American workers electrocuted on the job are an ongoing problem resulting in serious injury and death. In 2005, electrocution was the fourth leading cause of death in construction, causing 9% of 1, 243 construction-related deaths. Electricians, construction laborers and electrical power installers and repairers were at highest risk (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005).
Burns are the most common shock-related injury. Electrical burns tend to be more severe than chemical burns and thermal burns, simply because electrocution burns tend to penetrate the skin more deeply. There are three types of burns that may be suffered in electrocution accidents:
Electrical burns result from electrical current flowing through tissues or bone. Severity of damage suffered is dependent on the pathway of the electricity through the body, the type and voltage of the circuit and the duration of contact with the electrical source. Electrocution burns are unique in that there is both an entrance and exit wound (the location where the electricity leaves the body). An individual who experiences an electrical burn to the hand or arm may also have another wound on the leg or foot where the electricity exited the body. Because electricity traverses through the body, it can affect muscles, arteries, veins, organs, bone and nerves between the entry and exit points. Entry points are commonly located on the hand. When the exit point is the opposite hand, it is likely that the electricity traveled through the heart. At levels of current flow exceeding 1/10 of an amp or 100 milliamps, the heart may be jolted into an abnormal rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation. Death ensues unless emergency care is provided within minutes. The heart may be restarted and a person may survive such an injury when emergency care is given immediately. This is why CPR is such a crucial skill to learn in the electrical industry. Even when injuries do not appear to be severe on the outside of the body, an individual who has been electrocuted should seek immediate medical care.
It is important to know that an individual may suffer all three types of injuries simultaneously in an accident. In addition, indirect or secondary injuries may occur. Involuntary muscle reactions from an electrocution may cause the person to collide with an object or fall from a distance, resulting in bone fractures, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and other injuries that may contribute to the severity of the injury and may even result in death.
In addition to burn and shock hazards, electricity poses other dangers. Sort circuits may result in arcing which, if high current is involved, may cause injury or ignite a fire. High energy arcs may damage equipment, causing metal fragments to fly in all directions. Even low-energy arcs can cause serious explosions when they occur in atmospheres that contain flammable vapors, gases or combustible dusts.
Examples of electrocution injuries resulting from electrocution include:
An electrician who was self-employed was hired to install an icemaker in a turkey plant. The electrician arrived on the job and began work before he was expected by anyone at the plant. The maintenance workers had not been instructed to turn off the power that morning. The electrician failed to report to anyone before commencing work. He took the cover off the electrical junction box that enabled the connection of factory equipment to a 440 volt power supply. The worker failed to test to see if the power had been shut off and also failed to put on the required safety equipment (insulated gloves and face shield). He touched a live connection and set off a powerful electrical flash that was so strong that the worker believed the box had actually exploded. He suffered severe burns to the face, neck, chest and arms. His hair was burned off and his fingerprints were found burned into the panel box. The worker succumbed to his injuries and died five days later.
Infant Electrocuted in Hospital Bed
A male infant aged 19 months was found dead on a hospital bed after being admitted to hospital for suspected pneumonia. He apparently put an uncovered oval-shaped pendant switch for a lamp into his mouth and died of electrocution after contacting the exposed wires of the switch (100 volts, 60 Hertz alternating current). There were extensive burns to the inner surface of his lips, ranging from first degree to fourth degree burns. The histological findings were consistent with electrical burns and electric shock was judged to be the cause of death. Normally, the pendant switch is a very convenient piece of equipment for inpatients. However, infants naturally put all types of objects into their mouths and such a switch should be placed out of reach. It should also be ensured that the cap is not loose. Additionally, infants should be monitored closely when in hospital due to their high risk for any number of injuries.
Maintenance Worker Electrocuted While Working in a Public School Building
A 28-year-old worker was electrocuted while working in a public school building. The incident occurred during the alteration of a wall for the construction of an alcove for a copier in the office area of the high school. The victim had just begun the project and had removed a piece of sheetrock. He discovered a cable behind the wall leading from a light switch to the overhead fluorescent lights. He correctly notified his supervisor. The supervisor advised him to disconnect the power at the breaker box and wait until he (the supervisor) got back before proceeding. When the supervisor left, the worker dismantled the light switch box and pulled the cable out of the wall. He was stripping the wires on the cable when he was electrocuted with 227 volts of electricity.