25 May 2015


Some said it is magic; others said it is because they are not breathing, why many said that it is because they are wearing foot wear.  But don’t worry because you will not only know it, but you will also teach others after reading this post.

Before we start, let’s first define some terms in Electricity.
  • Electric: this is a type of energy that occurs due to the movement of electrons and protons in an oscillating pattern.
  • Electricity: this is a form of energy that is carried through wires and is used to operate machines, lights, etc.
  • Electric Current: this is a flow of Electric charge. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by moving electrons in a wire. (S.I unit is Ampere). 
  • Electric Shock: this is the physiological reaction or injury caused by electrical current passing through the (human) body. Typically, the expression is used to describe an injurious exposure to electricity. It occurs upon contact of a (human) body part with any source of electricity that causes a sufficient current through the skin, muscle, or hair. 
  • Electric Circuit: this is an electrical device that provides a path for the flow of Electrical current.
  •  Electrical Cable:  electrical cable comprises two or more wires running side by side and bonded, twisted, or braided together to form a single assembly, the ends of which can be connected to two devices, enabling the transfer of electrical signals from one device to the other.
  • Electrical Wire: this is a conductor or a metal that is covered with an insulator or a plastic that is used to send or receive electricity or electrical signals.
  • Conductors: they are those materials that allow current to flow through them. 
  • Insulators: they are those materials that don’t allow electrical current to flow through them.
Now that we have defined some of the basic terms we need, let’s go further.

In electricity as defined above as a form of energy that is carried through wires… The wires mentioned here is of three types:
  • The Live wire
  • The neutral wire
  • The earth wire
Let’s pick them one by one as we explain them.

The Live wire:
This is the electrical wire or cable through which current is flowing. This simply means that Live wire is that particular wire or cable among the three wires through which current can flow. This doesn’t mean that current cannot flow through other cables, but Live wire is the particular one that is connected to the live.

The neutral Wire:
This is the electrical wire that carries current “back” from a light or appliance.  Contact with them should not normally shock you because they are normally connected to ground much better than you can be. Light doesn’t flow through the neutral wire as in Live wire; the neutral only returns current from the electrical circuits.

The Earth or Ground Wire:
Earth or Ground in electricity simply means connection to the general mass of the earth.  The neutral wires of circuits and of the system are grounded, but a “ground wire” means a separate “grounding” wire keeping metal parts of devices, fixtures, or appliances from staying accidentally energized and endangering people or equipment. If things were not grounded, people’s bodies would more often be a path for current from a hot wire touching the metal to get to ground (without our having enough conductivity to trip a normal breaker!). 

Whenever there is current leakage or fault, the earth helps to transfer the current leakage to the general mass of the earth, which will, if the metal part of the circuit is not earthed, cause harm to any person that touches the device.

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We have successfully listed and explained the three types of wires we have in electricity. What remains now are how to identify them; how do we know them when we come across them?
We have two ways in which we can identify them when we come across them, they are:
  • By using a tester
  • By the colors of their insulators
Let’s pick them one by one and explain them.

By using a tester:
Using a tester to identify the three wires is more secure because some so called electrical engineers or technicians do interchange the connection during installation and when this is done, you can only identify them using your tester and it requires a little skill because only one wire between the three wires can conduct (i.e. Will show light on the tester), the other two will not show any light, so you need little skill to identify among the remaining two which one is earth or neutral.

When using tester to test the three wires, as earlier said, only one among them will conduct (i.e. Will show light on the tester) and that particular one is the Live wire.  Please note that the Live wire is the particular wire that current flows through them. As said before, some technicians do interchange them, so when it is interchanged, the one that current flows through them is the Live wire and that is the one that will conduct. The remaining two which are the neutral and the earth will not conduct and they can only be identified with their color because the tester is only used to identify the conducting and the nonconducting wire.

By the colors of their insulators:
This method is the easiest method that is used to identify the three wires, but it is very dangerous because if there is a wrong connection and you went and touch one of them thinking that it is the neutral, you can get shocked. 

Color codes for electrical wires have changed for some time now, but I will list the old and the new because the old is still in use today.

Old Colors:
Live:                                                    Red
Neutral:                                               Black
Earth:                                                  Green or Green-yellow

New Colors:
Live:                                                    Brown
Neutral:                                               Blue
Earth:                                                  Green or Green-yellow

Apart from the above mentioned colors, there are other colors electrical wires can have depending on the country or where they are being used.

Other Colors:
Live:                                                   Black
Neutral:                                              White
Earth:                                                 Green or Green-yellow or Bare copper

If you look closely to the above listed colors you observe that some colors repeated themselves in different places, that is why you will be very careful when dealing with electricity. 

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Now that we have listed and explain everything we need, lets head straight to the topic of the day, which why people don’t receive electric shock when they touch the Live wire.

In electrical circuits, before there will be a complete flow of electrical current, the circuit must be complete; what do I mean by complete circuit? What I meant by complete circuit is that the Live must be functional, likewise the neutral but the earth is optional.

To elaborate what I meant, the Live must be functional in order to supply current. The Neutral must be functional in order to return current and the earth too (but optional) in order to protect the system or circuit. If one among the Live and the Neutral is missing, then the circuit will be incomplete and the circuit cannot function at all.  That is why you will notice that there is live on Live wire, but the bulbs cannot come ON, reason is that the neutral is missing.

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Now we are coming close to our topic. Do you think that when you touch the Live wire and did not touch the neutral that you will get shocked? (I know that by now that the smart ones will be able to answer this question).

Only two things can do you receive shock when you touch the Live wire, they are:
  • When you touch the live and the neutral at the same time.
  • When you touch the live and you are not insulated from the ground, i.e. you are standing on the ground and you are not wearing anything that is not conductive (refer to conductor above) on your foot.
Let me explain once more. 

When you touch the live and the neutral at the same time, you are completing the circuit and current will flow through you and you will definitely receive an electrical shock. Likewise, when you are standing on the ground without wearing anything that is not conductive on your foot and you touch the Live wire, you will also receive an electric shock because the ground is the same as the neutral because the neutral is connected to the ground.

So these are the reasons why some people will touch the Live wire and will not receive any electrical shock.

Note: always use your tester to confirm the Live and the Neutral before working on any electrical circuit to avoid injury and damage to the circuit.

Best Regards,

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