Equipment and appliances supplied with fuel gases like natural gas, propane and butane are a common and convenient part of most of our lives. Such devices as gas grills and ranges, ovens, furnaces, space heaters and water heaters usually perform without incident. However, when they malfunction the potential for incidents such as fires and explosions, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and burn injuries may occur. These incidents may be due to design and manufacturing defects in the product, or improper installation or operation of the device.
While on a lunch stop during a recent vacation trip through Tennessee, I happened across a safety hazard that required immediate attention. The establishment had a raised concrete patio at the front with a steel railing around the perimeter. At one edge of the patio was a set of stairs with a continuation of the steel railing used as a handrail. The top edge of the patio had light strings wrapping the top metal bar as accent lighting for the perimeter. The light string continued down the stair handrail wrapped in the same manner as the rest of the patio.
FIGURE 1 – A view of the subject patio
While walking down the stairs, it was noted that two bulbs were missing from the sockets on the portion of the light string that wrapped the handrail. The sockets, a common Edison-style base, were open to the weather. More significantly, the open sockets were in the path of a person’s hand (adult or child) sliding down the handrail while traversing the stairs. The damaged condition of the light strings due to the missing bulbs presented an electrocution hazard. While the risk of electrocution may be mitigated if the light strings are supplied by the required National Electric Code (NEC) Article 527.5, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protected circuit, the condition of the light string presented a hazard.
FIGURE 2 – Closeup photo of one of the two open lamp sockets
Further, the wrapping of the light string around the handrail violates the International Building Code (IBC) requirements. Section 1012.4 Continuity states that “Handrail gripping surfaces shall be continuous, without interruption by newel posts or other obstructions.” The random placement of the cable from the light string randomly interferes with the continuous profile of the handrail.
FIGURE 3 – View of the cord wrapping the handrail interfering with usability
While there was likely good intent with the placement of the light string to add light to the stairs, the method that was used impeded the use of the handrail. Further, lack of maintenance by not replacing the missing bulbs crated a shock or electrocution hazard. Beware of these lurking hazards, if things don’t look right, they probably aren’t.
Tom Kelly has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida, along with a Master of Business Administration with emphasis in strategic leadership from Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina. Tom’s 25-year career in electrical engineering includes forensic engineering investigations involving industrial electrical accidents, electrical equipment failure analysis, control system failures, robotics and automation components, and scope of damage assessments. He has conducted investigations for fires, arc flash incidents, electrocution and electric shock accidents and lightning strike evaluations.