Unsafe electrical practices can lead to devastating results
August 8, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - Electricity: hard to imagine a world without it. With it, however, comes a responsibility to handle it properly in order to prevent accidents that can occur from shock, electrocution and fires.
Recent reports highlighting the electrical deaths of 16 servicemembers in Iraq have brought heightened awareness to the risk electricity poses in theater, and senior leaders are stressing the importance of safety in its regard.
Officials with Task Force Safe, a task force designed to help create awareness among servicemembers in Iraq regarding electrocutions and fires, state that although buildings in Iraq don't meet U.S. electrical code standards, walking into a trailer or building shouldn't be a cause for worry of electrocution.
And while the TF is working with contractors, officials and electricians in order to standardize the electrical code and inspect all of the buildings in which coalition forces reside, it is also stressing the cutting down of complacency and unsafe practices in order to minimize the risk of electrical shock or fires.
"We are wired into an infrastructure that we would consider, by American standards, to be substandard," said Jesse L. Martin, safety director, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, of some of the electrical wiring in buildings and trailers in which troops reside. "Realizing that, [servicemembers] should be extra careful."
Essentially, servicemember practices of overloading power strips in trailers or allowing an overabundance of dust in a room can cause bad connections or sparks which can lead to the worst of situations. That's why the safety office recommends against a myriad of unsafe electrical practices they routinely see troops conducting in living quarters. This includes 'daisy-chaining' electrical equipment, taping electrical cords and having too many appliances plugged into one outlet, to name some.
"Leaders should ensure Soldiers do not plug a bunch of things into one power strip," Martin recommends. "There should be monthly inspections [of rooms], and if something looks wrong, Soldiers and leaders should get an expert to check it. And anytime there is a spark or a small fire, it should be reported."
There are innumerable do's and don'ts when it comes to the realm of staying safe from electricity, however, the mainstay is that servicemembers need to be aware and "not take any chances with adapting or modifying electrical equipment," said Martin, a retired Soldier and veteran of eight years in the safety field.
"I have seen where soldiers have used a damaged extension cord, taped it up, and daisy-chained it so they could have additional outlets," he said. "Unfortunately, this wire became hot, got dirt in it, and then it couldn't trip the power circuit."
A fire resulted from this incident, as there have been several trailer fires in the past few years in Iraq, however, preventative measures can be taken to help ensure fires of this kind are kept at a minimum.
Some ways to mitigate risk of electrocution or electrical fire, according to a report from TF Safe, are to:
A-A A(R) Ensure surge protectors and power strips remain free of dirt and dust.
A-A A(R) Remove any damaged electrical power strips and surge protectors.
A-A A(R) Unplug any devices not in use, especially when you leave the room.
A-A A(R) Do not use partially burned or damaged extension cords.
A-A A(R) Report any electrical problem to the Mayor's Cell or your supervisor immediately
Although it is the servicemembers and first-line leaders' responsibility to do their part preventing electrocutions and fires, Martin said; the command also has a responsibility to make broader fixes and the TF is one step in that direction.
According to officials from the MNC-I staff engineer section, there are "ongoing initiatives to combat the electrical construction issues in theater..."
They outline the 'way ahead,' which in part is to: "identify, prioritize [and] correct deficiencies and minimize risk from faulty electric materials, installation and maintenance."
In the meantime, TF Safe stresses that all servicemembers, from the top to the bottom, have a responsibility to each other to prevent electrical shocks and fires.
"We all must do our part to protect the force and eliminate needless accidents," said Col. John A. Lenk, director, Army Safety Augmentation Detachment, Forces Command, who is also the team chief for the safety and communications team with TF Safe.
For more safety information, visit the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center at https://crc.army.mil/home/