Sie sind auf Seite 1von 12

Theory / 10.06.

24 - 040
Electrical engineering
Dangers of electricity
After a brief introduction on the dangers connected with electricity, this lesson
examines the effects occurring when an electric current flows through the human
body. The lesson also gives a number of instructions on how to come to the
rescue of someone.
Subsequently, the purpose and principle of operation of an earth wire are
Next, we will examine static electricity in detail.
Contents of the lesson
1 Dangers of or due to (static) electricity
2 Current flow through the body
3 Earthing
4 Heat generation and sparking
5 Static electricity
6 Examples of situations in which static charge and spark-over may occur
7 Means of preventing spark-over
The copyright in this material is vested in Shell Global Solutions International B.V., The Hague, The Netherlands and Shell Netherlands Raffinaderij B.V. All rights
reserved. Neither the whole or any part of this document may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means (electronic,
mechanical, reprographic, recording or otherwise) without the prior written consent of the copyright owner.
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
1. Dangers of or due to (static) electricity
It is generally known that in spite of all sorts of safety measures, numerous
electricity-related accidents still occur. Some of these accidents are due to the
device or unit being faulty. The largest number of accidents, however, is caused
by ignorance and carelessness. It is therefore of the greatest importance for
every user of electrical energy to have some knowledge of the subject and also
to be aware of the dangers related to it.
We will first list the dangers connected with the use of electrical energy:
- danger of electric current passing through the body;
- danger of injury due to sparks;
- danger of fire and explosion due to sparks or arcs (also due to static
- danger of injury resulting from a fall due to electric shock.
2. Current flow through the body
In the first lesson we discussed the fact that the current is dependent on the
voltage and the resistance (Ohm's law). This also applies to the human body, of
course. In this case, however, only a very small current is allowed.
It may sound strange, but a current as small as 40 to 100 mA (1 mA = 0.001 A)
flowing through the region of the heart will in most cases cause instant death.
This current can be supported for no more than 0.2 s. Currents of 30 mA can be
supported for ca. 1 s, those of 20 mA for ca. 5 s, and of 15 mA for ca. 15 s.
Question 1
What is the maximum allowable cut-out time of the earth leakage switch
examined in the previous lesson?
Insidiously, currents over 10 mA cause muscle spasms, making it impossible to
release a live object after grabbing it. This is what makes it so dangerous to grab
hold of live parts.
Currents stronger than 100 mA pose slightly less mortal danger. These currents
can, however, cause hideous burns due to generation of heat, and consequently
lead to mortal danger or mutilation all the same.
Alternating current has proven to be more dangerous to touch than direct
current, while alternating current of the customary frequency (50 or 60 Hz)
proves to be the most dangerous.
- accidents
- types of danger
- electrocution
- muscle spasms
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
As you may know, the heart possesses an autonomous (i.e. independent) nervous
system, which mean that every part transmits the command to a subsequent part,
resulting in the fact that the consecutive contractions of the atria and ventricles
take place in a certain rhythm. As such 'commands' are given by means of
electrical voltages applied to nerve fibres, currents from external sources will
completely upset the functioning of the heart. The heart will start to flutter and
the brains will not be supplied with oxygen. This can produce loss of
consciousness and if no immediate action is taken, death may ensue. In some
cases, this can be prevented by artificial respiration and cardiac massage.
If due to an accident a person is put under electric tension, rescuers must take
care they are not themselves put under tension. The best thing to do is to switch
off the current, but only if this can be done immediately. This can be done by
throwing the main switch, or an emergency switch if one is present, or by
removing the safety fuses. If it is not possible to switch off the current rapidly,
the victim must be removed from the live parts. This can be done by pulling at
the victim's clothes or by means of non-conducting objects.
Due to the muscle spasms it may be extremely difficult to get the victim loose
from the live object. To undo the muscle spasms, the current through the body
must be interrupted. This can be accomplished for instance by lifting the person
by his clothes or in a similar way.
Apart from the voltage, the magnitude of the current depends also on the
resistance between the live object and earth. This consists of the resistance of for
instance the skin, the body itself, the footwear, the floor covering and the floor.
It is for that reason that the regulations take into account both the voltage with
respect to earth and the condition of the surroundings. It will be obvious that if
someone has just finished taking a shower and is standing barefoot on a wet
stone floor, the resistance to earth is quite low. In this case a fairly low voltage
will suffice to inflict severe injury.
This is the reason why the safe voltage for humans has been set at 42 V AC. For
animals (cowsheds and similar) this voltage is even lower: 24 V.
3. Earthing
To work with electrical appliances safely, the danger of contact must be limited.
