Contact voltage is a voltage resulting from an electrical fault that energizes a surface in the public right-of-way and may be contacted by members of the gereal public or their animals, resulting in shocks and electrocutions. Contact voltage is most often caused by a failure in an underground distribution system due to aging infrastructure, contruction damage, or poor workmanship.
The nature of the threat of contact voltage was generally unrecognized in the past, but has become much better understood. Unfortunately, this growing awareness is due in part to the tragic experiences of a number of innocent victims across the country. This very serious problem remains effectively invisible and silent until terrible and sometimes fatal electric shocks are experienced by innocent pedestrians in publicly accessible locations, as is increasingly well documented in recent years by reports in the news media and utility records.
Incidents of contact voltage shocks and electrocutions have involved energized sidewalks, manhole covers, playground fences, streetlights, and other structures in urban areas with underground electric distribution systems. Pedestrians have experienced electric shocks from casual contact with otherwise harmless-looking objects. The voltages of such shocks varies widely and no level can be considered "safe". Too many of these incidents resulted in very serious injury, and even death. The presence of 1 volt is indicative of a fault in the underground electric distribution system; a fault that over time and dependent on conditions can worsen causing shocks and deaths. Con Edison, in New York City, recognizing this, remediates every confirmed finding of voltage down to 1 volt to ensure that pedestrians and pets in their urban service territory are protected.