Working electrical jobs comes with many potential hazards, but what many don’t realize is that exposure to live electrical currents is a hazard for many trades. The dangers of electricity are not unique to its occupation, therefore it is vital for everyone to understand safety precautions and how to prevent accidents or injuries. Electrical injuries are listed as one of the Occupational Safety and Health Association’s (OSHA) Top 4 construction hazards, alongside falls, struck-by, and caught-in/between.
It is important to understand the types of injuries that can result from electrical accidents. Understanding what injuries are likely to occur is the first step in preventing them.
Common Electrical Injuries
Electric shock, electrical burns, and electrocution are the most common injuries seen from electricity accidents.
Electric shock occurs when an electrical current passes through the body. This can cause a multitude of health problems such as nerve or tissue damage, burns, as well as prolonged injuries like muscle weakness, pain, and other internal injuries. The severity of injuries depends on the path that the current takes, how strong it is, and how long the person was exposed to it.
There are various types of electrical burns that can result from a shock or contact with an electrical source. Flash burns are caused by an arc flash and cause a superficial or surface injury, as the current does not travel into the body, just over the surface of the skin. Flame burns occur if the current ignites into a fire. A low voltage burn can occur at the site of contact with the electrical source, whereas a high voltage burn can cause damage underneath the skin and throughout the body.
The most deadly injury that can occur is electrocution, which is used to refer to a fatal electrical encounter. It is so hazardous that it is listed in OSHA’s “Fatal Four,” due to its commonality in the workplaces involving construction or electrical work.
Preventing Electrical Injuries in the Workplace
There is a responsibility for anyone working on a site or location where electricity is a factor to take precautions and act safely. This responsibility is on the employers to ensure a worksite is safe, but also on employees to recognize when something may be out of place and to say something. “A protected workplace is protection from potential liability,” says Attorney Gary Christmas of the Christmas Law Firm. “Workers should be able to do their jobs without extra risk of harm, even in jobs requiring electrical work. Safety is a priority and when that isn’t maintained, cases can get filed.”
There are several actions to take to ensure a safe workplace. Making sure that all laws and regulations are being followed by the employer at all times is a major priority for worksites. This must be done throughout a job. There are state, federal, and local guidelines that are to be followed by any site. If any of these regulations or guidelines are not followed, it could cause a hazardous situation for the workers. Employees should also be in the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by the employee to ensure their safety. PPE is meant to cut down on the risk of injury for workers as they are interacting with electrical sources.
Upon arrival at a worksite, it should be walked by the workers to identify any potential hazards and electrical sources, and the voltage levels of such sources should be determined. Everyone should be aware of these sources and cautious around them as they work. If workers are not aware of these areas, accidents may occur causing injury or death.
In addition to identifying and measuring electrical sources, circuits should always be tested prior to any workers physically touching them. This ensures that it is turned off. Many worksite electrical injuries occur when a circuit is thought to be turned off. It is also vital to ensure that the circuit testing equipment and tools used are functioning properly to prevent any mistakes or false readings.
It is also important to enforce OSHA’s standards for the lockout/tagout procedures. A lockout device is used to keep an energy source safely switched in the “off” position and can only be removed with a key or other extraordinary measures. It isolates the energy from the machine being operated on, keeping it safe for the worker. A tagout device operates differently in that it is a warning device attached to the energy source meant to warn other workers not to reenergize the machine while it is being worked on. Compared to the lockout device, these are more easily removed and provide less protection to the worker on its own. If a machine were to reenergize while being serviced, it could be very dangerous for the worker and cause serious injury.
Finally, all workers on any site must be trained on emergency response protocols and techniques in the event a member of their crew suffers an electrical injury. In the event of a burn injury, be sure that the person who sustained the injury is no longer touching the source of the energy before tending to them. Once the victim has been taken away from the source of energy, their injury must be evaluated. Many electrical burn injuries occur on the hands or arms given the design of the PPE workers wear and how they work. Wherever the burn is, check to see how severe it is and decide whether or not to call 9-1-1. If it went through cloth, do not separate the cloth from the burn as that could cause more wounding.
In the event of an electrical shock, check on the person, and call 9-1-1. Pay attention to any symptoms they may have immediately after such as confusion, seizures, or breathing changes and report them to medical personnel. If the shock is minor, and the person recovers in a minute or two, they should still seek medical attention as nerve damage is a possible outcome. It is important to document injuries and seek medical care should any case need to be filed.
While electrical jobs have the potential to be dangerous and cause injury, safety is possible when both workers and employers take protocol seriously. When all guidelines are followed and people look out for themselves and others, injuries and even death can possibly be prevented.