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Preventing Electrical Injuries in the Workplace

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued a report entitled “Controlling Electrical Hazards.”  Electricity is so common in our everyday lives that sometimes people do not give it the respect it deserves.

Employers have long known that electricity is a workplace hazard.  Employees may be exposed to shock, explosions, electrocution, burns and fires.  Each year, electrical injuries at the workplace cause more than 300 deaths and 4,000 injuries in the United States workface.  The top two groups that suffered fatal electrocutions in workplace accidents from 2003-2007 were repair professionals and those in the construction trades.  Among workplace deaths, electrocution is sixth among causes.  Sadly, most of these deaths could have been easily avoided.

OSHA has safety standards covering many different industries.  In addition, 24 states and two territories have their own OSHA approved programs.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the construction industry accounts for approximately 44 percent of all on the job fatalities, yet it is only eight percent of the U.S. workforce.  Further, the construction industry accounts for 52 percent of electrocutions on the job.  It is also estimated that 62 agriculture workers die each year from electrocution hazards.

What Causes Shock Injuries?

Electricity travels through closed circuits, typically through conductors.  Unfortunately, the human body is an excellent conductor of electricity.  Electric shocks occur when a person’s body becomes a part of that circuit.  Specifically, this can occur when a person’s body has contact with:

  • A piece of metal that has become accidentally energized;
  • Some other energized part of the circuit;
  • A single wire of an energized wire and the ground; or
  • The two wires of an electric circuit.

In short, a shock occurs when electricity passes between a person to a ground or the earth.

What Are the Possible Impacts of a Shock?

The results of a shock vary from slight tingling to cardiac arrest.  This depends on the following:

  • The frequency of the current;
  • How much current passes through the body;
  • How long the body remains in the circuit; and
  • The path the current takes through the body.

What Causes Some People to Freeze When They Are Shocked?

Sometimes when people receive an electrical shock their muscles contract.  This contraction, or “freezing,” can make a person unable to pull free.  Of course, being unable to pull free can result in prolonged exposure and more severe damage.  This can be made worse by blistering on the body which increases the current and reduces the person’s resistance.  Longer exposure increases the risk of injury, even at low voltage.  Electrical shocks can also cause involuntary muscle reactions.  Falls or collisions can result, resulting in typical fall injuries or even death.

What Should Be Done If Someone Experiences Live Electrical Conduct and is Frozen?

First, if possible, shut off the current immediately.  This is the safest, simplest way to break the contact.

If that is not possible, use some type of nonconducting material, such as boards or wooden sticks, to push the person away, breaking the contact.  It is vital that you protect yourself from the danger, but act as quickly as possible to minimize the harm to the person being shocked.

What Are the Types of Burns That Can Occur as a Result of Shocks?

The most common injuries that occur from shocks are burns.  Electrical accidents can cause a variety of burns, including:

  • An arc burn;
  • An electrical burn;
  • A thermal contact burn; or
  • A combination of burns.

Arc burns, also known as flash burns, occur from high temperatures caused by nearby explosions or an electric arc.  These frequently require immediate medical attention.

Among those types of burns, electrical burns are frequently the most serious and they may require medical attention immediately.  They are the result current flowing through the body and causing tissue damage from the heat that is generated.

Thermal contact burns occur when a worker’s skin contacts hot surfaces of conduits, electric conductors or other equipment or when clothing catches on fire.

Electricity causes other dangers as well.  Arcs from short circuits can start fires or otherwise injure workers.  Electricity can arc and damage equipment, causing indirect injury to a worker.  Where there are flammable vapors or dusts are present, electric arcs can cause violent explosions.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Electrical Accidents?

There are three common causes of electrical accidents.  These include:

  • Work practices that are unsafe;
  • Equipment that is unsafe or unsafely installed; or
  • A working environment that is unsafe.

How Can Workplace Safety Be Enhanced?

Workplace safety can be greatly enhanced with some simple steps, including:

  • Safe work practices;
  • Protective electrical equipment;
  • Insulation;
  • Guarding; and
  • Grounding.

Safe work practices can prevent most electrical injuries.  Some examples include:

  • Workers always using proper protective equipment;
  • Electric tools being properly maintained;
  • Ensuring that equipment is without power prior to inspection; and
  • Increasing awareness of, and being extremely cautious when, working around energized lines.

Protective electrical equipment acts to short out or as a ground fault a piece of equipment in the event of an improper discharge.

What does insulation provide?  Insulation can stop the flow of electricity and prevent shocks.

Guarding is when a piece of equipment is enclosed to make sure no worker can have contact with live exposed electrical parts.

Grounding is when a piece of equipment is connected to a low resistance path to the ground.  Grounding is most effective when combined with other safety work procedures.  Grounding can also be helpful in preventing electric shock from an accidentally energized piece of equipment.

How Can Accidental Startups of Power Tools Be Prevented?

Proper lockout or tagout procedures must be followed.  Power tools must always be powered down prior to an inspection or repairs.  Then a padlock should be installed on the starter while it is in the off position.  Repairs should only be performed by electricians trained in the use of lockout procedures.  Then when repairs are complete, only an authorized, trained electrician should be allowed to remove it.

What to Do If You Have Been Injured

Workplace injuries are all too common.  If you have been injured on the job, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.  Contact the determined Atlanta work injury attorneys at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers to discuss your case.

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Seth Bader
(678) 562-5595