Media stories about microshocks in children’s playground

Multiple media have picked up on a Facebook story about children getting small shocks from the metal chains of the swings in a children’s playground under an overhead line in Kent.

Microshocks are a known phenomenon when the electric field from a power line induces small charges on conducting objects.  If you touch such an object, it can discharge to you through a tiny spark called a microshock.  This is very similar to when you acquire a charge through walking across a nylon carpet then touch a metal object, and just like those static shocks, it can be disconcerting but is not regarded as harmful.

We have not investigated this specific instance.  But we would guess that the metal chains are charging up.  The swings in question have a wooden frame, and normally, these would screen the electric field to some extent.  In the long spell of hot dry weather we had this summer, these would dry out, reducing or removing any screening effect.  Also, the drier it is, the more pronounced microshocks are anyway, because humidity in the air can help charge to leak away.

So (although, as we say, we haven’t investigated this specific instance), we are not too surprised by what is being described – it sounds fairly explicable in terms of what we know about microshocks – but it will possibly only have happened in the hot dry weather we’ve had, and we don’t think it would pose any serious health or safety risk.  These microshocks – or any other microshocks you may experience under overhead lines – do not indicate any fault with the line. You are not about to be electrocuted with thousands of volts!

Links to some of the media coverage:

(also discussed on the Jeremy Vine show, BBC Radio 2, Monday 10 September starting at about 1230)

And on this site, more on