This is a common question that one would think should have a simple answer, but that is not actually the case. The neutral wire is often said to have zero voltage on it. If you touch that wire on a live system, however, you will often find out very quickly that technically having zero voltage is very different from meaning there is no electricity present. Each phase of a circuit has its voltage measured relative to neutral, which is why it is said to be zero volts.
The actual amount of electricity flowing through a neutral wire can vary quite a bit from system to system. Even two similar systems can have a lot of difference if they are set up in different locations. This is because the neutral wire may not be properly connected to the Earth, or there may be electricity being fed back through it from other systems on the line.
While in general the neutral wire should have significantly less voltage going through it than any of the other wires on a system, that does not mean that it is safe to touch. Even in a system that is operating properly, working on a live neutral wire is still dangerous because if there is any type of unexpected fault in the system, the current may travel through the neutral wire to get to the ground.
Electrical systems are quite complex, and the way they are discussed is often confusing, especially to the ‘average Joe’ who does not have any electrical training. Someone without experience may have heard that the neutral wire has zero volts and begin working on or near it without taking any precautions. If they come in contact with the wire while unprotected, they could receive a very dangerous shock. For this reason, all wires in all electrical systems should be seen to be dangerous. Putting up safety labels or signs to alert people not only to the hazard, but also to the fact that they should only be worked on by trained electricians is an important part of overall workplace safety.
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