Equipment grounding affects contact current exposure: a case study of sewing machines

Ann Occup Hyg. 2005 Nov;49(8):673-82. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/mei031. Epub 2005 Aug 26.


Exposure to contact current may occur when the body is in contact with two conductive surfaces with different electrical potentials. To date, no published data that describe such exposures or electrical conditions that may predispose to such exposures exist. Our investigation into contact current exposure included (i) a small sample of workers in a garment production facility with modern well-grounded equipment performing normal work tasks and (ii) a single individual simulating garment production tasks in a sewing machine repair facility with substandard equipment grounding. In both cases, we deployed a newly developed personal monitor that records contact current events at the power frequency of 60 Hz. The personal monitoring data suggested that more frequent exposure occurs in association with, and probably because of, poorer grounding practices. This preliminary conclusion was validated with controlled laboratory measurements of potentials to reference ground on specific locations of four sewing machines with different grounding characteristics. Propensity to exposure was greater in the two machines with inferior grounding characteristics, and increased in the other two when deprived of their grounding connections. Contact currents at or below threshold-of-perception levels can produce electric fields within tissues that may plausibly produce biological effects. On this basis, such exposures have been under-investigated relative to the far greater attention accorded to occupational electric and magnetic fields.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / prevention & control*
  • Electric Conductivity*
  • Electric Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Environmental Monitoring / instrumentation
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Health
  • Textile Industry*