This can be done by proper earthing of all appliances or by taking special
precautionary measures (a number of which will be discussed below).
The operation of such safety earthing will be examined with reference to
figure 1.
Figure 1a shows a motor of which, through some cause or other, the casing is
live, while the casing is not earthed.
Question 2
What do we call this type of contact?
- autonomous
nervous system
- switch off voltage
- regulations
- safe voltage
- danger of contact
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
Figure 1
a. Motor live due to leakage
b. Motor safe in spite of leakage thanks to earthing
Touching this motor will result in a current passing through the body of the
person concerned, with all consequences.
Question 3
Do you think it would make a difference whether the motor absorbs a 10 A
current or a 20 A current from the mains?
The current always takes the path that offers least resistance. If we provide an
easier route for the current, it will bypass the body.
This can be done by connecting the motor casing to earth by means of a good
conductor of adequate cross section, the earth wire (see figure 1b). As soon as a
voltage is applied to the casing, the earth wire will short circuit it to earth. When
that happens, for an instant a very large current will flow through the earth wire,
but through the supply wires as well, of course. As a result, the safety fuse will
blow at once, so the voltage will disappear. With a good earth wire, the voltage
on the metal casing will not exceed 42 V.
If the earth wire is not quite up to scratch, the current cannot become large
enough to make the safety fuse blow rapidly. There is also a risk of the safety
fuse not blowing fast enough in the case of earth leakage if the safety fuse is
replaced by a heavier one. For this reason, a safety fuse of for instance 10 A
must never be replaced by one of for instance 20 A.
In both these cases, a dangerous voltage will remain on the motor casing for a
certain time.
This can also happen if the earth wire is not firmly attached. The earth wire itself
has a very small resistance, provided a wire of sufficient cross section is used.
An earth wire that is not properly connected can however lead to a very large
contact resistance.
- earth wire
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
It is therefore important that all electrical equipment, whether mounted
permanently or temporarily, is fitted with a proper earth wire.
Exceptions are hand tools, which are connected via an isolating transformer with
a secondary voltage of 42 V.
In special cases, when permission has been granted by the head of the electrical
engineering department, an isolating transformer 220 V primary and 220 V
secondary may be used. The secondary side of the transformer must not be
It will have become clear by now that forgetting this earth wire or not
connecting it properly may endanger your own life and that of others.
In practice, equipment such as mobile electrical devices are provided with two
earth wires, an internal earth wire and an external one.
The internal earth wire runs through the supply cable together with the live wires
and is therefore hard to inspect, particularly by people who are not experts. For
this reason, an additional, external earth wire, consisting of a bare conductor, is
mandatory. This can be checked for soundness by anyone.
For the safety of yourself and your colleagues, you must therefore always make
sure there is a good, properly connected earth wire.
4. Heat generation and sparking
There is also a danger in the fact that a loose connection causes a certain contact
resistance. If a current flows through this connection, there will be a certain
voltage across the connection. There will consequently be a certain voltage loss
across this bad connection.
Question 4
When is this voltage loss bigger, with a large or a small current?
This phenomenon can be clearly observed in a car with oxidised battery
terminals. The instant the starter motor is switched on, a very large current
passes through these terminals. Consequently, the lighting for instance will
clearly diminish in strength. As soon as the starter motor is switched off, the
lighting returns to normal.
The voltage loss, together with the current through the connection, causes a loss
of electrical power. In the connection, this power is converted to heat. As a
result, a bad connection can become extremely hot, particularly in the case of
larger currents. This can also be seen for instance in electrical welding, when the
welding cable is not connected properly to the welding trolley. This may lead to
a fire and explosion hazard (figure 2).
Another thing that happens frequently in the case of bad connections is sparking,
which further increases the risk of fire and explosion, particularly in spaces
where there is a explosion hazard.
- good earth
- isolating
- internal and
external earth
- contact resistance
- generation of heat
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
Figure 2
Generation of heat and sparking in loose welding cable
Another case in which generation of heat and sparking can occur is a bad
connection of a switch or relay. Due to wear, the contacts no longer make proper
contact or are heavily oxidised, thus also creating a contact resistance.
Other serious dangers result from poor insulation of a cable and from moisture.
Both these factors can cause a leakage current, which in turn leads to generation
of heat. Occasionally this may lead to complete arc-through. Here, too, there is a
fire or explosion hazard.
5. Static electricity
In the first lesson we saw that an electric current is a number of electrons
flowing through a conductor.
It is also possible, however, for a quantity of electrons to accumulate in an object
and to be unable to flow away. We then say that the object is charged and this
electrical energy is called static electricity.
