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Recent Tragedies at Lake of the Ozarks Show Need to Make Sure Docks are Safe

Three swimmers escaped harm Sunday at Lake of the Ozarks when they were swimming near a dock and felt electricity in the water.  The two children and an adult were near a dock that was undergoing electrical repairs.  Electricity was turned off and the three made it to safety.

But others haven’t been so lucky.  Two children—eight and 13-year-old siblings—were killed on the Fourth of July at the lake when they received an electrical shock while swimming near a dock.

And a 26-year-old woman died July 9thwhen she and her two step brothers felt an electrical charge in the water.  The two brothers were able to get out, but their step sister wasn’t.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol says the incidents highlight the need to make sure electricity on docks is correctly installed and inspected.

Sergeant Matt Walz with Troop F says dock owners should have licensed professionals install the electricity on their docks.  If you buy a dock and you’re not sure if the electrical work was done correctly?

"Then you should certainly have someone come out who is licensed and can come out and inspect that and make sure, you know, that it is safe.  It's a great luxury to have electricity to your dock, but it's also a great responsibility, and you really owe it to your friends and family, if they're going to be swimming around the dock, to make sure that it's a safe environment for them."

Kyla Kruse, spokesperson for the Energy Education Council, says inspection is also critical.  She says every dock needs to be checked out by a qualified electrician…

"A good recommendation is to have GFCI outlets--ground fault circuit interrupters--installed for anything that's going to be plugged in because a ground fault circuit interrupter stops the flow of electricity if a fault is detected, and those should be checked on a regular basis as well."

According to Kruse, GFCI’s should be inspected monthly.  She says some are consumer friendly and can be checked by dock owners.  But she says, if in doubt, contact a professional.  She suggests asking questions when looking for someone to do electrical work…

"Their background, what other docks they've worked on, in particular, I think would be a good question to ask--how long they've been in the business, other questions that would get at their experience or perhaps certifications that they have, which vary from area to area."

If you rent a dock, talk to the owner to make sure the electricity was installed by a licensed professional and that it’s been inspected regularly.

Regulations are different depending on who has authority at each lake, according to Sgt. Walz.  He says Ameren Missouri is the dock permitting authority at Lake of the Ozarks, and they provide dock wiring information to the public on their website.

Swimmers can try to avoid an electrical incident resulting in a fatality.  Walz says survivors of incidents where electricity entered the water reported feeling a tingling or numbness in their extremities.  He says, if you feel those symptoms, swim away from the dock or whatever you think the source may be…

"It's key to remember that a lot of the docks, particularly at Lake of the Ozarks, they have cables--metal cables--that run from the docks to the shoreline, so, if that's the case, those cables are certainly conducters of that electricity as well, and at least one of our incidents was from somebody grabbing one of the dock cables while they were in the water, and the cable was electrically charged, so it's crucial that if you believe that there is electricity flowing into the water that you swim away from the source and swim to the shoreline or to another dock that you know is safe."

He says dock owners need to be responsible and make sure their property is safe because lives are at risk, and he hope they’ll learn from the recent tragedies…

"We do not want to see any more of those incidents happen, certainly."

Kruse reminds those who like to enjoy being on or around the lake to stay indoors if storms are in the forecast.  If you’re at the lake when a storm comes up, take shelter immediately to avoid a lightning strike.  And she says boaters should always be aware of overhead power lines, stay at least ten feet away and never cast in the direction of them.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.