According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) last reported statistics, between 1992 and 2002 46,598 nonfatal electricity-related injuries occurred in the United States. Workplace electrical shocks can result in a variety of severe injuries and the need for a workers’ compensation lawyer. Here are some statistics from the Fire Protection Research Foundation on the causes of electric injuries:
- Overhead power lines – 46%
- Wiring transformers, other electrical components – 29%
- Current from machine tools, appliances, light fixtures – 18%
- Other – 7%
All Workers Are at Risk
All employees can be exposed to unsafe electrical conditions which may be caused, for example, by electrical equipment meeting a damp surface or by equipment with frayed or otherwise damaged electrical cords. As NIOSH has reported, “Almost all American workers are exposed to electrical energy at some time during their work day, and the same electrical hazards can affect workers in different industries.”
The sensation of an electrical shock and the severity of the injury vary depending on the voltage, duration, and point of entry. Below is a discussion of various types of electrical injuries.
The heart is regulated by its own electrical system which can be disrupted by an external electrical shock. In the most extreme cases, cardiac arrest (heart attack) can occur. A more common serious injury is a condition called cardiac dysrhythmia, where the heart beats in an irregular manner or too slowly or quickly. Electrical injury can also be responsible for necrosis (tissue death) in the myocardium (the muscular inner layer of the heart).
Contact (Internal) Burn Injuries
Significant internal damage can be caused by an electrical burn. The human organism is fortunate in that dry skin is not a good conductor of electricity, but, unfortunately, internal organs are and bones offer significant resistance. What this means is that an electrical current will travel through the human body, burning nerves and muscles along a bone, and leaving charred entry and exit points in the skin. All tissue between these two points (such as a right wrist entry and a left heel exit) has a strong likelihood of damage.
In addition to damage to organ tissues, secondary injuries may include myoglobinemia. Myoglobin is the pigment that causes red meat to be colored red. Internal muscular damage from electrical burns promotes the release of myoglobin and excess levels of myoglobin in the bloodstream can result in acute renal failure (kidney failure).
External Arc Flash Burns and Explosions
Some of the most common and severe external electrical burn injuries are caused by arc flashes. An arc flash results from an electrical current passing through air when isolation between electrified conductors or insulation is no longer enough to cope with the applied voltage. When this happens, the flash is immediate. Electrical arcs can produce some of the highest known temperatures, up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is an astounding four times the temperature of the surface of the sun. Arc flashes which ignite flammable materials can cause chemical explosions.
Two OSHA-mandated precautions can help prevent serious electrical injury:
Lockout and Tagout (LOTO): These procedures involve locks and tags which must be affixed in a manner that will keep a device from being shifted from the safe/off position. Proper LOTO procedures are required when a worker:
- Bypasses or removes a guard or safety device.
- Is required to place a body part where it could be injured by moving machinery.
- Works on or near exposed electrical conductors.
- May be injured if accidental startup occurs.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI): A GFCI monitors the current-to-the-load (electrical pressure) and detects any leakage. When leakage exceeds the circuit breaker’s safety limit, the GFCI trips, stopping the current in fractions of a second and preventing electrocution. GFCIs protect workers from common workplace electrical hazards such as worn insulation on cabling and overheated wires.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges all relevant companies to determine a flash protection boundary (FPB) within which personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn. Arc flash hazard training software also exists for businesses to use as part of their employee safety program.
If a workplace electrical injury has caused you serious harm resulting in a change in quality of life and you have been unable to claim workers’ compensation, please contact us. We can help you obtain the benefits you are entitled to.