Electricity is the magical genie of our world. It is one of the keys of modernization and it makes our everyday life more convenient with its diverse usages. However, electrical accidents also happen if it’s not used properly. In this article, we will tackle the reasons on why people get electrically grounded.
Understanding the Human Body
Your body is a complex machine with different systems. Like all complex machines, there must be something that controls the different parts and this is called the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Its counterpart, the peripheral nervous system, communicates the message from the brain to your toes, by running electric cables through the body.
Linking Your Body with Electricity
Electrical signals work in our bodies through the Peripheral Nervous System in two ways. One is to tell the brain something is happening outside. Another is to carry instructions from the brain to other parts (like the muscles).
When you touch a “live” electrical wire, the electrical current of the outside force interferes with your body’s internal electrical signals. When this happens, your nerves and muscles do not identify whether this signal is from the brain or from a power line. Thus, they respond just as if everything were coming from the brain. Signals from the brain typically tell a muscle to contract, so your muscles contract and relax rapidly, giving you that twitchy feeling of an electrical shock.
Here’s a list of circumstances making you susceptible to be electrically grounded:
- When two wires at two different voltages come into contact with each other with you touching them at the same time, an electric current passes through your body thereby grounding you.
- When you touch the live (black or colored) wire or other parts of an energized electrical appliance accidentally while another part of your body is in contact with the neutral wire, a current will pass through your body. Then you will get an electric shock.
- When your body is in contact with the live wire while another part is touching a grounded object (e.g. water pipes, street lamp posts, metal posts and metal casing of washing machines), you will also get grounded.
- When you touch a grounded victim (person received the shock), you will also get the shock.
Understanding Electrical Conductors
Coming into contact with conductors such as metal and water; moreover, aggravates the ground. Technical explanation suggests that everything is composed of atoms which are made up of tinier things: protons (positive charge), electrons (negative charge) and neutrons (no charge). When an object (or person) has extra electrons, it attracts more positive charges. Electrons move more easily through certain materials like metal, which is a dandy conductor.
When you touch a doorknob or wear any piece of jewelry made of metal (has a positive charge with few electrons), the tendency is that the extra electrons jump from you to the object, getting you grounded. This is a common situation especially when air is drier and electrons build up easier on the skin’s surface. That tiny shock you feel is a result of the quick movement of the river of millions of electrons.
Additionally, a ground fault occurs when a circuit conductor connects with the ground or the earth. And wet conditions just increase the risk of having an electric shock. Dipping into water and then touching a component in a powered or energized circuit increase the chances of being electrocuted. Prevention is best: don’t work in a wet and humid environment (e.g. outdoors on a rainy day, kitchen sink, bathroom floor and anywhere moist). Better yet, turn off all power sources or remove the source from the circuit entirely before touching it.
When it’s really necessary for you to work under this condition, keep one hand in your pocket when working with electrical equipment. If an electric zap occurs, the current will flow from your exposed hand to the ground—not from one hand to the other passing right through the heart.