An Idea Strikes
Have you ever watched lightning during a storm and wondered about its power? If so, you’ve embarked on the same scientific exploration that propelled Ben Franklin more than 200 years ago. Franklin was so enthralled with electricity that its study was his lifelong hobby.
In fact, it was Franklin who invented the lightning rod. In one of his experiments, he observed that a sharp iron needle would conduct electricity away from a charged metal sphere. He further theorized that lightning might be drawn away from buildings by elevating an iron rod grounded to the earth and the lightning rod was born.
But Ben didn’t stop there. He later had a theory that lightning was actually electricity. In June of 1752, he grew impatient waiting for the steeple on top of Christ’s Church to be completed for his experiment. The steeple would act as a lightning rod. So he thought that a kite would be able to get as close to the storm clouds. He tied a metal key to the kite string, and tied the string to an insulating silk ribbon for his hand. When Franklin saw the lightning deliver its charge to the key, he knew immediately that it was a form of electricity. And he knew its power.
Upon receiving an electrical shock during one experiment, he described it as a “ universal blow throughout my whole body from head to foot…and a violent quick shaking of my body…”
Ben took huge risks in his experiments and fortunately never received a fatal shock. But we know that electricity is a powerful force that can injure and kill. We have to treat it with the utmost respect. Always check electrical equipment and power cords for damage. Make sure electrical equipment and machinery are properly grounded. Always lock out and tag out, it you’re the worker authorized to do so. Check to ensure that equipment is powered down before you begin maintenance and repairs.
Franklin was obsessed with the idea of electricity. In 1749, he described the concept of a battery in a letter to a friend, but doubted if it would ever be of use. Like Franklin, we should think about electricity too. Not by conducting experiments but by staying aware of how to safely work with electricity. Electricity is so common that we can become too comfortable around it. That’s a mistake. Stay alert to the very real dangers of electricity. It’s one of our greatest allies but also one of our greatest threats.
Beware if Electricity’s There!
*Copyright 2008 Harkins Safety B-233