Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
Workplace Safety Division
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Electrical injuries represent a serious workplace health and safety issue. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were nearly 2,000 electrical fatalities and more than 24,000 non-fatal injuries in the 10-year period from 2003 to 2012. Fortunately, there are several measures workers can take to keep themselves safe.
An electric shock occurs when a person comes in contact with a source of electrical energy. Electricity travels in closed circuits, normally through a conductor. Sometimes, however, a person’s body, an effective conductor of electricity, mistakenly becomes part of the electric circuit. Electrical energy flows through a portion of the body to the ground, resulting in a shock.
The human body can feel a faint tingle at as little as 1 milliampere. Exposure to electrical energy can result in no injury or devastating damage or death. The severity of injury from an electrical shock depends on the amount of current flowing through the body, how the current traveled through the body, length of time the body remains in the circuit and the current’s frequency.
An electrical shock may cause burns or leave no visible mark on the skin. Lower-voltage electrical shocks can result in superficial burns on the surface of the skin, while higher-voltage shocks can result in internal burns to organs and affect the heart. This makes burns caused from electrical shock different from chemical and fire burns. The burns from an electric shock can result in tissue damage and organ failure and eventually lead to death.
Electrical shock may also cause ventricular fibrillation, a life-threatening condition where the heart’s electrical activity becomes disturbed, affecting its ability to pump blood. If this is not treated immediately by defibrillation, ventricular fibrillation can be lethal, as the heart muscle cells start moving independently. Under certain circumstances, even a small amount of electricity can be fatal. A person who experiences an electrical shock should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. If you or a co-worker receives a shock, seek emergency medical help immediately.
Most electrical accidents result from unsafe equipment or improper installation, an unsafe environment or unsafe work practices. Some ways to prevent these accidents are through the use of insulation, guarding, grounding, electrical protective devices and safe work practices. By applying safe work practices such as de-energizing electric equipment before inspection or repair, keeping electric tools properly maintained, exercising caution when working near energized lines and using appropriate personal protective equipment, workers can protect themselves from electrical hazards.