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180 Volts From Water Stream To Ground #2

This is a follow up post to the one previous. This photo was sent to me by the same person. It is in the same bathroom. Notice I have added water marks to the photos I don’t want photo shopped. Please don’t manipulate the readings on these flukes. These readings are real. I’m sure that sounded like a challenge to every damn photo shopper out there! But seriously!

In a nutshell….This meter is reading 231.1 volt ac between the flexible metal plumping hose on the water heater and the grounded screw at the junction box. For you non electrical types…this is very very bad. This is how people die. You should not have to do a voltage test before you brush your teeth or pee!!!

These photos have caused quite a stir on the electrical forums. Some people thought they might have been staged or otherwise manipulated. I know some find it hard to believe that Americans are exposed to these kinds of hazards in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it’s true and it has to stop.

Manipulating these photos would not lend credibility to me or to the cause of getting the laws changed to protect Americans on US facilities overseas. For me…it’s all about get the NEC and OSHA to apply.

Yes, this was troubleshot and repaired. During manufacture or a repair, the hot lead was terminated on the ground post and the ground on the hot post of the hot water heater. The ground in the feeder cable was cut out.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

Ms Sparky

my image

11 Comments

  1. Comment by Lil Tuffy:

    I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this, it boggles the mind. NOt to trivialize the electrical trade, but how can something so deadly and completely incompetent occur? I mean, if one calls one self an electrician–shouldn’t they know how to avoid electrocuting people who use household plumbing? It seems like gross incompetence…am i wrong or does this kind of thing happen more often than one would think. I just can’t believe this kind of thing actually happens.

    How sad to be in Iraq and be dodging waring militias, roadside bombs, renegade Blackwater thugs and then you get home, only to be zapped to death by errant electricity when you’re taking a piss. Life’s ironies never cease to amaze me.

  2. Comment by Sailor:

    I can’t believe they dropped 8.9 volts from a perfect connection to 240!

    Hmmf, must be line loss.

    (yeah, that was snark.)

    p.s. to Lil Tuffy, it’s not the electricians, it’s the politicians.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    They do have some responsibility here.

  3. Comment by seabee:

    Lil Tuffy,
    Most of the shower and trailer buildings used all over Iraq were built and or installed by Iraqi, Turkish, or other third country nationals. These were not built or installed by Americans or to NEC standards. KBR would then come into an area and would do thier own inspections to take the building under contract. Most of the shady install work I saw over there was not done by KBR, but they did little to fix it either.

  4. Comment by Phil:

    But is the NEC the right answer for Iraq and Afghanistan? It’s specifically written for North America and 120/240V or 120/208V 60Hz wiring. I don’t know of any wiring in any US residence with more than 120V to ground, and that’s a frequent NEC limit. Our “240V” outlets are really two 120V outlets in one, so the phases are still only 120V from ground. Higher phase/ground voltages are found in the US only in permanent commercial settings like 277V ceiling fluorescent lighting. We don’t have 277V utility outlets.

    Iraq and Afghanistan are not the US. They presumably use 240/480V or 240/416V 50Hz with 240V single-sided (line-neutral) convenience outlets. So you’ve exceeded the NEC voltage limits right there. The higher voltages led to plugs and sockets designed with considerable care to keep fingers from contacting live pins.

    In the US, circuit breakers are designed to protect not only the wiring in the wall but also the appliance cords plugged into an outlet. Iraq uses the UK-style outlet, which has a very different design philosophy: the fuse/breaker panel protects only the wall wiring, and each plug has a fuse to protect its own line cord. No doubt these and other practices are unfamiliar even to most experienced US electricians.

    So unless all of the US bases in those countries are going to be wired only to domestic 120/240V 60 Hz US standards, shouldn’t a more suitable local wiring code be chosen and taught to every electrician, including visiting Americans? This should certainly apply to anything at all permanent that’s likely to be turned over to the locals when the Americans leave.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    There is no standard in Iraq. And what do we do in the mean time? The NEC is a minimum standard. The NEC is written to protect personnel and property. Anyone is allowed to go above and beyond. And an exception can be made if the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) approves it. The electrical theory is the same. Wiring methods, grounding and bonding, installations and workmanship standards would be the same. The difference is the voltage and some devices. The NEC is being enforced because KBR made no attempt to establish safe effective wiring methods or employ qualified craft. I believe if some attempt would have been made by KBR to establish and enforce effective wiring methods to meet the needs of the electricians and client, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation and I would still be blogging about the bad latte I got at Starbucks!

  5. Comment by Phil:

    You’re certainly right, the NEC is a lot better than nothing. My point is that even it may not be enough when dealing with 240V systems.

    Side question: do the US camps in Iraq and Afghanistan all use 240V/50 Hz and outlets? Or do at least some use US domestic 120V/60 Hz standards? International travel is a lot easier than it used to be thanks to 100-250V power supplies and interchangeable cords, but at least some soldiers must have brought equipment that’s 120V only.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Everything I saw in Iraq was 240/380. There may have been 120 somewhere, but I didn’t see it. I just transitioned to all 240 stuff. Those small transformers are dangerous. Most laptops are 120/240. So all you need to do is get a adapter…but again…those can be dangerous. You can most of the things you need at the PX. Occasionally they will screw up and by something that is 120 only. Don’t quote me on this one but I think Afghanistan is 120/208 vac.

