Can Metal Fences Become Accidentally Electrified?
If you’re installing a fence around an electrical substation, a large generator or something else that generates or stores electrical power, you might be wondering, can metal fences become accidentally electrified?
If they can, the next question is, what can you do to protect workers, the public, and anyone else who might come into contact with your fence?. Here’s what you need to know.
Yes, Metal Fences Can Become Live
The first thing you need to know about whether metal fences can become accidentally electrified is that the answer is very much yes.
As long as the metal you’re talking about is a conductor of electricity, there is always the potential that your metal fence might become accidentally electrified. This is true even if your fence is not near electrical generation or storage equipment, although it’s much more likely to happen where there is a large amount of electrical activity.
How Do Metal Fences Become Electrified?
Electricity is a very unpredictable thing. Even when we’re trying to generate it and store it, it tends to behave in surprising ways.
One of those ways is that electricity is always looking for new materials and pathways to travel through. It’s always trying to find the best and most conductive way to get to the earth.
Sometimes, in substations or near power generation equipment, or even large industrial machinery, some of the current that should be flowing through cables and into transformers, batteries, and other equipment leaks into the ground instead. That electricity can then travel into nearby structures, including your metal fence.
Other ways that a metal fence might become accidentally electrified is if a live cable is damaged and touches the fence.
Why Are Accidentally Electrified Fences So Dangerous?
You might be wondering why we’re so concerned about accidental electrification of metal fences. After all, we’re fine with electric fences!
There are several differences between accidental fence electrification and electric fence.
One is that when a fence is unintentionally electrified, no one will know that it is live until someone touches it, at which point it would be too late to protect them.
Another is that electric fences are carefully designed to be high voltage but have very low amperage. This is what makes them non-lethal. This is not the case with accidental electrification.
Finally, electric fences have pulsed current, which means there’s a pause between pulses. That allows anyone who accidentally touches them to pull their hand away. Ordinary electrical current does not do that, and since electricity causes muscles to contract, it’s impossible to let an accidentally electrified fence go.
How to Prevent Accidental Metal Fence Electrification and Keep People Safe
As you can see, there might be very serious consequences if a metal fence were to become accidentally electrified. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can help to prevent this and keep workers and passersby safe:
- Always ensure that any fences around high voltage areas are properly marked with signage warning people that it is a high voltage area
- If you are installing a metal fence around a substation or power generation or storage facility, have an electrical engineer design a grounding mat around the perimeter and have your fence properly connected to ground it
- Consider using a non-metallic, non-conductive material like concrete or something else instead of a metal fence for high-voltage areas
Generally, fencing around substations and similar infrastructure will be carefully designed to be as safe and secure as possible. However, it’s always best to assume that these fences could potentially be live. If you have to touch one, touch it with the back of your hand so that if it does carry a charge, your hand won’t close and grip the fence.
Electricity and metal fences don’t mix very well. So unless you’re planning a proper electric fence, it’s best to keep the two as far apart as possible!