Electrical panel inspection should be done by licensed electricians
Electrical panel inspection can be dangerous, and should therefore be handled with care and by professionals. Safety is paramount, and no matter what level of electrical experience you have, it’s important to be mindful of the proper safety procedures when inspecting electrical panels.
NOTE: Do not attempt to work on electrical wiring, switches or outlets unless you’re properly trained and equipped. Handling electrical components in a building comes with the risk of electrocution, which could lead to serious burns or death. Owners can access circuit breakers and fuses, and visually examine their electrical equipment for signs of trouble. However, they should not remove the cover from an electrical panel.
Electricians should follow this checklist before inspection
- Have an escape path: Know where you’ll turn and/or step away from equipment if there is a sudden hazard.
- Wear electrical safety equipment: Special safety gear is often required when working with an electrical panel. Wear the proper eye protection, protective clothing, gloves and grounding straps.
- Perform an initial hazard assessment: It’s a good idea to first perform a special risk assessment for electrical explosion, arcing or fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Protect the owner during inspection
- Clearly explain hazards.
- Don’t allow the owner to assist you in removing or installing the panel cover. Only the electrician should be touching electrical components at any time. Warn the owner to remain at a safe distance.
- Remain in a blocking position, so you’re between the panel and owner.
- Alert the owner before killing power.
- Report any limitations to an inspection.
Dangerous conditions to watch out for
- Gaps or a missing grounding system: The grounding system provides an easy path for electricity to flow to the earth, should a problem like a short circuit occur. Allowing current to flow in this way helps a circuit breaker trip, preventing fire and shock. Without a ground path, a person is at risk of becoming the ground, resulting in electrocution.
- Wet areas: Don’t touch electrical equipment if you’re standing on a wet surface, and be mindful of any condensation in your area.
- Rust or corrosion: Watch for any rust around the panel, as well as circuit breakers that may not trip in response to an overcurrent, due to internal corrosion. If breakers have these characteristics, replace them. If an electrical panel is badly corroded, the entire panel needs to be replaced.
- Evidence of overheating: Watch for signs of melting or burning inside the electrical panel.
- Signs of improper bonding: Look for improper wiring, or damaged equipment in general.
- Do not continue to touch or inspect a panel if you sense a charge, tingle or shock.
Other red flags
- Cracking or popping sounds
- Poor panel access
- Obsolete components
- A loose, undersized or upside-down panel
- Inappropriate support material
- Unprotected panel openings
- Unlabeled circuits
- Circuit breakers not properly sized
- Aluminum branch wiring
- Sharp-tipped panel box screws or wires damaged by these screws (Panel box cover screws should have blunt ends so they don’t pierce the wires inside the box.)
- Pest damage
NOTE: If a person begins to sustain electrical shock, don’t touch them. If a wooden board or stake is nearby, use that to push them away, or try to safely and quickly turn off the main breaker or fuse. It’s important to get medical help immediately.