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Electrical Outlets in Wet Locations

Spend enough time on a job site and it's not that hard to spot dangerous areas for trips, slips, and falls. But electrical hazards are just as dangerous, especially on sites that need power in wet locations, albeit maybe a little less obvious.

Still, using a standard outlet often won't do. Wet electrical outlets can cause shock hazards and unprotected outlets may corrode, increasing the risk of fire.

It's essential to follow guidelines to help reduce dangers and keep your job site safe. Here's what to know.

Understand the Risks of Electrical Outlets in Wet Locations

The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) lists the risk of electric shock as one of the department's top four causes of fatalities on construction sites. These same dangers, especially electrocution, can occur on any job site, from farms to restaurants.

Dairy farms, for example, have lots of different types of equipment including some common items like temporary lighting, feed augers or water pumps for animal confinement cooling cells. Yet, the electrical outlets that serve this equipment are often in wet locations and/or subject to the elements. If outlets aren't properly protected, doing a simple daily task can become a hazard.

Getting water inside an outlet is particularly dangerous. Since water can conduct electricity, it doesn't take much to get a shock. Standing in a puddle or touching an outlet with damp hands could lead to electrocution or burns. In addition, wet electrical outlets and exposed wires can corrode and malfunction, causing sparks when equipment is plugged in.

It's essential to ensure that any outlets near or exposed to water have extra protection to help avoid electrical shocks and burns.

How to Prevent Shock Hazards from Wet Outlets

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issues Standard 70 of the National Electrical Code (NEC) for electrical safety in the workplaceNEC Article 406.8 (A) and (B) cover wet and damp locations regarding water outlets.

A wet location is considered a place where electrical outlets are subject to water saturation. Regulations include:

  • 15 and 20, and 125- through 250-volt outlets installed in wet locations should have weatherproof enclosures around them.
  • Outlets in wet locations where equipment is plugged in and not attended to while in use (for example, a refrigerator unit) must have a weatherproof enclosure regardless if the plug is inserted or removed.
  • Outlets in wet locations where equipment is plugged in and attended to while in use (for example, power tools) must have a weatherproof enclosure for when the plug is removed.

damp location is a place that doesn't get saturated, but water (or other liquids) can drip, splash or flow on electrical equipment. Regulations include:

  • Any outlets installed outdoors or in a damp location must have a weatherproof cover when a plug is not inserted.
  • Any outlets that meet regulations for wet locations will also work for damp locations.

Following these guidelines will help protect your workers and your job site.

Wet Electrical Safety 101

Creating a safety culture around your job site can help avoid workplace accidents and injuries. While slips, trips, and falls are among the most common safety issues, you don't want to neglect electrical hazards due to wet outlets.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Ensure any new outlets installed in your workplace are appropriately rated to comply with NEC Article 406.8 (A) and (B) regulations.
  • Review your current work areas for outlets with damaged or missing weatherproof outlet covers and replace them with appropriate weather-resistant covers.
  • Consider replacing older outlets with Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets designed to protect from short circuits. These are standard water outlets in residential and industrial kitchens and bathrooms, where the risk of shock is higher.
  • If an outlet gets water in it, turn off the outlet (if it's GFCI) as well as the breaker box and let the box dry overnight. If you aren't sure if it's dry, don't touch it, and call an electrician.
  • Avoid working with or touching any electrical equipment while standing in water or using equipment with damp hands. Both of these conditions can cause shocks.
  • If one of the wet outlets sparks and causes a fire, don't throw more water on it since that may cause electrocution. Instead, use a fire extinguisher, cut the power and call the fire department.

Practicing good safety habits on the job site can help avoid accidents and injuries. So can having the proper coverage. If you want to know how you can protect your business, connect with us, and we'll work with you to build the best plan for your needs.