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Water and Electricity Don’t Mix

On the UTK campus or even when doing remote work we can encounter wet conditions. For example we may have maintenance or engineering shops that spray water for machines or cleaning. Some areas may use water for washing down other areas as well. When water is present it’s important to keep electricity away. A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is one way to achieve that goal.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) describes GFCIs as follows

A ground-fault occurs when there is a break in the low-resistance grounding path from a tool or electrical system. The electrical current may then take an alternative path to the ground through the user, resulting in serious injuries or death. The ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. It works by comparing the amount of current going to and returning from equipment along the circuit conductors. When the amount going differs from the amount returning by approximately 5 milliamperes, the GFCI interrupts the current.

The GFCI is rated to trip quickly enough to prevent an electrical incident. If it is properly installed and maintained, this will happen as soon as the faulty tool is plugged in. If the grounding conductor is not intact or of low-impedance, the GFCI may not trip until a person provides a path. In this case, the person will receive a shock, but the GFCI should trip so quickly that the shock will not be harmful.

The GFCI will not protect you from line contact hazards (i.e. a person holding two “hot” wires, a hot and a neutral wire in each hand, or contacting an overhead power line). However, it protects against the most common form of electrical shock hazard, the ground-fault. It also protects against fires, overheating, and destruction of wire insulation.

What Can You Do?

  • Wherever water is sprayed or pooled, electricity can become a dangerous shock hazard.
  • Ensure all electrical outlets within four feet of a water source are protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlet, also known as a GFCI.
  • Test your GFCI outlet every time you use it.
  • If not working correctly, report it to Facilities Services One Call 865-946-7777 or

How do you test a GFCI?

  • Every time you use a GFCI you should ensure it works properly
  • First plug in a device such as a lamp.
  • Turn on the device.
  • Press the Test button to trip the GFCI.
  • If the lamp turns off then the test is successful; If not, discontinue use of the circuit and contact Facilities Services.

Learn more

For more information check out this OSHA article and eTool on different types of GFCIs especially those that apply in construction and remote work.


Keep Dangerous Energy Locked Out

Whenever a machine or equipment breaks down, energy sources including electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, or other sources can be hazardous to workers. During service and maintenance, the unexpected startup or release of stored energy can result in serious injury or death to workers.

Maintenance is generally reserved for trained Facilities Service workers or trained service technicians. This can be challenging for laboratory researchers who may be accustomed to troubleshooting. Do not perform maintenance on energized systems if you are not trained, qualified, and authorized.

Hazardous energy is usually controlled through a process commonly known as Lock Out Tag Out or LOTO for short. It involves using specific procedures and methods to secure energy sources with physical locks and communication tags to prevent unwanted start-up.

An infographic of an person considering repair to a damaged machine with metaphoric risks hanging overhead. They include a steam pipe, an electrical symbol and a weight. The graphic reminds to Keep dangerous energy locked out. If thinking about maintenance it is important to consider whether energy can be released and cause death or injury. Can someone accidentally turn on the device? Can stored energy such as electricity, pressure, or weight be released? At UT maintenance may require special procedures, locks, and tags. At home never work on energized systems.

What can you do?

EHS reminds everyone to consider whether energy can be released and cause injury or death.

  • Can someone accidentally turn on the equipment while it is undergoing maintenance?
  • Can stored energy such as electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, or other sources be released?
  • At UT, maintenance may require special procedures to notify workers, properly shut down, de-energize or isolate energy sources, lock them securely, test them, perform maintenance then return the equipment to safe operation.
  • If you are working at home never work on energized systems.

For more information


Protect Flexible Cords

EHS reminds all Vols to protect flexible cords on campus. What are flexible cords? When we refer to flexible cords, we mean flexible electrical cords such as the cord and plug used to plug in a coffee maker, or extension cords and power strip cords. Such cords can be damaged by use or misuse. They can be accidentally cut or crushed. They can overheat, causing the insulation to shrink around the internal wires. There are many ways they can be damaged, which can lead to a risk of shock or fire.

A Recent Fire

Recently, UT experienced a fire from a coiled up extension cord store under cardboard boxes. Excessive heat built up that burned through the insulation and the cardboard.

Graphic with images of an extension cord that was tightly coiled and stored under boxes that started a fire.




What can you do?

  • First realized the risk of damage to flexible cords and the risk of electrical shock or fire.
  • Inspect all cords prior to use. Do not use if the insulation is damaged, stretched, or shrunken. Shrunken insulation looks like the outer insulation was shrink-wrapped around the internal wires. The cord may also look twisted. A very common form of insulation damage is the when it pulls away from the plug or other junction as shown in the graphic below.
  • Remember that extension cords are for temporary use only. Never cover them with carpet, rugs, or cardboard. Do not pass them through walls or over ceiling tiles.
  • Download and share our graphics on this page.

Infographic with graphic of a electrical cord and plug with damage insulation and sparks flying out. The graphic lists ways to protect flexible cords including: The can cause shock and fire hazards. Inspect them for insulation that is damaged stretched, or shrunken. They are for temporary use and should never be covered with carpet or passed through walls or ceiling tiles.

For more information about electrical safety

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