Unit of charge
The unit of a quantity of electrons or electric charge is the coulomb (C). This is a
charge of 6.3 * 10
Question 5
What is the charge of 1 electron?
An example of static electricity is walking on a nylon carpet. If you
subsequently touch a metal object, spark-over will occur and you get an electric
There is also a distinction between positive and negative charge. An excess of
electrons produces a negative charge. A shortage of electrons produces a
positive charge. These unlike charges attract one other, whereas like charges
repel one another.
If a charge were to accumulate in an object that is a good electrical conductor,
the charge would spread out over the entire object as a result of the mutually
repelling force. Local accumulation of charge is therefore impossible. It is
possible, however, for the entire object to become charged, if the charge has no
escape route to earth. This is one of the reasons why things like storage tanks
and steel structures are always earthed.
- poor insulation
- positive and
negative charge
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
In a non-conducting object, the electrical charge cannot spread out. It therefore
accumulates in a small area. Consequently, the field strength can locally become
so high it will find an escape route to an earthed object. This will result in spark-
over, which on an installation can of course be extremely dangerous.
What creates such spark-over? We saw that it requires an electric charge, which
has to come from somewhere. An electric charge is generated by friction
between two objects.
This phenomenon can also be seen if a comb is passed through dry hair in the
dark or if someone takes off a nylon sweater. If the hair is wet, no sparks are
generated, demonstrating that in that case the charge is able to flow away.
A few causes of static charging on the installation include:
- steel grit blasting;
- spray painting;
- steam or gas flowing into a container or into the atmosphere, for instance
when a vessel is being steam-cleaned;
- pumping non-conducting products (petrol, lubrication oil and many products
in the petrochemical industry).
6. Examples of situations in which static charge and
spark-over may occur
Spraying, atomisation and misting
An electrostatic charge can be created on drops of liquid performing a free fall in
the vapour space of a tank. When these charged drops reach the surface, they
increase the charge of the liquid.
Moreover, falling liquid can set the contents of the tank in motion, which will
also increase the electrostatic energy. If the field strength of the liquid becomes
sufficiently high, a spark can be created through the liquid surface or to the tank
Mixing of liquids
The generation of static electricity in hydrocarbons is also influenced by the
product being set in motion, for instance by mixers.
If the liquid being stirred has low conductivity, a high static charge can
accumulate. If in addition there is a flammable atmosphere, fire or an explosion
can be the result.
Presence of water
The presence of water in hydrocarbons is dangerous for the following two
- the water carried along by the hydrocarbons increases the generation of
static electricity during flow through pipes, pumps or other equipment;
- a very strong electrostatic field is created when these water droplets settle in
the product. It should be pointed out that the generation of static electricity
can continue for a while after pumping.
- friction
- causes of static
- falling particles
- mixing
- water
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
As the presence of water in petroleum products is often unavoidable,
unnecessary mixing with water must always be avoided. For this reason,
equipment rinsed with water must always be carefully drained.
As filters and filter separators have a very large area of contact with the liquid
flowing through, they generate static energy. This finding is confirmed both in
laboratory tests and by practical experience.
Tank measurement and sampling
As an electrostatic charge can be present in a tank, it can be dangerous to
introduce a metal or conducting object into a tank as long as the charge has not
yet been discharged.
When for instance a metal tape measure or sampler approaches the liquid
surface, a spark can be generated, as a result of the electric charge discharging
via the conducting tape measure or the conducting sampler.
It is therefore desirable not to introduce conducting objects into a tank during or
shortly after pumping.
Insulated conducting objects
An insulated conducting object can become electrostatically charged when it
comes into contact with a flowing liquid or a cloud of mist (such as a cloud of
A conducting object floating on an oil surface can also become electrostatically
charged in a tank. When the floating object approaches an earthed object, such
as the tank wall, a spark can be generated.
Pumping oil products
Pumping and flowing through a pipe involve friction of the liquid not only
against the pump impeller and the pipe wall, but also between the liquid particles
themselves. This results in charging. White petroleum products and most organic
compounds in the chemical industry are non-conducting. If such a product is
introduced into a tank or vessel, the accumulated charge can discharge to the
tank wall through the vapour above the liquid. In a running plant , vapours will
not normally contain air and will not be explosive. The situation is different in
the case of a storage tank with a fixed roof.
Black petroleum products are excellent conductors. Many aqueous solutions are
also excellent conductors. The charge can flow away to the (earthed) pipe wall
and there will be no danger.
