Friday, July 10, 2015

Tech Electrocuted Changing an Air Filter

Last week I received this heart wrenching e-mail from a friend and colleague.

“Carter, I am writing you this in hope that you will pass this on to everyone.  Last week I lost a great student and a friend. He was a student that every Instructor dreams of. He was smart and eager to work hard and make a career in our field of HVAC/R.  He was only 22 years old with a wife and an 8 month old little girl. His death has really hit me hard as his instructor.  He worked for an A/C company nearby.  While working on a heat pump service call, he had been in the attic and outside to check the equipment, then he headed under the house to change the air filter for the customer. Upon touching the air handler cabinet he became locked and grounded by a wire that was shorted to the air handler’s metal cabinet.  He was wet from sweat, from being in the attic as well as outside in our hot humid air. He was LOCKED to the air handler. After some 15 minutes the home owner called him. When he did not answer, the owner went under and found him and was able to knock him off the unit and freed him. The owner then dragged him out and started CPR. EMS arrived and continued CPR on the way to the Medical Center, where medical staff also continued CPR, but a doctor pronounced him dead. Funeral services will be held tomorrow.

 I believe every class needs to tell every student and warn them of this. He was just changing an air filter, not working on the electric wiring. I know he never would have thought of being shocked by just touching the cabinet. We have all done this thousands of times, not thinking about getting shocked. TURN OFF ALL POWER before doing anything on any unit.”

How many times have you touched a unit before checking to see if the case was energized? I cannot count how many times I have done this. THIS TECH WAS JUST CHANGING A FILTER. Before touching any electrical disconnect or unit ALWAYS check with a non-contact voltage detector to make sure the cabinet is not energized. And when you work on a unit for any reason, check to make sure that it is properly grounded before you leave. Properly grounding a unit can save someone's life. It is rare for a unit cabinet to be energized – but it does happen and the results can be tragic.


  1. Alas, as standards in construction continue to deteriorate we will find more danger everywhere. What was innocuous will become hazardous as this deadly case shows . In the past we saw it also, we got better with regulation and standards and quality, but we have a new generation and history repeats itself, often from the lack of professional work and with non professional , helper and DYI's who do not even know they are the problem. A home is a very dangerous and complicated machine with many things that can go wrong in many different ways. Even the gardener or a child can create a hazard in a home with wear and tear that poor workmanship cannot prevent.
    I would be hard pressed to expect this filter death. Yet even I had a close brush with death when a gas pipe I separated on a gas only water heater still had a voltage path. Later the bonding rule for grounding was implemented, yet many are still not bonded. As we go to plastic pipes, electricity finds new ways to seek a ground. Who will be next? I still may not check a furnace for danger when filter changing even though I know I should.