In the Evening Standard last night.
Very sad story, but no doubt will be seized upon as justification for
changes to the Electrical Wiring Regulations (Part P)
Made me think to invest in a good wiring detector for drilling holes
On 12 Oct 2004 01:17:50 -0700, email@example.com (TimD) wrote:
Fact is, there are many incredibly stupid people out there who will
just drill a hole without thinking about what is underneath. Perhaps
they are those who never received an accidental jolt as a child. Once
felt, you never, ever forget it. Could it be that all school children
need to be exposed to, say, an electric fence at least once during
Yes, when I moved into this house I found that the previous owner had
managed to drill through the ring main just a foot or so vertically
above a socket. He'd also drilled through the tv aerial cable. Later I
discovered that some sheving in the kitchen had been put up with dummy
screw heads in two of the brackets because of cables underneath.
I'd always thought cables should run horizointally and vertically but
not diagonally across a wall. My meter and CU are under the stairs, and
most of the cabling up to the first floor runs parallel to the
staircase i.e. at about 45 deg. in the kitchen wall. Having worked out
where the trunking went I was able to reposition the shelf brackets.
Mail to username ricp at domain minijem.plus.com
Visited one of my friends at the weekend - he bought his house brand new
about a year ago. He was putting in an outside tap at the weekend, and after
consulting the diagrams showing where all the pipework ran underneath the
surface of the wall, and making use of his wire/metal/stud detector thing he
started drilling.... straight through the Hep2O running diagonally
underneath the plasterboard.
He was not happy.
The builders may be at fault to some degree, but the man who installed the
rack, when cable detectors have been around for along time now, is the
culprit. I doubt the builders would be roasted.
Except that you are supposed to install vertically from fittings or more
than 50mm deep for the precise reason to avoid electrocution when fixing to
the wall. They must bear partial responsibility.
The Standard report is quite detailed, and supports Christian's point.
The original fitters were the primary cause of this death, by cavalier
routing of a mains cable which "meandered across the wall instead of
being fitted in strict horizontal or vertical lines". This was the
cooker hood feed cable. The metal rack which became live was put up some
time later by the householder: "Mrs Wherry's husband Jake put up the
rack three years ago and thought he had positioned it away from any
cables, although he did not check."
You could call his failure to check contributory negligence, or (in less
lawyerly speak) what happens when you assume - "it makes an ASS out of U
and ME" in the trite health-and-safety mantra. Another bit of
householderly incomplete cluefulness comes across in the next paragraph:
"Evidence to the inquest from electrical engineer David Latimer, who
examined the kitchen, was that a screw from the rack had caught the side
of the electrical cable. Over the years the rack and screw had moved
slightly so that eventually the screw touched the live wire in the
cable. Every time a metal object was put on the rack there was a small
You'd-a-thunk that 'this rack gives me a tingle every time I touch it'
would serve as a Clue that there was something wrong. Sadly, it didn't
raise enough of a response: an earlier portion of the report says, "Mrs
Wherry's family became suspicious that something was wrong in the
kitchen after a family friend tried to put something onto the same rack,
which was under the cooker hood, that same day and received a small
shock." We can't tell from the report whether such tingles had been felt
on previous occasions.
That "small shock" became fatal for this victim when she was in
simultaneous contact with the live rack and a good earth: "But Mrs
Wherry's shock was fatal because her ankle is believed to have been
touching the metalfronted open door of the dishwasher." (A sadly
persuasive illustration of the downside of bonding everything to a good
earth, as raised not an hour ago in the "bond the kitchen sink"
discussion). The "believed" in the quote is a bit of journalistic
silliness, as the next para goes on to describe the 2.5-inch
discolouration around the victim's ankle, making it all too clear what
path the fatal current had taken.
The coroner seems to agree that the primary fault is with those who
installed this cable in a non-obvious, regs-defying route: "Coroner
Alison Thompson said that Mrs Wherry would have survived if the cable
had been properly installed. Recording a verdict of accidental death she
said: 'The cable had not been fitted in accordance with regulations from
the Institute of Electrical Engineers.'"
The final comment reported by the coroner leaves it ambiguous, though,
whether she felt some blame attached to the householder too: "I am going
to record that the death was the consequence of home improvement work."
- from which I, at least, can't tell whether the coroner has in mind the
earlier kitchen fitting work with its misrouted cable, or the husband's
fitting of the metal rack.
An RCD on the kitchen circuit would've prevented this particular
fatality; the not-well-earthed tingle reported earlier in the day might
have been enough to trip it, with the inconvenience possibly giving the
occupants more reason to investigate the fault, and certainly the victim
would've been massively unlikely to have received a fatal shock, rather
than a stiff belt strongly suggesting a need to Get It Fixed.
And - as others have pointed out - cable/metal detectors before drilling
are A Good Thing, as is a healthy scpeticism and a curiousity about
where cables and pipes are running - 'just where does that cooker hood
get its power from, huh?'. This cable might not have registered as Live
(rather than just Metal) without the cooker hood being switched on, mind
I think an interesting and telling question is "what if the cable had
followed the correct path? Does your avearge weekend shelf-putter-upper
even know about where cable runs are allowed to go? Would he have
avoided putting a hole there, thinking "ah, I'm within the 150mm band,
there might be a cable here"? I'm willing to bet 9/10 wouldn't.
I think if you aren't inclined to check for cables then you're unlikely
to think about where they might be in the first place.
I think the only solution is to require all cables to be enclosed in
1.5mm wall galvanised conduit. You wait, it'll come.
Related but OT - I installed a replacement extractor fan in the
downstairs toilet this weekend. The instructions said that it must only
be fitted by a qualified electrician. Fair enough. Then there was a
section about cleaning, which said that the cover should be removed, and
the motor cleaned once a month. It then went on to say that this
should only be done by a qualified electrician!! So I'm supposed to book
a qualified electrician to come round once a month to clean all my
It's not quite as deliberately coordinated as that, I don't think, but
it is suggestive/indicative, since the changes occur within a year of
each other. "The New Colours" meaning for ornery T&E a change to brown &
blue for L and N respectively, to match the much-loved code for flexes.
You remember - the one the wags tried to make us remember as "ah, well,
that dark brown's the same colour as the earth, so it must be for E; the
bright blue's electric-blue, innit, so that'll be L where all the
electrickery comes from; and the stripey one can't make up its mind what
colour to be, so it's a middle-of-the-road thing, which must mean
Neutral'. [No, that's NOT what the colours really mean. It's a *joke*,
You can buy new coloured cable now, so it would be legitimate to say
that you did the work before the introduction of Part P.
Considering the practicalities, it seems to me that there are three
scenarios where the issue comes up:
- new and additional building work involving a building control notice
or application. An inspection gets done.
- something bad happens such as this Darwin situation, or a fire etc.
Officialdom gets involved and it's determined that the householder
DIYed the job and it wasn't inspected. Really all that has changed
is that an offence will have been committed.
- the house is on the market and the issue comes up with solicitor'q
questions. Thi s is a moot point, because the purchaser will
probably get an electrical inspection done anyway.
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