# Thread: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

1. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by Alan B
There must be barriers between the body parts and the high voltages, tools must be insulated, etc. If there are no barriers then voltage rated gloves that are periodically tested and certified must be worn. In no case can body parts be allowed to come into contact with the circuits. There must always be a barrier of some type (gloves, plastic, closed panel, etc) between body parts and energized circuit parts.
What Alan is delicately trying to say is make sure you are also wearing a condom. He doesn't like to talk about his "accident." LOL!

2. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by D-Dog
Still thinking about the stupidity and decided to figure out what actually went through me.

The supply was charged to 534 volts at the time I made contact. Current the supply provides I "believe" is irrelevant because by I = V/ R the body will only allow a certain amount of current to pass through. Thus the current kills you but you need a potential difference to "guide" the current.
Current is the flow of charge but the voltage is a measure of the energy of each charge. The current still kills but is able to surmount barriers (i.e. resistance) when there is higher voltage/energy-per-electron.

Static from a balloon can have high voltage but the reservoir of electrons (capacity/capacitance/reservoir) is low. The key is the energy exchanged given by

E = q * V

The voltage can be high but if the number of electrons is low, then the Energy (E) will be low...as in your case.

Now take a capacitor from a flash than can take 500V.
If you charge it up, the charge will be

q=C*V where is "C" is a large number (unlike your power supply due to the current limit). The energy will

E = q * V = ( C*V) * V = C*(V**2)

Originally Posted by D-Dog
.
.
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I just want to learn as much as I can from the experience
Due to the current limiting, the charges transfer over to you faster than they can be replenished by the power supply and the result is that the voltage drops during the transfer to much less than 500 V( V=q/C...q on the power supply cap goes to "0" and the voltage drops toward "0"). The voltages stored on you due to running across a carpet with plastic shoes can be very high...perhaps even higher than 500V. Hopefully this clears up your experience.

PeAK

3. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by LuxLuthor
What Alan is delicately trying to say is make sure you are also wearing a condom. He doesn't like to talk about his "accident." LOL!
Now that's an accident that will stay with you a while

I guess the rule, "always remember your rubbers" work for electricity too although a condom probably isn't rated to too high a voltage... I wonder if a static shock could get through

4. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Just paraphrasing some of my training.

The resistance of the body is pretty low, only the skin has high resistivity. People have died from single digit voltages in cases where the skin was penetrated.

Water soaked skin has much lower resistance. 120V and water proves to be very lethal.

If I remember correctly it only takes about 5-7 milliamps to be fatal if the current path disrupts the heart. It just depends where the current goes. If it goes from hand to hand or hand to foot it may traverse the heart. It will always follow the path of lowest resistance.

Burns are caused from heat which is calculated by voltage squared over resistance. 200 watts is clearly possibly with this supply and if that is concentrated in a small volume it will cook quickly.

5. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

I learned today from an electrical safety engineer that the skin resistance breaks down at about 400 volts and drops to a much lower level. This may be a factor here - the resistance measurements used to try to understand the incident were not as low as were experienced in the actual event due to the test voltage.

I do NOT suggest taking new resistance measurements at 500 volts to increase our understanding further.

6. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by Alan B
I do NOT suggest taking new resistance measurements at 500 volts to increase our understanding further.
Perhaps 1000v then?

Anyways that makes sense and explains what happened better. I also learned that spilled coffee can cause third degree burns in 2-7 seconds so perhaps I should consider myself lucky :-)

The blister is only a callus now and should be gone by next week, however, the memory is for forever. Now I notice myself taking the extra few steps to make sure everything is safe, even if the voltages are harmless. I guess in a way I'm glad it happened (only because there was no lasting damage, etc. Not suggesting this is a fun weekend activity... then you are a candidate for blisters/ Darwins)

7. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Don't give up, I've got faith in you.

8. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by Armed_Forces
Don't give up, I've got faith in you.

9. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Nobody mentioned it but I should point out that there is a huge difference between AC and DC with regards to lethality. Not to minimize the dangers, but high-voltage AC is much safer to be around than high-voltage DC. Given a choice, I'd rather get a shock from 120 VAC while changing an outlet than from a 30 VDC power supply. First off, AC tends to stay on the surface of your skin rather than penetrating into your body. The higher the frequency the less the penetration. Back when I was in college I accidentally shocked myself on a group of transformers I had wired in series for something like 800 VAC. There was a nasty jolt, but no blisters or other damage.

