Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Residential

Hazards Can Lurk Anywhere … Watch Your Step …

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.

Electric Hazard Guardrail photo

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.

Closeup photo of one of the open lamp sockets

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.

View of the cord wrapping the handrail interfering with usability

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.

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Orange mini excavator

Case Study: Fatality Servicing Unsupported Excavator Boom

A mini-excavator at a job site developed a leak at a hydraulic fitting at the base of the cylinder that raises and lowers the boom. A subcontractor foreman at the site raised the boom to search for the leak. The foreman found and attempted to tighten the leaking fitting. When he did, the fitting separated from the base of the cylinder, releasing the hydraulic pressure that held the boom aloft. The boom fell and the bucket struck a nearby superintendent for the general contractor.

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Gas Appliance testing lab

Testing As Part of Gas Appliance Incident Investigation

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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.

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Hot Tub Hazards

Danger Lurking in the Hot Tub

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Several dangers involving the use of a hot tub (spa) may readily come to mind, such as the risk of shock or electrocution, or the risk of drowning for unsupervised young children.  Not so readily apparent is the effect of overheating the human body, or “hyperthermia”.

Some individuals are more susceptible to the effects of hyperthermia, including the elderly, young children, and those in poor health.  The effects of hyperthermia, or overheating of the human body, cause direct responses such as headache, nausea, heat exhaustion, increased cardiac output, lethargy, confusion, heat stroke and unconsciousness.  The onset of hyperthermia is defined as being at 99.5° F; if the body temperature reaches 104° F, a life-threatening medical emergency exists.  Read More

Figure 1: A typical Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Receptacle.

Testing…testing… Is this thing on?

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Many people just take for granted that something is just going to work, and in many cases assume that it will work forever.  One such device that does not get enough attention is the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).   Simply put, a GFCI is a protective device that compares the current flowing on the hot and neutral wires of the circuit and will “trip” to disconnect power to the circuit if a small imbalance of current is detected.  The imbalance of current is an indication of a dangerous alternate path for the current to flow from a damaged line cord or a fault inside an appliance and constitutes a shock hazard to a person. Read More

Traditional_Mud_Shower_Pan-main

Water Damage from Leaking Shower Stalls

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Have you ever had to have a leaking shower pan for a tiled shower stall replaced, only to have a recurrence a few years later? If so, it is likely that it was not properly built and/or repaired. In most installations, the shower stall is constructed with an underlying one-piece flexible membrane of PVC that is attached to the wall studs before the backer board and wall tile is installed. No nails or screws should penetrate the membrane below the level of the curb of the shower stall. The only opening in the membrane below the curb must be the hole for the shower drain to connect to the house plumbing. The shower drain is designed to allow water on top of the membrane to flow into the drain via weep holes for that purpose. Read More

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Ready, Set, Fly! – Understanding Another Technology for Forensic Investigations

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This is the first blog in a series on integrating new technologies into the process of forensic investigations.  Documenting the scene of an incident accurately, efficiently, and safely is a key step in every investigation.  Busy roadways and unstable structures present hazards to the investigator during the investigation process. The use of remote sensors can reduce these risks and provide data that otherwise could not safely be obtained. Read More

nail gun

Should I Trust My Nail Gun?

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Can you imagine framing a house with the tools of our forefathers, using hand saws and hammers, rather than power saws and pneumatic nail guns? Power tools have made the job much easier and faster, that even the amateur is well equipped for this kind of work. Read More

Corrision-Pipes-2

Graphitic Corrosion – Difficult to determine before a failure!

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Graphitic corrosion is a process that may happen in equipment made of iron, particularly grey cast iron, but also ductile cast iron. Graphitic corrosion can lead to unexpected catastrophic failure of the affected part because the cast iron can lose its strength without a visible warning such as a change in size, shape, or appearance. Read More

Steve Hunt using an Excel Tribometer measuring a floor surface.

The Impact of Technology on Slip and Fall Incidents

I have investigated hundreds of slip and fall incidents in my career. Today, we have new tools and technology available to assist investigators in conducting forensic investigations to determine the cause or causes of these incidents and to assist owners and operators in loss preventions efforts to minimize the potential of slip and fall incidents. Read More

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