GFCI Knowledge That Can Save Lives

Not following proper GFCI safety procedures with fountains and aerators in ponds is dangerous. Following simple steps and procedures very well could save your life, the life of a coworker, employee, or customer. Here’s a quick GFCI 101 to help keep yourself and your customers safe.

What is a GFCI?

Kasco Marine 1HP

A GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) is a device designed to sense and shut off power (trip) when electrical current takes an alternate path to ground (leakage current). These devices save lives and are required in many everyday locations like your bathroom, kitchen, exterior outlets, etc., and their use is critical when it comes to putting electrical equipment in your pond or lake.

There are two main levels of GFCI devices; human/personnel rated and equipment rated.

  1. Human Rated GFCI devices will trip when a 4-6 ma (milliamp) current leak is detected.
  2. Equipment RatedGFCI devices will trip at a 30ma current leak. There are some adjustable equipment rated GFCI devices that can go as high as 100ma. Understanding these levels is very important and using the correct one is a must!

Muscles in your body can begin to seize, or contract, with 10-25ma of current. Your heart can stop with 60-80ma of current. With those numbers, an equipment rated device might be enough to prevent your heart from stopping, but muscles will likely seize and prevent a person from being able to swim to shore if they are in the water. An adjustable GFCI set at 100ma could very well allow enough current leakage to stop your heart without tripping.

120V and 208-240V Considerations

Kasco Marine Control Panel

Proper GFCI protection is important and Kasco takes a conservative approach by using GFCI devices with 5ma trip level in all 120V and 208-240V single phase and 230V 3 phase fountain control panels. Although our aerators and circulators do not come standard with a control panel, optional control panels are available with GFCI protection. Aerator and circulator instructions direct users to ensure they are used with proper GFCI protection.

480V Considerations

480V 3phase power is a higher voltage than the UL classification for human/personnel rated GFCI protection.  Kasco does provide 30ma GFCI protection in our 480V control panels, as a human rated GFCI is simply not available.  Since this falls outside the UL classification for human/personnel rating, it is a requirement to validate any install site for safe use prior to selling any 480V 3 phase units.

Proper GFCI Practices

How do you know you’re safe? Here are some quick tips and items to look for before, during and after an install.
Test GFCI’s Regularly

The National Electric Code (NEC) states that GFCI’s should be manually tested when first installed, then monthly using the TEST button on the device. This goes for the outlets in your bathroom and kitchen as well as the GFCI device in the fountain control panel.

DO NOT Bypass a GFCI

Unfortunately, a common “fix” for a tripping GFCI is to bypass the GFCI and use a non-GFCI protected device. Even certified electricians have been known to do this. DO NOT do this. The GFCI is there for protecting human lives as well as the equipment. If it’s tripping, we need to diagnose the reason for the problem, not simply remove the “alarm.”

Do Not Work on Non-GFCI Protected Equipment

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If you notice a GFCI has been bypassed or removed, don’t work on that unit until it is re-installed and operating properly. If a customer or electrician has removed the GFCI, have them reinstall it before you begin to work on the unit.

Never Enter Water With Equipment Plugged In

Even with a properly functioning GFCI, it is never advised to enter the pond or lake with a unit plugged in. Unplug the equipment prior to entering the water for equipment service or for swimming.

Use a Stray Voltage Detector

If you have an install on a pond or lake with many other electrical devices in and around the pond, it is a good idea to use a stray voltage detector prior to entering the water. These can be found online or at pool supply stores and will float in the pond to allow you to detect any voltage issues, even if the Kasco unit has been unplugged.

Use Human Rated Protection

It is more expensive and there is a greater likelihood of nuisance trips using a human rated GFCI with only a 5ma leak trip level. However, what’s the cost if you don’t? The injury or death of an employee, customer, or even a pet would be tragic. It’s always best practice to be safe and ensure the equipment you sell and install will not harm anyone.

Bench Service and Repair

For the safety of all technicians, any service center doing bench work MUST have human rated GFCI protection to test and run the equipment.