Second, DC will lock your muscles, possibly preventing you from removing your body from the voltage source. AC won't. You'll generally experience that tingle and reflexively pull away as I have numerous times (due to the old house wiring and lack of knowing which breaker controlled which line, I've gotten shocked with 120 VAC while wiring more times than I care to admit). I now wear gloves when doing any live 120 VAC electrical work, although even this is no 100% guarantee against getting shocked as wires have gone right through the gloves.

The most vivid way to highlight the differences between DC and AC are to examine railway accidents. Overhead catenary is generally thousands of volts AC (in the US 12,000V and 25,000V are common). In fact, the reason it's placed overhead is precisely because the voltage is high enough to jump through a foot or more of air. Now one would think that coming into contact with this much voltage should be uniformly fatal, and yet quite a few have survived, some with remarkably little injury. Why? The current passed mostly on the surface of the body. To be sure, in almost all cases there are horrific burns on the surface. But unless contact is prolonged there will be relatively little internal organ damage. Note the term "relatively" here-don't bother trying this for real as it will still likely get you killed. Besides that, you'll be trespassing on railroad property if you do (RR police might well be worse for your health than overhead wire).

Now let's look at third rail. Generally, third rail in the US in "only" around 600VDC, perhaps as high as 1000VDC on some newer systems like BART. Seems less dangerous than high-voltage catenary, doesn't it? Nope-it's worse despite the fact that the voltage is a fraction of that on the overhead wire. Touch it by mistake and you may never be able to break contact. And while you're in contact you'll be cooked from the inside out by up to a few thousand amps (do the math for how much power that comes to). Unfortunately, the circuit breakers generally won't trip because a body will draw less current than a train normally does. People touching third rail have been found dead with few external burn marks, other than perhaps at the point of entry/exit. Of course, how they look inside is a totally different picture. While the power supply in question was limited to only 200 watts, that's still enough to cause really nasty internal damage with any length of contact, even if it doesn't stop your heart. Think how quickly foods cook on a microwave outputting only a few times that.

In short, high-voltage DC is really nasty stuff. Avoid using it unless you can't do what you're doing any other way.

10. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Really, not to discredit what you said because it makes a lot of sense, however, I thought it was the other way around. I'm fairly sure the pulses of AC will lock muscles above around 60ma.

Here is an excerpt from another site which kinda confirms this:

"The first electric chair execution, held in upstate New York, used AC. Exactly why, I am not sure. It is true that AC, especially around 50 to 60 Hz, can paralyse muscles; it causes them to lock up, so that someone who accidentally gets hold of two bare high-voltage wires can find himself unable to let go. DC tends to cause a more `one-way' contraction. Either can kill, but without the `locked muscle' effect, it is easier to free oneself of a DC current. (An old electrician's trick, by the way, is to test a supposedly-dead circuit using the back of the hand, rather than a finger-tip. If the circuit is still energized, the hand will clench shut, because the finger-closing muscles are stronger than the finger-opening ones. The clenched-shut hand will tend to jerk away from the wire, rather than grabbing hold of it. It is an old electrician's trick because the young ones who use it and get shocked live to become old electricians....)"

I don't know why electricians wouldn't use a multimeter instead or test probes with a light... seems safer :-)

I think the best advise is to avoid both :-) Just stick to not doing dumb stuff (like using a 500v PSU to charge batteries) and you will be fine. That and the 1 hand rule... can't stress that enough especially after what happened.

Edit: and another site I read "Experience tells me that DC grabs, AC throws. A friend of mine suffers from the loss of the use of two fingers and two thumbs from a 12VDC lighting circuit (amperage unknown)"... perhaps DC is the more dangerous one. Either way I don't intend to test it for the forum :-P

11. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by D-Dog
Really, not to discredit what you said because it makes a lot of sense, however, I thought it was the other way around. I'm fairly sure the pulses of AC will lock muscles above around 60ma.
Read this-directly from the mouth of someone who works on the RR and should know:

"DC current tends to lock your nerves up, which is why electricians touch wires with the back of their hands in case it is charged and they cannot let go. AC(without a significant DC offset) lines do not have this effect because the current runs in both directions and the average direction of current is close to zero."

