My column last week on open pedestal grounds (Campsite power pedestal safety: “open ground” danger) must have caused quite a stir with our readers since my inbox has received a bunch of questions and stories about similar incidents around the country. Here’s just one of them:
“For the first time in a year of full-timing my EMS protector gave an error code of “open ground.” I informed the campground owner, who did not understand the warning. I was able to plug into the site next to us, which was OK. Although the owner said an electrician would show up the next day, one did not appear for the week we were there. I hope the next users of that site have a protector.” —Steven Scheinin
There are way too many questions to answer in a single column, so I’m going to have to break them down into a spreadsheet to make sure I cover everything properly over the next several issues. But here are my initial thoughts on this situation.
There are three main parties responsible for keeping your RV electrically safe so that it won’t shock or electrocute anyone.
First, there are the manufacturers, and the electrical codes that specify how they’re built. Having studied a lot of modern RV electrical systems in general, I would say that as RVs come from the factory they are electrically very safe. I’ve only seen one or two RVs that had an electrical failure due to a poor build on the assembly line. So, as designed by the manufacturers and built in their factories, all (or at least 99.9%) modern RV are extremely safe electrically. So I would give them an A for their part in electrical safety for RVs.
Second, there are the campgrounds. As specified by the NEC (National Electrical Code), all campground electrical pedestals are designed and built to be safe. However, during campsite installation some of them appear to be miswired and never properly tested. And there seems to be little or no maintenance on the vast majority of older campground pedestals.
To top it off, most campground “electricians” seem to have very little understanding of how RV electrical systems work and ways to troubleshoot any problems such as an open ground. I have hundreds of emails in my files from readers where campground electricians said their was nothing wrong with a pedestal that was shocking an RV owner, or giving their EMS (electrical management systems) an open ground code. Unfortunately I don’t have a list of campgrounds with dangerous pedestals, so I can’t flunk that part of the industry as a whole. (You all know I’m an adjunct professor, right?) However, I can give the campground industry a D for electrical safety since they don’t seem to be doing their job or taking it seriously.
Third, it’s you the camper who are ultimately responsible for your own electrical safety. And that can mean purchasing voltage testers and aftermarket products such as surge protectors and electrical management systems, as well as visually monitoring campground pedestals for obvious signs of wear. Plus, you should never accept a campsite with a pedestal that doesn’t pass basic electrical tests for voltage and grounding. And this goes BIG TIME when you plug into a friend’s house or even your own garage outlet for an RV sitting in the driveway. While a simple wall outlet looks less dangerous than a 50-amp/240-volt shore power plug, it’s just as dangerous in terms of shock potential.
To help educate you all, I’ve written hundreds of articles on how to test electrical outlets for proper voltage and grounding, and I developed the test of using a NCVT (Non Contact Voltage Tester) as a final check on your RV’s ground. Plus, I’ve answered hundreds of questions about what causes an RV hot-skin voltage and how to troubleshoot them. You must be learning, since many of you are answering others correctly about measuring outlets safely.
So, because many of my readers on RVtravel.com are actually trying to be safe, I’m going to give you a C+ (maybe B-) grade. Yes, you could be doing a lot better, but the majority of time you seem to be hooking up to shore power safely. However, anyone who feels a shock from the RV and doesn’t immediately disconnect from shore power until the problem is fixed gets an automatic F for failure. There’s simply no excuse for allowing a dangerous shock situation to exist.
So please take the poll below and answer if you’ve ever found a campground pedestal that showed it had a failed ground, low or high voltage, reversed polarity, or anything else unsafe. Then feel free to leave your comments and/or questions below.
Let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 40 years in the industry. Visit NoShockZone.org for more electrical safety tips. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.