There is no danger either in pumping a non-conducting product, if the
temperature of the tank contents and the initial boiling point of the contents are
such that the vapour above the liquid is outside the explosion range. This is
usually the case with products with a high boiling point (such as gas oil or
lubrication oil) or with products with a very low boiling point (such as light
- filters
- floating object
- explosion area
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
In the first case, the vapour above the liquid is too lean (under the lower
explosion limit). In the second case, the vapour above the liquid is too rich
(above the upper explosion limit). Pay careful attention to the temperature,
however! If it is high, the vapour above the liquid will be richer than at a low
Other hazardous situations
Caution is of course always required, but we must watch out especially for the
case when suddenly more than the normal quantity is drained to a tank, for
instance when two tanks instead of one single tank are draining via the same
pipe. The friction and consequently the charging is especially large if the
product contains undissolved water ('blind' product).
When filling containers or a tanker with gas oil and lighter products we have to
ensure the containers or the tanker are properly earthed. In addition, it is
preferable either to use hoses that provide good insulation or to provide the
conducting hose with an insulating section.
Static charging also occurs if we fill a tank via an inlet above the liquid level
(so-called 'splash filling'), for instance by means of a high swivel pipe or over
the top. This is therefore not allowed. An empty tank must first be filled via the
drain, until the liquid level is above the normal inlet.
Standing in a plume of steam may result in being charged, if one is well
insulated from earth (safety shoes and rubber boots are good insulators). If one
were charged in that way and then touch a properly earthed system, the charge
would flow away to earth. This can be accompanied by sparking. This may well
cause people to startle, which can then lead to accidents.
7. Means of preventing spark-over
Sparking between two conducting bodies can be prevented by interconnecting
the bodies by means of a conductor. This connection prevents a potential
difference from building up between the bodies, as the charges can even out
through a conductor (earthing of the tank has no effect on the charge of the
liquid in the tank).
The earthing
Earth itself can be used as part of the conducting connection. The electrical
insulation of a tank is cancelled by connecting it to the ground.
Flow rate
In filling tanks or vessels, the flow rate must be kept low. The final 60 meters
before the tank, this rate must not exceed 1 meter per second. Tank filling lines
must therefore have a sufficiently large diameter.
Addition of Stadis 450
Some products are made conducting artificially by the addition of Stadis 450
(antistatic additive). This ensures no local charging can occur.
- explosion limits
- blind product
- splash filling
- steam plume
- filling rate
maximum 1 meter
per second
- addition of Stadis
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
Current through the body can interfere with the heart function and cause burns.
Only very small currents are allowed. The current depends on the voltage and
the total resistance with respect to earth. It is therefore important to limit this
voltage in certain cases (for instance in hand tools).
When the voltage cannot be limited to a safe value, an earth wire must be used.
Mobile electric devices must be fitted with an 'external' as well as an 'internal'
earth connection.
Bad or loose connections can lead to generation of heat and to sparking.
With non-conducting substances, friction can lead to the accumulation of an
electric charge, so spark-over can also occur, with a risk of explosion.
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
Do not send in your answers for correction
1. In which of the circuits below does touching present the biggest danger?
2. What should you do when you see someone is under electric tension and
switching off the voltage rapidly is not possible?
3. From which values can current flow be lethal?
4. Why are electrical appliances earthed?
5. What can happen if the earth wire is not connected properly?
Answers to the questions in the lesson
1. The earth leakage switch switches when a 30 mA earth leakage occurs.
According to the text in section 1, this can be supported for about 1 second.
The switch must cut out within 1 second.
2. Earth leakage.
3. No, this doesn't make any difference. Only the voltage with respect to earth
is of importance here.
4. This voltage drop is larger with a bigger current. Think of the equation
V = I * R.
5. The charge of 1 electron is
10 * 3 . 6
= 0.159 * 10
coulomb (C).
Theory / 10.06.24 - 040
Answers to the exercises
1. In the left circuit the danger is bigger, as the voltage is higher. The value of
the fuse has nothing to do with it.
2. Pull away the victim from the live parts by for instance pulling at his
clothes, lifting him or insulating him from earth.
3. A current as low as 10 mA can be lethal due to muscle spasm. This current
can occur at an alternating current over 42 V.
4. To limit the contact hazard.
5. A poorly connected earth connection has a large contact resistance. In the
case of earth leakage this can lead to:
- the fuse not blowing;
- the casing (frame) of the appliance being live all the same;
- generation of heat at the spot of the (poor) connection, which can cause
Problems and assignments
Answer and send in for correction
1. Why are mobile electrical appliances always fitted with a second, visible
earth wire?
2. What can happen in the case of a poor electric connection when a large
current flows through it?
3. What is meant by static electricity and how is it generated?
4. Give a number of examples of situations in which static electricity can be
5. Give a number of examples of how static charging and spark-over can be