Automatic death machines

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Ho Chi Minh City this week cut off power supply to 121 automated teller machines (ATM) which were found leaking electricity in an inspection launched after a 10-year-old girl died of electrocution in District 1 on April 1.

The HCMC Power Corporation's three-day investigation starting on April 3 covered some 1,330 ATM booths. The investigation found up to one-fourth of 121 machines had power leaks of 100-120V in their keyboards and the surface of the machine. It was not explained how such high levels of leakage at so many booths passed unnoticed for so long.

Others' leaks were measured at 50-60V which usually just caused mild shocks, but could be fatal if users come in contact with the machines when they are wet with either perspiration or rain, said Vu Manh Hai, vice director of Tan Binh Power Company, which operates under the corporation.

Hai said the leaks came from the improper installation of electrical systems inside the machines and a lack of grounding (also known as earthing, where an electrical circuit or appliance is connected to the ground so that current is carried away safely in the event of a fault).

It was, therefore, easy for metal keyboards and containers to shock customers, Hai said.

Most ATMs in Vietnam are designed in accordance with international standards and include instructions to bury ground wires two meters underground, but very few of them were set up properly, according to several experts.

Machines at shopping centers, supermarkets and restaurants don't have ground wires at all, as builders don't want to upset underground works already existing in the areas, they said.

In a recent interview with the Tuoi Tre newspaper, Le Huynh Ha, head of Vietcombank (Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam)'s ATM services management department, also complained about difficulties in obtaining approval to erect ground poles at ATM booths from buildings where they were located.

Meanwhile, imported ATMs leaked electricity, which explained why they used three-leg plugs, which are not commonly used in Vietnam, Ha said.

So, they had to cut off one leg when installing the machines, and without the grounding, they could not get rid of the leakage, he added.

Following the findings about ATM's in HCMC, directors of power corporations in Hanoi and the central city of Da Nang on April 5 ordered their member companies to inspect the electrical safety of local cash machines.

Machines that failed to comply with safety standards will be sealed and their power supply cut off, they said.

Twenty power corporations in the Mekong Delta and the southern central region initiated similar moves with inspections lasting till April 15, local media reported.

Also on April 5, the State Bank of Vietnam ordered all banks to review and report on the conditions of their ATMs this week. Most of the bigger banks, like Vietcombank, Sacombank and Asia Commercial Bank, have so far committed to fixing all the problems in their cash machines.

Death still roams

HCMC power agencies this week have also concluded that leaks from a wire providing power to a billboard outside an ATM booth on Mac Thi Buoi Street, District 1, killed fourth-grader Chau Linh Uyen in the afternoon of April 1.

The wiring, done by the Vietnam Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Agribank), had many open joints and was leaking electricity, they said.

Uyen was playing with her friends when she touched the ATM room, lost consciousness and began foaming at the mouth.

The Nguyen Thai Binh Primary School student died before she was admitted to the hospital, doctors at Saigon General Hospital said.

Deputy General Director of Agribank Vu Minh Tan told local media the bank had paid all the fees for the girl's funeral and were ready to take responsibility in accordance with the law if a police investigation concluded that it was their fault.

It wasn't the first time Vietnam's southern metro had recorded a death caused by electrocution related to public works.

Last August a 13-year-old boy in District 5 died of electrocution due to a power leak from a street lamppost after heavy rains. One month later a 10-year-old boy died when he was electrocuted also by a power leak from a ground wire installed improperly in District 6.

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