A ground fault is an unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface. It occurs when an equipment has some damages and its live electrical parts are not protected from unintended contact. When the current takes an alternative path to the ground through the body of the person, it results in death.
It is similar to a short circuit where large amount of current is made to flow through the circuit breaker causing it to blow.
If a body provides a path to the ground, the person will be severely electrocuted, shocked or burned.
Ground faults are the result of insulation breakdown. Damp and wet environments require extra care and maintenance as water is conductive and it increases the potential for hazards to develop. It not only causes an energy loss or system shutdown, it is also a concern for electricians and installers.
Ground faults are the result of systems that are poorly installed with the bare copper clearly visible. Deteriorated insulation in cables and wires are the number one reason. If there are too many wires in the box it can also cause a ground fault. Another instance is if water leaks on the device since most it are located on the ceilings or on the floor.
It has been observed that 80% of ground faults in equipment are caused by worn insulation, conductive dust or moisture. Another cause could also be when a hot wire contacts a grounded enclosure and it results in a blown fuse.
The use of a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is one of the methods used to overcome grounding and insulation deficiencies.
A ground fault or a ground fault circuit interpreter (GFCI) is an electrical device that is fitted in the electrical system to provide protection from electrical shocks. It has helped tremendously in the reduction of electrocution and electrical burns that occur in homes every year. It is also able to prevent electric fires.
A GFCI is constantly monitoring current flowing through a circuit. By comparing the amount of current going to and returning from equipment along the circuit conductors, it is able to monitor it. It interrupts power very quickly at about 1/4th of a second if the current that flows differs by even a very small amount to prevent electrocution or fires. For example if you touch an appliance which has a bare wire you will be electrocuted. However, if this appliance is protected by GFCI, this current will be cut off before it reaches your hand and electrocutes you.
Ground fault circuit interpreter are of three types for the purposes of permanent installation:
1. The circuit breaker type that is installed in an electrical panel and protects the wiring or the appliance on branch circuit it provides.
2. The second type is the receptacle type that installs in a normal electrical outlet box and can even replace older ungrounded, two slot receptacles with new GFCI receptacles.
3. The third type is a portable type and is used where GFCIs are not practical. It is a type of an extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in using receptacles that are not protected by GFCIs.
Purchasing a certified GFCI relay-switched device and including it with your product is a recommended action. It should be installed by a qualified electrician. He should have an adequate knowledge about electrical wiring and should read the instructions carefully.
Ground faults still remain a concern for electrical workers while using electrical devices. You should never attempt to install it yourself. It is not expensive and should be implemented for the safety of your family members.
Usually it is required to install ground fault circuit interpreter in places such as laundry, kitchens, bathrooms, unfinished basements, garages, outdoors, and anywhere near a sink. It should be installed anywhere there is contact with water such as underwater pool lighting, crawl spaces and utility sinks.
Also, it is mandatory to consider portable GFCI protection in devices such as electric tools, electrical-powered garden mower and hedge trimmer. The coverage of GFCI increases every year. After the installation of GFCI, it is necessary to test it every month or after a power failure.