You would think one of the most basic concepts of an electrical system would be the most widely understood. But after years of working in the electrical industry, I can tell you this is definitely not the case. In fact, the misapplication of bonding and grounding connections, poor wiring practices, and a true lack of understanding of the theory behind grounding may be the biggest problems electrical engineers and electricians face. Here are some facts to support my case.
“Bonding and grounding” consistently ranks in the top 10 “Most Popular Pages” listing of searches performed on the EC&M Web site.
By far the most successful “Ask the Experts” topic hosted on the EC&M Web site focused on “resistance grounding.”
At least half of the “Forensic Casebook” articles we've published over the last 10 years mention deficiencies in the bonding and grounding connections of the equipment/systems involved in the serious accidents or deaths presented in these tragic stories.
Bonding and grounding is one of the most active topics discussed on many of the leading electrical discussion forums on the Web.
Approximately 300 proposals for the 2011 NEC are related to Art. 200 (Use and Identification of Grounded Conductors) and Art. 250 (Grounding & Bonding).
Ask any training instructor or conference presenter that's focused on this topic in the past, and I'm sure he or she will tell you the same thing — many students and course attendees have a difficult time mastering the concepts of bonding and grounding. Unfortunately, this problem isn't confined to U.S. soil. Electrical workers in other countries face the same problems. It becomes even more complicated when developing countries hire the services of foreign firms that design and install equipment and systems to different codes and standards. If we take this a step further — analyzing the dangers of poor bonding and grounding in a war zone — then you can truly see the unfortunate results of ignorance or blatant disregard for basic electrical theory.
Our cover story this month, “A Killer in the Ranks,” starting on page 22, reports on the dangers soldiers face in non-combat situations in Iraq and what's being done to fix the electrical problems that are creating them. Since 2003, there have been 19 confirmed or suspected deaths of military personnel in Iraq from electrocution and faulty wiring systems. It's inexcusable to me that these brave men and women not only have to evade sniper fire, road-side bombs, and suicide bombers, but also have to avoid being electrocuted while taking a shower or pressure-washing their military vehicle.
What can we do to help combat this problem here at home? You can start by making sure you're not part of the problem. If you haven't mastered the topic of bonding and grounding, then take a self-study course or seek training from a qualified instructor. Then, take it upon yourself to make sure others in your company understand the basic concepts and rules as well. As for us, we'll continue to publish regular technical articles on this topic (such as this month's “Understanding the Differences Between Bonding, Grounding, and Earthing” on page 28). We'll also highlight Code changes in this area and promote training courses and online resources/events on this basic but very important issue. The way I see it, if we can help prevent even one injury or death it will be well worth the effort.