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Our existing meta topics on dangerous things discuss people either:

  1. asking to do something dangerous (drilling into a tank o' diesel while it still has fuel in it, working on live electrical lines)
  2. or giving dangerous advice (improvised electrical splicing, for instance)

But what do we do if someone comes to us with a question and it reveals a dangerous situation that's not necessarily the topic of the question? For instance, I have seen several questions where the OP was asking about electrical equipment they may not know is hazardous -- and worse yet, in one of them, several community members failed to recognize the hazard posed as well.

So far, I've adopted bib's approach of screaming loudly about it, along with providing at least a little bit of detail about the hazard in question -- in all three of the linked cases, it's the FPE Stab-Lok gremlin, and its perils are fairly well documented.

How far should we go in providing replacement advice, though, since "replace your panel" could be seen as a frame challenge by other folks who aren't aware of the hazard, or draw downvotes in the future based on perceived off-topic-ness or "why are you telling someone to spend a bunch of money?" false-penny-pinching.

Also, should we have a central thread (either on the main site or on meta) about IDing dangerous service equipment? The lack of awareness displayed by most of the answers on this question in particular worries me...

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  • I've always enjoyed your "screaming loudly about it". Your knowledge is unquestionable.
    – JACK
    Commented May 4 at 13:11

2 Answers 2

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  • Answer the question they've asked, and include a warning about the equipment.
  • Leave a comment warning about the equipment.
  • Down vote any dangerous answers you see, and leave a comment why it's dangerous.

Aside from those options, there's not much you can do.

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I certainly think you should point out the danger.

  1. If it's possible to answer the person's question with some caveats about mitigating the danger, I think that would be the best answer. Like ... well, maybe a silly example, but the first that comes to mind. Suppose someone said, "I am trying to replace a light fixture. I got a shock when doing this. How do I tell which wire to connect to which?" whatever. I'd start with, "You should turn off the breaker to the light fixture before replacing it." Then go on to explain color coding of wires.

Sometimes you have to suggest alternatives to ideas assumed in the question. Like if someone said that he's using his lawnmower to trim his son's hair, I think I'd say that that's a really bad idea and suggest other tools.

And sometimes the only reasonable answer is to say that the assumptions are invalid and/or that what the person wants to do is a bad idea.

Yes, I've seen some statements on these fora about "frame challenges" being invalid or non-responsive. I humbly disagree. There are times when the only right answer is to say that the person's assumptions or presuppositions are wrong. Like if someone posted, "How can I murder my wife without getting caught?", I would most certainly not give a direct answer to his question. I would tell him that he should look for alternative ways to resolve whatever their problem is. Yes, that would be a "frame challenge". It would also be the only sort of answer that I would consider correct.

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