  6. Comment by EMT-P 435:

    And let’s not even start on the ‘Hajji’ power strips you get over there! I damn near had my clinic burn down because of one. HVAC came to pull my medication ‘fridge for repair and the TCN just kick the 15′ of extra cord into a pile. As a firefighter, I knew to not keep my wire all bunched up and had it stretched out. Luckily, we had an accountability drill that night and I was up and awake (my sleeping are was behind the same plywood wall the cord was on and there was only one exit). I was on the phone with my back to this wall when I smelled smoke, turned, and saw nothing but smoke. I hit the deck, crawled out (throwing the breakers as I went), and called for Fire. Needless to say, it was an experience. Even had to sit through Safety’s little ‘song and dance’ afterward. It was only then Electric 1 told me 1 could have taken my strips to the electric shop and they would shorten the cords. Instead, I spent about $200 on CE/UL listed strips (online, they never had them in the PX).

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    They finally bought good quality strips in the Green Zone. Really cut down on the fires.

  7. Comment by Krash:

    We had the same thing at our camp . . had a fire, then the mandatory all hands safety meeting, where were informed exactly what extenstion cord was needed for using the heaters, refrigerators, etc. One problem with that . . . they were not available at our little PX. Management’s solution . . this is a TTM camp . . have the drivers check at the other bases. Purchase the extension cords at your own cost because we know that this is a problem, but we (management) are making it mandatory to have this type of extension cord or we will send you home. (2 people per room, only one outlet for the heater/refrigerators at the rear of the room (220), the person in the front portion gets no heat in the winter, and has no outlet if they want their own refrigerator, unless they can get one that has 110 plug)

    Oh, and don’t forget, the hooches have 220 and 110 outlets, so make sure that you plug into the right outlet . . . and if the 110 converter blows, no problem, we won’t fix it you’re just without electrical outlets in over half of the hooch.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    I love that knee jerk CYA training. In the Green Zone we only had 240 volts and they were selling 120 volt stuff at our PX.

  8. Comment by flash:

    I’ve been an electrician for 30 yrs, and do not believe that the NEC (NFPA70) is very practical or useful anymore. It has become what apprentices are continuously taught INSTEAD OF the actual laws of electricity (Physics). A version of the NEC from 1980 or even 1970 would be useful in some respects, but real understanding of the laws of physics is what is needed to build safe electrical systems and installations.

    It’s obvious that much of the terrible electrical work was done by people that knew neither laws or codes, but a generation of people that wire things by a legal code, and can’t determine which one to try to adhere to, are pretty scary to me.

    The various laws that require that wiring be performed by trained, tested professionals are more important than which edition of the “National Exception Catalog” be officially adhered to. Of course we know that KBR would intent to abide by neither.

  9. Comment by I_Hate_KBR:

    Im personaly sick of KBR’s lame excuss that it was installed by SCW or TCN’s or what ever line of B.S they are trying to sell.

    The FACT is, A CONTRACTOR is 100% Legally LIABLE for ALL work Performed by a SUBCONTRACTOR.

    FACT: KBR CHOSE to hire these workers!
    FACT: KBR CHOSE to ACCEPT these Building with those Problems!
    FACT: KBR failed on numerous occasions to fix it.
    FACT: KBR Ignored its own Electricians!
    FACT: KBR Fired Electricians whom complained or tried to change SOP.

    I barely blame any KBR Electrician, yes some are mentally handicap. But that’s because the good ones were under paid and then run out of country when they tried stopping these issues.

    I salute all the KBR Electricians who tried to make a difference and ended up getting fired or Demobing over these issues.

  10. Comment by xtrovert:

    I have been in Iraq for three plus years now. I was an electrician and a Forman for over a year. Most of the bad work that I saw was done by soldiers (self performed) or outside local contractors. Some of those contractors did nice work too. Their grounding was sometime used and sometime just cut out. They seldom used any strain relief (CGB).
    I also found that some of the electricians from Bosnia did the same things, but then I found out that they were trained by KBR in the Balkans. They had been locals in Bosnia and were able to get rehired for Iraq. The real Balkan electricians that had done apprenticeships were just as qualified and did nice work too. It is the same as getting a guy from Mississippi where they don’t have electrical licensing. I once had two guys from Mississippi; one guy worked for Honeywell and was excellent. I had to pair the other with an Iraqi worker to teach him because he did not know anything.
    The big issue was finding people who could recognize a problem. Work should have been QCd in the beginning and it was not. Some electricians can run and terminate wire all day and do a good job at it but not recognize good grounding practice and fail the electrical system with a bad ground. And that is it in a nutshell. Poor work practice.
    I think that pictured is doctored. That is a metal screw he is touching. That screw is in a plastic box. Unless someone “grounded the screw it would be isolated and not give you any reading. Now the picture with the 180 volts in a water stream from what looks like the same water heater is believable. I have seen similar work.
    To Phil and Ms Sparky. The NEC regulates up to 750 Volts So it would cover the electrical installations in Iraq . In Iraq as you know we use 240/400 volts system. One leg is 240 V and leg to leg is 400V. The grounding would be the same requirements and support methods for conduit and grounding of cables (Shielded cables) would also be the same. In most cases you can follow the rule of the NEC with minor deviations, like the running of SOJ cable more then 1 metre.

    • Comment by Ms Sparky:

      As you know, it’s hard to say what is actually inside that box. But I do know the photos are not doctored I’ve had them checked and the sender is very reliable. Thanks for all that insight on the Bosnian electricians. I was fortunate to have a very good Iraqi electrician for a partner. What he lacked in skill or knowledge on NEC installations he more than made up for in good attitude and willingness to learn.

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