Curtailing deaths through electrocution in Nigeria

.A falling electric pole

.A falling electric pole

Electrocution is basically death caused by an electric shock. While this is not a favoured topic, it is important to expose the facts about the Nigerian Power System and the high potential that it possesses to cause more deaths due to electrocution in the short to medium term if things are done improperly as they are now.

One of the anti-climax of not having stable electricity for over 50 years now in Nigeria is the fact that one did not hear so much of deaths due to electric shock from electrical appliances or devices. This is mainly because there was no “light”. With the recent increase in availability of gas to power stations, and the attendant availability of electricity supply, the weakness of the power system will come to the fore and more electrical safety accidents are bound to occur.

Unfortunately, because electricity is a good servant but a bad master, the fatal results of not following electrical principles in the design, operation, maintenance and control of the power system is death by electrocution! In the last few weeks alone, we have had the death of a staff of one of the electricity companies while he was carrying out his day to day activities on a power line. But more recently, the case of Oluchi Anekwe, a 3rd year student at the University of Lagos has reinforced the calls by experts for a holistic review of the operation of the Nigerian Power System.

The minimum current a human can feel depends on the current type viz Alternating Current (AC) or Direct Current (DC) and the frequency for AC systems. If this current is high enough, it can cause tissue damage and ventricular fibrillation of the heart which leads to cardiac arrest.

The potential seriousness of an electric shock depends on the path of the body the current passes. It is most dangerous if a path through the heart is established. Other possible consequences of electric shocks include but not limited to deep skin burns, nervous breakdown, micro and macroshocks to mention but a few.

The only way to reverse the current trend is to allow technically intensive review of the running of the Nigerian Power System. Specifications and policies guiding the operation, control, protection and maintenance of power system plants need to be developed for use in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry.

These guidelines must be enforced in such a way that if any company is found in breach of it, the penalty or consequence must be very severe. There is therefore an urgent need for an Health & Safety Executive (HSE) body for the power system. The HSE must be very powerful with the powers to jail and fine erring individuals or companies found wanting.

To prevent deaths from electrocution, significant attention has to be placed on power system protection. From fuses to relays, adequate protection must be available for any power circuit or plant to minimise the risk of electric shock or death to personnel or individuals in the vicinity of or in close contact with power system plants. Protection settings have to be determined for the entire power network and the coordination of grading stages for all items on the network is a must.

IDOWU OYEBANJO is a United Kingdom-based analyst

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