Electrical Safety in the Developing World

Tim Sherrod is a licensed electrical contractor with MCH Nashville and a member of the SEA Regional Team. On this month’s delegation mission trip, Tim facilitated a seminar on electrical safety particular to the Philippines. Here, Tim expounds upon why education on electrical safety is a necessary component of development work.

Electricity is dangerous, yet we need it to cook, control the climate of our houses, turn the lights on at night, send emails, make phone calls, and watch our favorite tv shows. We generally do not understand how it works. We just know we need it.

It only takes 50 milliamps (0.05 amps) of electricity for ventricular fibrillation to occur, a heart condition that will cause death if not immediately addressed. The average electrical outlet in a house has a capacity of 15 amps. That is 300 times enough capacity to kill someone.

A typical band set up like the one pictured above is not unusual in the Philippines: outdoors and near water where there is increased risk for an electrical-type injury. Ensuring our personnel are educated on proper procedures for electrical safety is of great concern in the environment where we serve.

A typical band set up like the one pictured above is not unusual in the Philippines: outdoors and near water where there is increased risk for an electrical-type injury. Ensuring our personnel are educated on proper procedures for electrical safety is of great concern in the environment where we serve.

Last year, one of our friends in the Philippines was injured from an electric shock. Fortunately, someone was there who knew to turn off the source of power. Our friend walked away with only a burn on his hand. That person knew what to do, but that is only because he was aware of a similar moment a few years before where no one present knew what to do. That friend didn't survive.

Electricity is dangerous in any environment, but it can be particularly dangerous in places like the Philippines. Regulations are not as strict. The expensive electrical devices required by law in our homes are not required to the same, or even similar extent. Different environmental factors (like increased rainfall) and different cultural norms (like the type of footwear worn) increase the potential for electrical injuries.

How do we help? I have had conversations with several electricians and engineers that want to use their skills and knowledge to benefit the developing world by providing more consistent and accessible energy. They make considerations for infrastructure change and alternative energy. They reroute and extend electrical lines, install large backup generators, and solar panel systems. I think those things are good, and we are concerned with those efforts too, but they also can miss the most immediate need.

At the Tahanan community center, we have taken measures to inspect the wiring and upgrade common use outlets with more expensive but safer mechanisms. We have made small infrastructure changes and considerations. The most important thing we can do right now, however, is educate our friends and co-workers so that they can safely utilize the electricity that is already present. Increasing awareness is not just for them while they are at Tahanan, but also at home, at school and anywhere those who frequent Tahanan may go.

Infrastructure changes involve broad cooperation and alternative energy solutions can be expensive, difficult to maintain, and inaccessible. Tim Sherrod conducts a seminar to educate our Filipino friends about electrical safety specific to their environment.

Infrastructure changes involve broad cooperation and alternative energy solutions can be expensive, difficult to maintain, and inaccessible. Tim Sherrod conducts a seminar to educate our Filipino friends about electrical safety specific to their environment.

That is why I spent less time with my most recent visit to the Philippines improving infrastructure and more time educating and discussing electrical safety with our friends and co-workers. I facilitated a workshop where our personnel was educated on how electricity works, the potential dangers their environment presents when handling electricity, and how to address situations that could be harmful.

I began by asking everyone in attendance if they have ever been “shocked” by an electrical circuit.  Each one raised their hands and laughed in affirmation. If I asked the same question in the States, I would expect a small percentage of people to raise their hands, but with my Filipino friends, it was almost funny I thought there was another possibility. I then walked them through several electrical safety guidelines, particularly relevant to everyday life in the Philippines. I shared with them, for example, the importance of wearing proper footwear when working with electrical equipment, common misconceptions about electricity, and what to do if they witnessed someone receiving an electric shock. In the end, the students were thankful for the time. Several of them came to me immediately afterward to ask clarifying questions about their own experiences with electricity.

Electricity is dangerous, but many of us use it all around the world on a very common basis. For those who aren’t afforded the same regulations and infrastructure as we are, they deserve to know how to utilize it safely in their environment.