Another interesting post in that thread regarding the effects of DC:

"I've peeled more than one dead, smouldering body off of the third rail only to find their skin, muscle and other soft tissue adhered to the rail. I've cut metal bars and garbage pails with a torch that have become welded to the rails. And I work with men who carelessly came in contact with the third rail, burned to a crisp and laid in a hospital bed for months.

One was sitting on the protection board and his dangling keys hit the rail. The docyor had to dig the brass key out of his hip bone."

In fact, the entire 4-page thread makes for interesting reading if you have the time. I just picked a couple of highlights. High voltage anything is bad news, but all other things being equal DC is way worse.

Oh, and the AC used in electric chairs may well have had enough of a DC offset to lock muscles. In fact, I'd be surprised if it didn't. Hard to make 2000 VAC without having a DC offset of a few volts, which is really all it would take to lock muscles once the surface resistance of the skin was overcome.

I don't know why electricians wouldn't use a multimeter instead or test probes with a light... seems safer :-)
Agreed although you can still get shocked using a multimeter or test light (yes, it happened to me more times than I care to admit). Now I tend to wear rubber gloves even when working on supposedly deenergized line voltage circuits just in case.

Experience tells me that DC grabs, AC throws. A friend of mine suffers from the loss of the use of two fingers and two thumbs from a 12VDC lighting circuit (amperage unknown)"... perhaps DC is the more dangerous one. Either way I don't intend to test it for the forum :-P
Yep-I've gotten mild shocks touching 12VDC right after washing my hands if I've neglected to dry them completely. Same thing also happened coming in contact with sharp test points of opposite polarity. Once they penetrate the skin, ouch! And the old 9V battery on the tougue trick vividly shows how little voltage it takes to get a detectable current flowing through your body.

12. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

DC tends to lock muscles.

AC tends to stop your heart. 60 hz is too low a frequency to have much skin effect, so it gets plenty deep.

I have heard that 60 hz is fairly optimal for heart-stopping. Great choice for the power grid.

I have heard that more people die on 120VAC 60hz than any other voltage. I have not verified that.

13. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Where I grew up in England we have 240 V mains supply, and in my rash youth I got one or two shocks from incautious behaviour. What I experienced was a painful sensation something like golf balls going up the inside of my arm, followed by a loudly expressed OW! and a very strong reflex to pull my hand away, much like touching a hot stove. Any screwdriver in my hand at the time was likely to be found stuck in the ceiling afterwards. I didn't experience any kind of muscle locking tendency. But it goes without saying, don't ever do that deliberately!

On a more serious note, the heart danger with AC depends on how the timing of the AC cycles coincides with the electrical waves in the heart muscle. Catch it at just the wrong time and it will stop your heart, other times you can be lucky. It's really not something you want to take chances with.

14. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Thanks for clearing it up, it makes a lot of sense now (still have to finish reading that other thread but that's scarry stuff). I'm glad DC burns... I'll take a burn any day over my heart stopping...

You also raise an interesting point with the 9 volt story... I remember doing that when I was younger and didn't feel like taking out my battery tester... I've even had one or new 9 volts which stung when tested in the above manner.

I believe that more people die on 120/240, however, it's probably only because of how common they are, nothing more. I bet if you were to setup a chart detailing deaths per shock over a wide range of voltages the results would be more telling :-) Of course when you go up higher in voltage of AC as mentioned before, you can get thrown which may save you/ break a bone or two. With this in mind I would expect high voltage DC to have the highest death per exposure as jtr1962 pointed out

15. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

More great information that we don't think about enough while "playing."

Here is another interesting link, including the one hand rule, and life saving procedures at the end.

16. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Hello D-Dog,

I have enjoyed following this discussion on safety. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

I am going to move this thread over to the "smoke and fire" section, and make it a sticky. There is a lot that can be learned from this discussion and I hope people will take the time to review this thread.

Tom

17. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Howdy D-Dog,

I've read your thread with a tight sphincter. I cannot stress enough how much you need to swap your love for experimentation for a love of yourself.

Once while making a homemade Ham Radio Amplifier, I think it was using 2-6LF6 tubes to drive 4-6LF6 tubes (I'm pretty sure that's what it was?). Anyhow, 24 hours after unplugging it I grazed my forearm on an output wire and woke up flat of my back almost an hour later. I knew full well that I should ALWAYS ground-out the collector braid, but I got careless and thought that 24hrs should surely allow the voltage to bleed off.

