire, it explodes, scares the crap out of you, and then as an electrician, I’m like, I gotta take this apart and splice that wire back together, ’cause I blew it in half.
JB: The injury potential is minimal because it’s all enclosed in that metal box. If you do that in front of a homeowner or somebody else, you start getting then the credibility and embarrassment and that kind of stuff, which I mean, honestly, professionalism is a big deal. Your first impressions with anybody… You know, you guys all know, it can be… It can be catastrophic if you make a stupid mistake.
BO: So probably the worst injury there is to the home inspector’s ego.
JB: Could be. Pride is a… Men typically have a harder time with the pride thing, but yeah, that can be a serious injury to a man, is pride. [laughter]
RS: One time we’re getting some work done in our house, and my service panel is placed against the wall, and there’s a former dishwasher shut off valve that faces it. And it was turned off, but at some point it must have loosened up and that thing opened up and sprayed on to my panel, and I was there when it happened, and I shut it off and grabbed a towel and started trying to dry my panel… How stupid was I? It was so incredibly stupid and I could feel tingling in my fingers, and I have no idea why I didn’t absolutely get zapped. But it was such a reaction, it’s like, Oh my God, there’s water on this… This cannot be good. That panel is no longer in our house, but I just… I think of the whole, thereby the grace of God, I still exist, right? ‘Cause… [laughter]
JB: I love that you brought that up ’cause one of the things I do in my training, and one of the things I wanted to say about my accident when you were talking about the shock and the whatever, Tessa, is that when there’s an accident, your brain is not functioning properly. And I tell everybody in my training otherwise, that if anything happens, and I don’t necessarily even mean an injury accident, but your panel gets sprayed with water, as humans, and I think men suffer from this more than women do, is that we wanna fix things. Obviously, it’s on both sides, but I think that stupidly as humans when something happens, it kinda goes to that pride thing or the fix it attitude, I’ve gotta fix this right now, and that could actually lead you into a really serious secondary injury.
JB: One of the videos I show in my training is a high voltage plant substation in Russia, it’s a common video on YouTube, but it’s a high voltage substation where a guy flips a switch, it blows up and it’s a prolonged arc ’cause it’s high voltage, it just sits there and arcs, single phase, it’s huge, and then it gets to three-phase and it’s gigantic, and when that happens… When it’s single phase and it’s smaller, the guy is standing almost right in front of it, and you can tell he’s walking back and forth going, “Oh my god, what do I do?” You can just tell. When it gets huge, he starts running away, but then he walks right underneath these high voltage insulators that you’re supposed to maintain a 10-foot distance from, it could have killed him, and then as he circles back around to the equipment and the arc stops for whatever reason, it may have just burned itself out, but still is hot, he goes and stands right in front of it and starts throwing snow into the equipment to put the fire out.
JB: And I tell my classes, I’m like, It’s really easy to say, This guy is an idiot, and you go, “This guy is a moron.” The reality is, when you have an accident, it changes something in your brain with adrenaline and chemistry. You’re not thinking straight. It’s a fight or flight, and generally you wanna fight with that type of thing, you don’t have somebody shooting at you, when you’re in flight but in this case, you’re fight and then you make poor choices like trying to wipe a wet panel off, and especially if you’re down there as a homeowner and you’re down there in your socks, or your house coat and your house slippers, whatever… You don’t make good decisions. And so I tell my guys, I’m like, Hey, if you get in any accident, man, just… You gotta yell, Help. You gotta get somebody. I kind of knew that, and that’s why I got on the phone immediately and said, “You gotta get somebody over here. I blew this thing up. It’s terrible”, because you don’t think straight.
TM: That’s a really important point to make, and I think especially for home inspectors who are going into houses every day, and like you said, we get in this routine where we just have this process of inspecting a house, going through it, you take off the panel cover, some houses have two or three panels and you’re taking the cover off, you don’t even think twice, it just kind of…
TM: You don’t realize how dangerous what you’re doing actually is, and so I think everything that we can do to try and prevent that injury in the first place is really important, so wear shoes with rubber soles, wear gloves, wear protective eye equipment, make sure when you’re taking the panel cover off that you’re not seeing scorch marks or burns or water is not dripping in. Do all those things, do the risk assessment, like you were talking about. Make sure that if you’ve got homeowners that are following you around or curious people with you, that they’re not going to reach their hand in around your shoulder to point something out inside the panel. Have your little speech beforehand to prep them for what you’re doing and how dangerous it is and to make sure they’re standing back so they’re aware of it. All those things you can do beforehand, I think are really important.
JB: Yeah, complacency is a killer. Absolutely, is what’ll get you. And I had a customer who’s a kid, and his bedroom was in the basement by the panel, and I walk in there, the panel cover’s already off, and it was a Mexican kid, so there was a language barrier there as well, and I’m at the panel and he literally reaches in, he’s barefoot, it’s a basement and touches the busbar of that panel, and he gets shocked. And I smack his hand out there.
TM: Oh my gosh.
JB: I mean, I was like, Oh my God, so there’s… Like I said in the inspection report, you don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s really important what you guys are doing here with your podcast, with all the other things and safety, it’s fantastic, just awareness and breaking up complacency is just an amazing thing to do.
BO: Tessa, thank you for the wrap-up, I think you kind of put a beautiful bow on this conversation, and I think with that, we should probably begin to wind this down, but Jason, I want you to be able to tell everybody where they can get a hold of you if they wanna… Immediately, I’m thinking, Sundays, I don’t wanna give you a call and talk to you about electricity, but…
RS: What’s your personal cell?
JB: Honestly not my trainings with EPSCO ’cause I’m all over the country, but with ASHI, I put up my personal email and my cell number and you can ask a lot of the guys, I get texts. I talk to past and present members, and they’ll text me pictures, I’ll tell them… I always get back to ’em, but it may take a bit, but… You can get a hold of me. I’m at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. I typically answer back.
BO: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your story, number one, and number two, I’m glad you’re still here, your wealth of knowledge. And you can’t talk about these things enough, we’ve all made silly decisions. And if you’re a DIYer out there, for heaven’s sake, please do your research, call Jason on Sunday before you get into trouble.
JB: Don’t burn your house down. That’s another hazard, besides shock and flash.
BO: That’s part two. That’s part two. Alright, Jason, thank you again. We appreciate it. And everybody else, thank you for listening. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. We appreciate you being here and thanks for joining the conversation.