Many electrical injuries result in significant time away from the job – 41 percent of injuries require more than two weeks away from work. Between 2012 and 2016, 9,760 workers in the U.S. were injured through exposure to electricity – an average of 1,952 annually. Between 2007 and 2016, 21,550 workers in the U.S. experienced some type of non-fatal electrical injury.
Nearly three workers die every week (as calculated over a five-year period) from exposure to electricity – a total of 739 deaths during that period. One-fifth of the victims were self-employed. Most fatalities (417) were caused by direct exposure to electricity, such as touching a live wire.
Recent NFPA research
These statistics come from two reports issued this year by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) -- one on fatal electrical incidents at work; one on non-fatal electrical injuries.
Both reports note that “exposure to electricity” includes not only the types of cases typically associated with electrical work, such as contact with electrical machinery or equipment, but the term also includes lightning strikes, contact with electrical fences, other electrical events, and contact with power lines. “Direct exposure to electricity” is defined as direct contact with a power source. This could be touching a live wire or coming in contact with an electrical arc. “Indirect exposure to electricity” refers to injuries or deaths resulting from contact with water, pipes, or some other material that is unintentionally conducting electricity.
And NFPA acknowledges that “exposure to electricity” does not make a clear distinction between injuries and fatalities due to electric shock and those due to arc flash.
Workers in construction and extraction jobs and installation, maintenance and repair work are most at risk of electrical injuries, though workers in production, transportation and material handling also face risks.
- Employer prevention efforts should address the specific electrical hazards that workers are likely to encounter. Electrical deaths in construction often occur while victims worked on or around equipment or wiring that was needlessly energized. Deaths could have been prevented by turning off the power or using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Hazard recognition is essential. Workers must be aware of risks such as overhead powerlines, using electrical equipment if wiring is frayed or ground prongs are missing, and equipment that is not locked and tagged out before beginning electrical work.
- Supervisors must ensure that employees exposed to electrical hazards are trained and work schedules provide sufficient time for electrical safety procedures to be followed in full.
- Electrical injuries can be reduced or eliminated through the use of proper safety procedures, engineering controls, training programs, PPE, and other methods.
- Fatal incidents involving power tools, portable lighting, and extension cords and wires could be prevented through inspections.
- Broad training in electrical safety and hazard awareness is needed, as evidenced by fatalities to workers who are not electrical workers.
- Special efforts need to be made to promote electrical safety training and practices, including use of proper PPE, among self-employed workers.
- Employers should ensure that their employees are able to recognize electrical hazards; ensure that hazards are adequately controlled; and electrical safety practices and use of PPE are rigorously followed, according the NFPA.
Note: Both reports can be downloaded at www.nfpa.org in the news and research tab.