Experimentation is the mother of invention, however carelessness is the fast lane to regret.

Don't stop experimenting, however NOTHING is worth losing your life over. Stay safe. g.d.

18. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Extremely high voltages do strange things...like punch through insulators and snake around barriers.

I've worked with a lab-sized ~750kV-1MVDC Van De Graaf power supply for demos and I've been bit even using a 1 meter long chickenstick. Of course, it's about the furthest thing from lethal given it's small amount of stored charge in the collector, but even a few microamperes is enough to wake you up. Work with tesla coils as a hobby too.

Worst bite was 7200VAC 60mA on a secondary winding terminal to the center-tap transformer core, hand-to-hand, across the chest. I hit the rocker switch on the variable autotransformer to turn it off before working on it and apparently didn't hit it hard enough to disengage fully (those rocker switches have a little bit of spring-snappiness to them...like hitting a light switch but it doesn't fully snap into the "off" position). Skin offers no resistance at high voltages, and once an arc carbonizes your skin into your juicy inners, you become a pretty good conductor

People say getting shocked "throws you" when you read their recollections. In reality, it's your convulsing muscles that tosses yourself across the room. Burnt flesh from the arc on my fingers, a racing heart and adrenaline for the next 30 minutes, and waking up sore the next day...a very cheap lesson on respecting high voltages. It could have easily cost me much more.

I think everyone gets bit at least once before gaining a healthy fear...just like you get burnt on the stove at least once. Lets just hope that bite is a small nibble and your only bite.

19. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by Cesiumsponge

Worst bite was 7200VAC 60mA on a secondary winding terminal to the center-tap transformer core, hand-to-hand, across the chest. I hit the rocker switch on the variable autotransformer to turn it off before working on it and apparently didn't hit it hard enough to disengage fully (those rocker switches have a little bit of spring-snappiness to them...like hitting a light switch but it doesn't fully snap into the "off" position).
Even if it could save your life, you can't trust a rocker switch because of failure. EDIT: Sorry, i thought that a rocker switch was an "emergency switch". Never trust an emergency switch too.

You must do, what it is called in french, "une consignation", you must remove to service the transformer and i suppose that, like in France, you have to follow a well defined electrical safety policy.
I don't want to preach anyone but do not mess with tension above 24VAC and 50VDC in dry conditions or 12VAC and 30VDC in wet conditions. Anything above can be lethal very quickly.

Electrical Safety Policy (google search results)

Before doing anything on a transformer or exposed (unisolated part of) wires you must at least follow this:

- Cut off by disconnecting it (plug, wires, ...) from the source.

- Test each phase conductor or circuit part with an adequately rated voltage detector to verify that the equipment is de-energized. Test each phase conductor or circuit part both phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground. Check the voltage detector before and after each test to be sure it is working.
In french, it is called doing a "V.A.T." ("Vérification d'Absence de Tension").

- Properly ground all possible sources of induced voltage and stored electric energy (such as, capacitors) before touching. If conductors or circuit parts that are being de-energized could contact other exposed conductors or circuit parts, apply ground-connecting devices rated for the available fault current.
In french, it is called doing a "M.A.L.T." (Mise A La Terre)

Never ever start a work before doing a "V.A.T."...really, no kidding, a "V.A.T." takes a "few seconds" only to avoid permanent injuries or death. (Never do a "V.A.T." with a cheap multimeter = )

20. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Hindsight is always 20/20. That was a long time ago. Statistically. I'm way more worried avoiding the careless drivers on my daily commute

21. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by D-Dog
I guess the rule, "always remember your rubbers" work for electricity too although a condom probably isn't rated to too high a voltage... I wonder if a static shock could get through
I wonder what our lab technician would say if I tested that in the lab on Monday...? Actually (she's a very liberal and nice woman), she probably wouldn't bat an eyelid - the PhD students do worse, I'm sure.

Whilst, I've seen the one-hand rule mentioned multiple times, I don't think anyone has mentioned that it's best to use only your right hand, the thinking being that if current flows, it will flow (hopefully) down the shortest path, through your right side and down your right leg, missing your heart. That was always what I was taught, at any rate. Not sure if it's a dodgy theory, but I always approach HV equipment with my left hand behind my back. It may look odd, but hey.

