How I narrowly escaped LED electrocution in the shower

Lux's publisher, Gordon Routledge, reports from a hotel bathroom in Amsterdam.

Do you know anyone who has lost an eye to a carelessly placed stick? Probably not, but this was most likely the worst case scenario presented to you by your mother when growing up: ‘Be careful with that, you’ll have someone’s eye out.’

"Imagine my delight when, as I was in the hotel shower half way through a rendition of a Tony Bennet number, the light bulb above the bath dropped out of the ceiling"

The same was true when I studied electrical engineering; I remember learning about electrical grid networks and having to work out what would happen in various scenarios.

The worst case and simplest to work out was presented as a crane arm swinging round and shorting out all circuits simultaneously. Obviously a brown trouser moment for the crane driver, and anyone within a three mile radius gets treated to a spectacular but short lived lightening display, but electrically some sort of protection device would operate quickly to protect the system and people attached to it. Apart, that is, from our metaphorical crane driver, who is probably toast by the time protection kicks in. 

Engineers and regulators pay lots of attention to worst case scenarios when setting regulations and developing product standards. As a result real life worst case scenarios are very rare. If they do happen, it’s usually because someone has ignored them, or due to a tragic chain of seemingly unpredictable events from which lessons are learned and standards adjusted.

Last week I stayed in one of the worst hotels in the Netherlands, near to a venue I was visiting according to the website, but the €30 taxi ride would suggest otherwise. Four stars, yes you can see four stars from the holes in the curtains. ‘Enjoy the local fruit and vegetable market,’ – not when you’re trying to sleep and they start clanking around at 5am setting up stalls. ‘Get a snack at the bar,’ – if you like deep fried prawns five ways served with mustard that is. Bonkers !

So what is the worst possible scenario for electrocution in your home or a hotel? It has to be standing in a running shower, inside a metal bath tub and touching something which is live.

Usually equipment near a bath or shower has to have a minimum IP rating and metal equipment would be earthed to trigger protection equipment in the event of a fault.

So imagine my delight when, as I was in the hotel shower half way through a rendition of a Tony Bennet number, the light bulb above the bath dropped out of the ceiling.

Normally this wouldn’t be of too much concern, but this one had a retrofitted LED GU10 installed, with a metal heatsink which has no way of being connected to earth. It was made by a brand I haven’t heard of. The smeared printing of the CE mark didn’t inspire me with the confidence to just pop it back in to the holder.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s a brave person who grabs the metal heatsink on a lit retrofit lamp. Why? It’s all down to isolation, that is the designed elements inside the GU10 which under normal or fault conditions prevent mains voltage from appearing on the heatsink.

"Did the engineer who designed it turn up to the lecture in which worst case scenarios were discussed?"

With no earth connection to rely upon, the product must have what is known as double insulation, so essentially two barriers just in case one fails. This double insulation must remain viable for the life of the product, at end of life and when subjected to worst case power surges. A tricky job in a retrofit lamp as space is critical, and heat needs to be conducted away from the LEDs.

So before you reach out and grab that lamp, think! Did the engineer who designed it turn up to the lecture in which worst case scenarios were discussed? Does he know that an electrician in the Netherlands has the potential to create a perfect storm of electrocution potential?

Think I’m over egging it a bit? Well, trading standards are picking up poor quality products all the time. A few months ago we reported how a product safety tester at Which? was electrocuted in the lab by a lamp from a known brand. CREE recently announced a major recall of T8 LED retrofit fluorescent lamps not due to shock hazard, but potential for fire risk. So be careful folks, and don't touch lamps in the bath, or install LED tubes near a box of fire works.

  • Lux is working with the Industry Committee on Emergency Lighting to bring you all the latest emergency lighting developments in a single day. The Internet of Things is changing lighting as we know it and emergency illumination is no different. The Emergency Lighting Conference will be held on the 28 June 2017 at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. You can find out more by clicking here.

 

Comments 3

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I see the photo of the fixture that fell out of the ceiling. An instant analysis tells me that a mistake was mad during the installation, obviously, since it fell out. Given that the installation was done incorrectly the conclusion that there may also be a wiring error leading to a shock hazard is logical. At that point the only logical decision is to not touch the thing. Did the assembly prove to be electrically hot? After the post about the potential hazard we deserve that information.

I smiled when i read about your troubles. Hope you have many more.

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