6 Voltages a Person Can Be Exposed To In a Substation

Dangerous voltages in substation //

Figures 1 and 2 show the voltages a person can be exposed to in a substation. The following definitions describe the voltages //

  1. Ground potential rise (GPR)
  2. Mesh voltage
  3. Metal-to-metal touch voltage
  4. Step voltage
  5. Touch voltage
  6. Transfer red voltage

1. Ground potential rise (GPR)

The maximum electrical potential that a substation grounding grid may attain relative to a distant grounding point assumed to be at the potential of remote earth. Ground potential rise is the product of the magnitude of the grid current, the portion of the fault current conducted to earth by the grounding system, and the ground grid resistance.

5 Voltages a Person Can Be Exposed To In a Substation
5 Voltages a Person Can Be Exposed To In a Substation (photo credit: Terry F Luehmann via Flickr)
Basic shock situations
Figure 1 – Basic shock situations

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2. Mesh voltage

The maximum touch voltage within a mesh of a ground grid.

Mesh voltage

The actual mesh voltage, Em (maximum touch voltage), is the product of the soil resistivity, ρ; the geometrical factor based on the configuration of the grid, Km; a correction factor, Ki, which accounts for some of the errors introduced by the assumptions made in deriving Km; and the average current per unit of effective buried length of the conductor that makes up the grounding system (IG/LM):

3. Metal-to-metal touch voltage

The difference in potential between metallic objects or structures within the substation site that can be bridged by direct hand-to-hand or hand-to-feet contact.

Typical situation of external transferred potential
Figure 2 – Typical situation of external transferred potential

Important Note //

The metal-to-metal touch voltage between metallic objects or structures bonded to the ground grid is assumed to be negligible in conventional substations.

However, the metal-to-metal touch voltage between metallic objects or structures bonded to the ground grid and metallic objects inside the substation site but not bonded to the ground grid, such as an isolated fence, may be substantial.

In the case of gas-insulated substations, the metal-to-metal touch voltage between metallic objects or structures bonded to the ground grid may be substantial because of internal faults or induced currents in the enclosures.

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4. Step voltage

Step voltage is actually the difference in surface potential experienced by a person bridging a distance of 1 m with the feet without contacting any other grounded object.

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5. Touch voltage

Touch voltage is the potential difference between the ground potential rise and the surface potential at the point where a person is standing while at the same time having a hand in contact with a grounded structure.

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6. Transfer red voltage

A special case of the touch voltage where a voltage is transferred into or out of the substation, from or to a remote point external to the substation site. The maximum voltage of any accidental circuit must not exceed the limit that would produce a current flow through the body that could cause fibrillation.

Assuming the more conservative body weight of 50 kg to determine the permissible body current and a body resistance of 1000 V, the tolerable touch voltage is:

Tolerable touch voltage

and the tolerable step voltage is:

Tolerable step voltage

where //

  • Estep – Step voltage, V
  • Etouch – Touch voltage, V
  • rs – Resistivity of the surface material, V-m
  • ts – Duration of shock current, in seconds

Since the only resistance for the metal-to-metal touch voltage is the body resistance, the voltage limit is:

Voltage limit

The shock duration is usually assumed to be equal to the fault duration. If re-closing of a circuit is planned, the fault duration time should be the sum of the individual faults and used as the shock duration time ts.

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Reference: The electric power engineering handbook – L.L. Grigsby (Purchase hardcover book from Amazon)

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About Author //


Edvard Csanyi

Edvard - Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry fascilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming. Present on


  1. Siddiqui, Idris
    Jul 13, 2017

    Dear Edvard Casany,
    it is a very important hint to people who go in the operation group. So I can just appeal all those who delegate an engineer for an Operational work he must take your article in his laptop! A good job indeed, dear colleague!

    Apr 09, 2017

    Dear Edward!

    Good Morning!

    Your articles are very nice. It is very useful to gain more knowledge for all electrical engineering persons.

    Thank You

  3. Tyrone Armstrong Jr
    Oct 23, 2015

    Great article

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