A California engineering licensee’s electrical-plug invention prevents injuries, fires, and fatalities
Those electrical outlets with little buttons on them mean a big difference for your safety: Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are the difference between life and death in certain circumstances, so find out more about their important purpose, their California connection, and how to make sure your home is up to current safety standards.
As described by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, GFCIs are devices that can either be installed in your electrical system or built into a power cord to protect you from severe electrical shocks, and can also prevent some electrical fires and reduce the severity of other fires by interrupting the electrical current’s flow.
A GFCI constantly monitors current flowing through a circuit. If the current flowing into the circuit differs by a very small amount from the returning current, the GFCI kicks in and interrupts the power faster than a blink of an eye to prevent a lethal dose of electricity, specifically before the electricity can affect your heartbeat.
That click you hear from a GFCI outlet switching off may just be the sound of your life being saved: Since their introduction, GFCIs are credited with preventing thousands of fatalities and for cutting the number of home electrocutions in half.
INVENTED BY LONGTIME CALIFORNIA LICENSEE
Dalziel was an internationally recognized expert on electrical shock who worked in industry with General Electric, the San Diego Gas and Electric Company, and the National Defense Research Committee, as well as in academics as an electrical engineering alumnus and professor at University of California, Berkeley. According to UC Berkeley, with the publication of his groundbreaking research papers on electrical shock, Dalziel became an in-demand lecturer, committee member, and reviewer of specific cases of death or injury.
“From the [case] reviews, he came to realize that the commonest cause of such deaths came from ordinary household circuits under the malfunction knowns as ‘ground fault,’” the university wrote in his obituary. “His research objective then became to create a device which would interrupt a ground-fault current before it was large enough to cause human physiological damage.”
It was a tall order: The problem-solving item needed to be sensitive, speedy, reliable, small, and cheap. Nevertheless, Dalziel was up to the challenge: He filed for and received a patent for the ground-fault current interrupter in 1965. Based on a magnetic circuit plus a then-newly developed semiconductor device, his GFCI did the job safely, reliably, and inexpensively.
The National Electrical Code (NEC)—which outlines standards for all 50 states—began calling for Dalziel’s invention to be used in various areas, especially those involving water as it is a main cause of ground faults. Starting with underwater swimming-pool lights in 1968, the NEC was updated throughout the years to recommend GFCIs in many places around the house like bathrooms, kitchens, and laundries, as well as for a wide range of other locations and items like commercial garages, decorative and drinking fountains, elevator-maintenance areas, and heating and air conditioning units. Portable GFCI units also are available for on-the-go electrical-safety needs.
Already renowned in his field, Dalziel was further lauded for his lifesaving invention, receiving a commendation from the state of California plus numerous honors and awards from professional organizations such as the international Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
EVERYDAY ELECTRICAL SAFETY
Do you have Charles Dalziel’s invention in your house? If your home is of newer construction or has had major reconstruction, you should, according to NEC GFCI standards. However, if you have an older home and want to make sure your electrical system is safe, or if you have a newer or remodeled home and need help checking or fixing your existing GFCI outlets or other system components, California’s licensed electrical contractors can answer your questions, perform repairs and improvements, and make sure everything’s working safely.
For more information on California licensed engineers like Dalziel, visit BPELSG at www.bpelsg.ca.gov; for information about licensed contractors like those specializing in electrical work, visit the Contractors State License Board at www.cslb.ca.gov. To check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.