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When Tragedy Strikes

No doubt by now you've heard about the tragedy in Waco, TX, where a pastor performing a baptism was electrocuted when he reached for a microphone while standing in water. This incident highlights the importance for us as an industry to reflect on how such a thing could happen, and how to keep it from happening again.

No doubt by now you've heard about the tragedy in Waco, TX, where a pastor performing a baptism was electrocuted when he reached for a microphone while standing in water. This incident highlights the importance for us as an industry to reflect on how such a thing could happen, and how to keep it from happening again.

Although preliminary investigations by OSHA have characterized the incident as an accident, sooner or later the finger pointing will begin, the lawyers will swoop in, and some individuals, organizations, and industry groups will be held responsible. But it doesn't have to be pro AV.

There are a million questions to be answered, and we may never know the chain of events that led to this horrible outcome. Everyone knows that once you leave a job site, anything can happen to the system, including end-user “modifications” and alterations, which we would never recommend or condone. We're also at the mercy of the integrity of the venue's electrical system and the end-user's level of technical knowledge.

Industry reaction seems to assume that a lifted safety ground somewhere in the system may have contributed to the situation. Many amateur systems integrators have learned by experience that defeating the safety ground can, in many cases, eliminate hum and noise in audio systems. However, industry experts and consultants repeatedly stress that this is never a safe solution for reducing system noise. This drum has been beating for more than 10 years, and the message hasn't changed. So why aren't we getting it?

Maybe we are, but others are not. Let's remember that the “system” is very broad term, and includes every device on the building's electrical infrastructure, including any and all non-AV appliances such as pumps or heaters for baptismal fonts, which could have been improperly grounded and contributed to this situation.

What can we do? First, if you've never read an article, attended a seminar, or taken a class on proper system grounding techniques, do so now. Even if you have, refresh your memory and those of each of your staff members. NSCA, InfoComm International, and Syn-Aud-Con are excellent sources for instruction. At the project level, make sure that every power outlet to which AV gear is connected (especially near water) is GFCI protected. Don't let them be value-engineered out of the system bid. It's also worth investigating the building circuits you intend to use, and confirming that they're “clean” and properly and safely grounded. Sure, it's beyond your scope of work, and maybe even “not your job”, but as we've learned before when tragedy strikes, lives and livelihoods are on the line.

Mark Mayfield
Editor



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