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Commentary: Avoiding electric-shock drowning

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With the start of summer just around the corner, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is reminding people about the potential electrical hazards in swimming pools, hot tubs and spas, on board boats and in the waters surrounding boats, marinas and launch ramps.

Electric-shock drowning (ESD) happens when faulty wiring sends an electrical current into the water. The current then passes through the body and causes paralysis. When this happens, a person can no longer swim and ultimately drowns.

Most people, including boat and pool owners and swimmers, are not aware of the risks of electric shock drowning. NFPA is raising awareness of this troubling trend and sharing our water-safety resources so that everyone can safely enjoy summer water activities.

Tips for swimmers
• Never swim near a marina, dock or boatyard, or near a boat while it’s running.
• While in a pool, hot tub or spa, look out for underwater lights that are not working properly, flicker or work intermittently.
• If you feel a tingling sensation while in a pool, immediately stop swimming in your current direction. Try and swim in a direction where you had not felt the tingling. Exit the water as quickly as possible; avoid using metal ladders or rails. Touching metal may increase the risk of shock.

Tips for pool owners
• If you are putting in a new pool, hot tub or spa, be sure the wiring is performed by an electrician experienced in the special safety requirements for these types of installations.
• Have a qualified electrician periodically inspect and– where necessary– replace or upgrade the electrical devices or equipment that keep your pool, spa or hot tub electrically safe. Have the electrician show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
• Make sure any overhead lines maintain the proper distance over a pool and other structures, such as a diving board. If you have any doubts, contact a qualified electrician or your local utility company to make sure power lines are a safe distance away.

Tips for boat owners
• Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water, causing water electrification.
• Each year, and after a major storm, have the boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes of your area, including the American Boat & Yacht Council. Check with the marina owner, who can also tell you if the marina’s electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes of your area, including the National Electrical Code.
• Have ground fault circuit interrupters installed on the boat, and use only portable versions of them or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that are “UL-Marine Listed” when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.

NFPA has additional resources for swimmers, boat and pool owners, including tip sheets, checklists and more that can be downloaded and shared. Please visit nfpa.org/watersafety.

Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

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Commentary: Avoiding electric-shock drowning