How Dangerous is my Breaker Panel?

Old 04-12-21, 02:53 PM
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How Dangerous is my Breaker Panel?

Hello all,
Random question here but...

I try to avoid tinkering with my breaker panel at all costs. I know it's dangerous and technically only an electrician is allowed to service it. That said, if we are being honest over the years I have more than once installed a new breaker when making renovations to my own homes. This is something that stresses me out alot and that I try to avoid at all costs, but sometimes life happens (and obviously I turn off the main breaker before even opening the box).

That said, I'm wondering exactly how dangerous is my breaker panel? If someone were to shock themselves by touching the bus of a standard 200 amp panel - does that mean instant death?

I know I'm not asking for DYI advice here but I know people here will have the knowledge.

Thank you,
Old 04-12-21, 03:56 PM
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"If someone were to shock themselves by touching the bus of a standard 200 amp panel - does that mean instant death?"

It's no more or less dangerous than 120V anywhere else. Well, if you touched both buses with different hands, then you would experience 240V across your body, and that would be the worst case. Lethality depends on whether you are able to promptly "let go" (keeping in mind that electricity paralyzes you).

Last edited by Luke M; 04-12-21 at 04:17 PM.
Old 04-12-21, 05:54 PM
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As Luke posted, electricity is dangerous anyplace/anytime you come in contact with it. It is just in the panel where you have large energized parts that are easier to come into contact with. By turning off the main breaker you are limiting the energized parts to the large conductors and the lugs they are attached to.

Just remember it takes a very small amount of current to receive a lethal shock, but it all depends on the circumstances of how/where you are shocked.
Old 04-12-21, 07:06 PM
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That's a heck of a relief! I had never looked at it that way - it's all the same voltage.
Now my question seems kinda silly, but I'm happy I asked.
Thanks for your time!
Old 04-13-21, 01:23 AM
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Your question is not silly at all.

The breaker panel is dangerous and should always be handled with great care. Even turning off the main breaker will result in the conductors feeding the panel to still remain live. So only certain parts of the panel are not energized even though you shut off the main.

It may be best for you to spend the money to have a breaker installed or replaced when need be if you have any hesitation at all.

Remember, you don't fear electricity - you respect it. In order to respect it you need to know how it works in your home.

I Mullins voted this post useful.
Old 04-13-21, 10:39 AM
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One thing you do have going for you is in Canada, the panels are designed to separate the incoming lugs (always-on) and the breaker section which can be de-energized via the main. So at least in theory, working on your panel should be close to 100% safe.

That said, you can further reduce your risk by taking basic precautions. Always work in rubber-soled shoes, standing on wood or something similar. Standing barefoot on concrete makes you a much better conductor. Similarly, some are trained to work with one hand in their pocket, to reduce the possibility of creating a path from one hand to another inconveniently across your heart. Also, working with gloves, even lightweight work gloves, can help prevent accidentally touching something you shouldn't.
Old 04-18-21, 10:38 AM
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Shock lethality also depends in part on your body composition, and nuances in your health status, which are not predictable or measurable as far as getting shocked is concerned.

Your body's inherent resistance is one point. Each person's body has a different level of resistance, partly dependent on hydration status and the moisture content of the contacting skin. I once made contact with my sweaty arm--boy did that shock hurt, but it was not as bad as when I've experienced a brief touch.

Then there's the amount of contact area. If your hand firmly grabbed a hot and neutral, you'd get more shock than if you briefly or hardly touched it.

I once worked with a master electrician who would would actually touch contact points to verify the 120 volt connections he made. He wouldn't even wince. And while I don't know what planet this guy was from, I do not recommend this method.

Please be safe, and overcautious if anything. My work rule, especially with electric, is to figure out what can go wrong, and make sure THAT doesn't happen.

Or as Zordft says "what's the worst that can happen?" --Know the answer to that in advance, and during the process of what you are doing.
Old 04-19-21, 05:52 AM
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The added risk of working on live panels is not so much the electrocution hazard, but the issue of accidental contact with live parts. A loose wire or tool touching a bad place could spark violently, spattering you with molten metal. Also, there are some areas that are not fused or breakered, and can deliver many tens of thousands of amps. That represents an opportunity to heat up tools and conductors to the melting point, quickly.
Old 04-19-21, 06:47 AM
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... contact with live parts. ...
A two-tined meat fork used with barbecue suddenly had most of one tine melted away. Decades later a nephew admitted he had a "psychedelic vision" when he stuck something in the main electrical disconnect in our utility room. Looking back at some of the things we did in our youth, we have to wonder how we survived. I guess we were just lucky.

But it's unwise to depend on luck when working around electricity or electronics.

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