In several years of working with 10kV+ equipment (bog-standard PSUs, van der Graffs and a few X-ray tubes), I've managed to avoid a shock...however, when working with EDLCs (Electric double-layer capacitors, aka supercapacitors) a year or two ago, I got one nasty shock and, in another incident, a slightly carbonised radiator pipe and an annoyed mother. To be honest, the darn things liked to pop, which was probably more dangerous than the voltage/current combo.

Finally, for a school play several years ago, an antique looking flash was required. Funnily enough, the school weren't hot on magnesium powder being ignited on a wooden stage, so I was asked if I wouldn't mind cobbling something together and sticking in the appropriate housing.

I thus went to the nearest photo developers, asked for the disposable camera bodies with flash that had been discarded after the film had been taken out and proceeded to dissect them. I used several xenon tubes and soldered a couple of caps to each, since it was only needed for three nights and I was told it needed to be as bright as possible. (It needed to compete with the new 1kW lights that our teacher in charge of lighting had just purchased! ) Anyway, testing was going fine - I would fire them off to test and if they didn't work, discharge them through a resistor to ground and then figure out what the problem was.

Thing is, I had to get my friend to help me. It was grand up until he slipped with the pliers and connected my hand to the whole shebang before I'd discharged it! Thankfully it was only a nasty jolt!

It didn't do much for the pliers, though, which was more painful when our technology teacher whom I'd borrowed them off found out...

Moral of the story? Get a friend who has a decent attention span!

22. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

While building this Scott17 KT88 SE amplifier there was a miswritten step involving plugging the unit in and checking the voltages, without the tubes plugged in, that was the miswritten step, because of this the voltage never went down quickly but instead crept down, and I was left with a very dangerous amplifier with tons of exposed wiring laying on my desk waiting to fall off, charged up with 551 volts DC.

There was 551volts at about 120uF all charged up and ready to go.

So not having any large bleeder resistors within the ohms range available I did the only safe thing I could think of, With it unplugged and waiting for the voltage to go down I put one hand behind me while looking away (but still looking) and cowering around the corner of it to get my body and my head away from any shrapnel and grabbed a really thick screwdriver and I bridged the two terminals on the capacitors. (I was afraid one of the bridged wires would explode due to an excessive amount of current.)

I put the very well insulated screwdriver handle onto one of the terminals and slowly brung it over to the other one, contact was made and BANG!!!!! It gave off such an almighty big bang that my ears rang for 30 seconds afterwoods.

Anyway here is the end result of my (and Scott17's) hard work:

Some long exposure shots:

I'm very very happy with the amp, its given me now hundreds of hours of listening pleasure and it was fairly easy to put together.

It also has 0% hum, 15 watts per channel, 2 modes Triode or Ultralinear, and custom-wound transformers throughout.

All for \$1,000 in kit form.

23. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

that first power supply must have been a bad one. Indeed, it takes just ONE diode to protect the regulator (being a MOSFET or a BJT), even the smallest PSU I will design for 50mA audio purposes has such a diode...

I also shorted a high-energy power supply once. I tried to discharge two huge capacitors (47,000µF/100V) that were really charged to 96V. A very safe way to discharge them SEEMED to use a 230V / 100W household bulb, and hold it so long to the screws of the capacitor that it no longer glows. Upon trying to get it connected, the lamp suddenly moved over the contacts and I shorted the capacitor with the base of the bulb. An extremely loud and sharp <BANG!!> was the result, as well as a large hole in the aluminum base of the bulb.

24. ## Re: The Dangers of Working with a High Voltage Supply

Originally Posted by Alan B
Just paraphrasing some of my training.

The resistance of the body is pretty low, only the skin has high resistivity. People have died from single digit voltages in cases where the skin was penetrated.

Water soaked skin has much lower resistance. 120V and water proves to be very lethal.

..........

Is water and 120v really as dangerous as it is commonly believed ? This experiment called Electrocution in Water seems to prove otherwise.
And in no way am I trying to disagree with the utmost safety when using electricity AC or DC.

25. Water and 120 volts AC can indeed be very dangerous if the human involved offers an alternate path for the current involved. One finger in the water will not end up carrying much current.
Someone with the other hand connected to the 120 volt neutral would have a different experience, especially with water which is not chemically pure.
Note that the video apparently requires proof of age which I could not provide from my phone, so I am going mainly from the photo.

Sent from my XT1080 using Tapatalk

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