MAMA FUNDI – Dear Mama Fundi!…


I am in Senior Two. The study of physics and electricity excites me. I always wonder why birds sit comfortably on live wires and they seem to enjoy conversations. But why do they not get electrocuted?! Yours Josylene Nyakato, Fort Portal, Uganda.

Dear Josylene,

Having seen your interesting but important question, first I send you a picture, in which you see Mr & Mrs Crow and  Joseph Karoli. They sat on electric wires and seemed to discuss the next “Birds’ Bill” in their parliament.  I can now tell you, why birds (and utility workers) don’t get shocked when touching power lines.

Every year thousands of people are killed or injured from contact with electricity. Some of these people are just young children. The more you know about how electricity works, the better you can keep yourself, your friends and your family safe. Let us know.

Electricity takes the easiest path to the ground:

“You didn’t know it” did you: If I take you through the physics and chemistry of how electricity takes the easiest path to the ground we shall cover volumes of books and time. Lets us cut it short:  for our safety, we should know that electricity is always trying to get to the ground. Like all good travellers, electricity takes shortcuts whenever it can. If something that conducts electricity gives electricity an easy path to the ground, electricity will take it!

Thus you wonder why birds and utility workers touch power lines but they don’t get shocked?

This is simple, it’s because the electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground, but the birds are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground. If you touched a power line while you were in contact with the ground (or standing on a ladder or roof) electricity would travel through you. And if your kite or balloon got tangled in a power line and you touched the string, electricity could travel down the string and into you on its way to the ground. Both situations would mean a serious shock!
People who work up on power lines don’t get shocked because they are trained to work with electricity. They wear special insulated boots, hardhats and gloves, and use special insulated tools that help prevent shock. It would be a bad idea to climb a power pole and imitate them. That can be fatal!

My good friend, you might need to know these facts as well.

Electricity can travel through you

Water and metal are some of the best conductors for electricity. Because your body is mostly water, you too are a great conductor! So if you touch an electric circuit and the ground at the same time, you will become electricity’s easiest path. Electricity will flow through you, and you could be seriously hurt or killed. You don’t have to be touching the ground directly to conduct electricity. You could also be touching something that is in contact with the ground, like a tree.

Electricity, you and water

Water is an excellent conductor. You can become electricity’s path to the ground if you are touching water that touches electricity. Electricity would travel through the water and through you to the ground. This is why it’s so important to keep all electrical appliances away from water, and to make sure your hands are dry and you are not standing in water when you touch anything electrical. It’s also the reason no one should ever use water on an electrical fire, but should use a fire extinguisher instead.

Electricity, you and appliances

Appliances have protective insulated cords and coverings to keep you from contacting the electricity inside. It’s important to use appliances and cords the way they were designed to be used so you don’t damage the insulation or contact live electrical parts. If a live wire inside an appliance touches the inside of the device and you touch the device, it would be like touching a bare live wire. You cannot tell from the outside if there is a problem inside, so you should always act as if there were danger of shock.

The truth about electric shock

 You can never tell when contact with electricity will be dangerous, but you can be sure it will always hurt. Electric shock can cause muscle spasms, weakness, shallow breathing, rapid pulse, severe burns, unconsciousness, or death. It’s not only giant power lines that can kill or injure you if you touch them. You can also be killed by a shock from an appliance or power cord in your home.

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