Monday, February 19, 2018

A Lesson In GFCIs.

Anyone who knows me on set knows I'm a bit of a stickler for workplace safety. Not sure how it happened, but it just got ingrained in me early on in my career. I guess I just have this inexplicable desire for me (and I guess my colleagues) to go home in one piece at the end of each day.

Weird, right?

Most of it is common sense. Run out stingers and cords in a way that isn't a trip hazard. Put sandbags on light stands so they don't fall over. Attach a safety cable to anything that's rigged in case it comes loose. Don't mix electricity with water.

That last one... You'd think it's a no-brainer, but in a disturbing string of events over the past several years, I'm finding that not everyone is aware of this fact. Or simply, they just don't give a shit.

So to prevent everyone from getting fried whenever water is around,* there's these things called Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (aka: GFCI or GFIs, for short). They're pretty idiot proof when in use. If you're working in a wet location, plug one into the system, then plug whatever you want in to that. Easy peasy.

The gist of it is that if something goes wrong, the GFI will trip, it'll cut power and lives are saved. Think of it as a very sensitive breaker switch.

[Side bar: How do they work? The short version is that electricity works in a "loop." It goes out on the hot leg and back on the neutral. The GFI measures the outgoing/incoming and if there's a difference of 5 milliamps (on a Class A rated GFI), it knows there's a leak somewhere in the system and it'll shut itself off, potentially saving a life. Why 5mA? That's how much it takes for the average male to lose muscle control/not be able to "let go" (it takes even less for women and children. Damn the patriarchy.) That's 5 thousandths of an amp. Your phone charger draws way more than that, btw.]

What I don't understand is why people treat them like such a nuisance. Case in point, my co-worker the other night.

Me: Hey, wasn't there a GFI on this lunch box earlier?
Him: Yeah, but it kept tripping so I pulled it out of line.

Um... WHAT??!

It was tripping because there's an electricity leak somewhere. It tripped because it was doing its job.

So instead of finding the source of the problem, you just got rid of the safety feature??**

It's like saying the smoke alarm kept going off every time there was smoke in the apartment, so you uninstalled it.


Eventually, I plugged the GFI back inline, and by plugging things back in one by one, I found out which piece of equipment was faulty, replaced it, and we all managed to survive another day at work.

You're welcome, clueless co-worker.

*And by water, I mean any type of wet environment, be it rain (natural or man made), a swimming pool, the ocean, fog, Nickelodeon Slime (seriously), etc. [Edit: The only time you shouldn't plug something into a GFCI even though it's a wet environment is if it would create more of a safety hazard. ie: emergency lights and probably anything related to stunts should probably not be plugged in a GFI.]

** Another excuse for not using a GFI that I love/HATE: "There wasn't any time." I'm sorry this stupid-ass show that some kid's going to watch on his phone while he sits in class is more important to you than your co-workers' safety.


Unknown said...

I had a similar experience with a radar tower when I was in the Air Force. You put every sigh up in the world over the equipment, pull all the fuses, engage the safety interlocks, and still, you are working behind the dish when you hear the motor start up and find that one of the other techs wanted to get home early so he disregarded all the safety signs and just started it back up.

Darwin award by proxy is not my choice in life.

Keep writing, I enjoy your work

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Jenerator said...

The amount of cable running across the floor I've straightened up on today's shoot (they were on loops a good half foot off the ground) .. the guy who laid them was bragging how he was working on huge studio shoots yet failed to do a very simple job to keep all our child actors and very expensive talent safe from tripping

MP said...

Down here in Australia it is incredibly rare to operate without RCD (GFI) protection. If we are at a rare location where the location power is unprotected (all new or renovated houses and buildings in Australia must have a RCD or ELCB safety switch to be up to code) we use a plug in style unit, when running off our own distribution, RCD protection is designed into our power distribution equipment and generally cannot be bypassed.

In normal situations our RCDs are 30mA/30ms units, which offer a very effective balance between nuisance trips and protection.

A.J. said...

Ed - "Darwin award by proxy is not my choice in life." I hope you don't mind if that quote finds its way into a future post of mine!

Jenerator - OMG... Don't even get me started on how rarely people run cable safely across the floor. I could write a whole book on it. No one would read it, of course, but still.

MP - It's fascinating for me to hear how they do things in other countries. However, I am still concerned by the fact that your RCD/GFIs don't trip until 30mA since 5mA is enough to do some serious damage. But I'm still impressed that something like that is designed into the system. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...


Since I wrote that before coffee after a very long night and a short sleep, I can honestly say I did not remember writing it so it is yours.

Have fun

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Desi Ratna said...
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Unknown said...

Back after a long illness

WOW!!! You have attracted an Indian Gambling site.

Is the BIG TIME just around the corner ??? :D

I hope everything is going well in your world.

Peace Out

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