Dead front covers on electrical panels help to keep potential malfunctions such as arcing or sparks from reaching beyond the panel and help protect one of the most dangerous areas in a home. Since it only takes 100 milliamperes (0.1 amp) to be lethal, electrical panels should be approached with caution. Other hazards such as arcing, electrical fires, and improper hardware or equipment can make these areas even more hazardous and all of these hazards can be caused or exacerbated by simply using the wrong type of screw.
The dead front cover on an electrical panel is typically held in place with 4 to 6 screws, installed at the sides and corners of the panel. While these screws should be blunt tipped, sharp tipped screws are often improperly installed in these areas. This is a hazardous situation since the screws move inside the panel near wiring when removed or installed, occasionally making contact with wires in a panel. If a blunt tipped screw is used, this does not create a hazard as the screw simply pushes the wire out of the way until it is fully screwed in. However, if a sharp tipped screw is used, this can cut through the insulation and make contact with the live wire, potentially shocking or electrocuting anyone in contact with the screw or panel.
This can also cause arcing, an event where electricity jumps from one connection to another. This visible plasma discharge between two electrodes is created by electrical current ionizing gasses in the air and can reach temperatures exceeding 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, over three times hotter than the surface of the sun. This can cause fires, damage to eyesight or hearing, severe burns, release poisonous gas, high speed shrapnel, or create a shock wave explosion. This same type of electrical energy discharge can be found in nature in the form of lightning bolts.
Since electrical energy can be a significant hazard, using blunt tipped screws is an extremely important and easy way to prevent injury or death when working around electrical panels. If your electrical panel contains sharp tipped screws, do not screw this back into the panel as they could come in contact with wiring. Instead, replace these with blunt tipped screws for maximum safety. If any wiring has been damaged or if you see signs of past arcing or scorching, contact a qualified electrical contractor to evaluate and correct as necessary.