A trail of death by electricity

A trail of death  by electricity

The onset of rains in Bangalore has triggered a spike in electrocutions, that dreaded accident due to electric contact where death is mostly instant.

At least seven people were electrocuted in the City and two young children seriously injired in the last month alone, the first pre-monsoon torrential rain taking a
big toll. 

The first case was the death of a cricket fan who had come to watch the IPL semi final match on May 18. Incessant rains had disrupted the match and the victim, Manoj Kumar had stepped out of the Chinnaswamy Stadium for snacks. A stroll on Church Street proved fatal for him, as he reportedly held onto a metal mesh around a transformer to avoid slipping. Police said he was electrocuted instantly, although the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) has disputed the claim.

The next time it rained big in the City, the last day of May, two more lives were lost due to electrocution. Hemanth Mahe, 24 security guard at Gopalan International School in Hoody died when he came in contact with a live wire that had fallen due to rains in the night. He had gone out to fetch water. The same night, another victim, Manjunath met the same fate near Nimhans when he held on to an electric pole in the rains.

Thirty-year-old woman police constable, Chandrakala, attached to Basaveshwaranagar police station was anothe rvictim. While drawing water from a sump in her Kamakshipalya house on June 9, she was electrocuted due to a faulty motor connection without grounding. Just a day before this incident, six-year-old Rakshitha suffered major burns as she came in contact with a live wire in close proximity to her first floor residence in Sunkadakatte. She is being treated at Victoria Hospital, but faces a grim future. Looming large for her is the possible amputation of an arm.

Rain-related factors might have triggered a surge in these electrocutions. But there are other reasons as well, official negligence being a significant factor. “For the electrical accidents on the street, the chief reason has been the negligence and lack of safety standards by Bescom,” notes B K Hampagol, retired Director (technical), Fire and Emergency Services.

Taking the Church Street accident as an example, he points out that there are clearly laid down safety standards and procedures for the placement and maintainance of transformers. In this particular incident, the safety mesh around the transformer had given away and was not maintained properly. Poorly maintained transformers, he cautions, pose a great threat during rains.

A particular quenching oil level has to be maintained to control heat generation within the system. If this is not done periodically, sudden rains would create a drastic difference in temperature and thus lead to a fire accident or short circuit. Though there is a mandatory rule to put up fire extinguishers at all the heavy transformers, the rule has been flouted at will, notes Hampagol.

A retired Bescom senior official informs that the electricity company’s recent trend of hiring contract workers after a brief training had its pitfalls. The expertise and qualification of these workers to undertake repair and maintenance work is a huge question mark, he says on conditions of anonymity. For instance, any high capacity joints underground have to be done by heating with lead, a delicate process which requires expertise. “Nowadays, this work is done by contract workers. If these joints are not done properly, it can be a source of disaster. If during rains, water collects above ground where these joints are beneath, and the water percolates, it may lead to grounding and thus accidents,” he explains.

He also talks about the linemen not having safety kits such as gum boots or even a pair of gloves. The absence of these kits has on many occasions claimed lives of linemen themselves, who could have been easily saved.

While rains expose the inherent weaknesses of the city’s electricity infrastructure, the dry season too has its share of electrocutions caused by short circuits and carelessness in individual houses. As Hampagol points out, rodents, ants and rats are a common problem during summer. These would have usually burrowed under the earth, and skinned off the insulation of wiring. Once it rains, the humidity drastically increases and if water seeps into these places, it could turn a dangerous cocktail, a disaster waiting to happen.

Individual consumers, says a fire department official, should be aware about these issues and handle electrical appliances appropriately. One major problem within individual establishments is the lack of standard equipment and poor maintanance. Even if the wiring and other equipment are of good quality, without periodic checks they would create big problems. Another critical area of concern is the lack of proper earthing in many establishments, both commercial and residential. This, the official points out, is a willful negligence which can be fixed to avoid accidents to a large extent.

One of the simplest and the best precautions to avoid such accidents in individual establishments could be the circuit breaker. A circuit breaker is a fuse-like system that automatically breaks off the circuit in case of any overloading or short circuit. Though it has been made mandatory at all new establishments, many setups that are over 10 years old still don’t have a circuit breaker. A cricuit breakler costs a pittance and that can be the best solution to avoid electrocution accidents in individual establishments, points out Hampagol. Since most of the fire accidents in these indvidual establishments are caused by short circuit, such simple systems could make a critical difference.

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