Electrical injuries can be serious and even fatal. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), in 2018, nearly one in ten workplace electrical injuries were fatal, and more than half of these occurred in the construction industry. As an issue that affects all occupational sectors in some capacity, not just construction, the dangers posed by electrical hazards must be recognized and appropriate precautions taken to prevent electrical-related injuries on the job.
In recognition of National Electrical Safety Month, both employers and workers should be aware of the necessary steps to take should an on-the-job accident occur, and understand the process to file a workers' compensation claim or pursue a personal injury lawsuit if the injury was caused by third-party negligence. Given the potential for life-threatening injuries, all workers, managers, and owners need to have a healthy respect for electricity.
Workers are at risk of varying forms of electrical injuries in the workplace, depending on their type of employment and their risk level. Each injury has varying degrees of severity. The most common include:
- Electrical shock injuries occur when electric current passes through the body. The person will receive a shock, which can result in tingling sensations, muscle and nerve damage, and even cardiac arrest.
- Electrical burns can result in injuries that vary in severity, including flash burns, flame burns, as well as low and high voltage burns.
- Electrocution is used to describe a fatal electrical injury and always means that the victim passed away as a result. This is one of the most common fatal workplace injuries, also known as part of the Occupational Health & Safety Administration's (OSHA) "Fatal Four."
Safety First – Guidelines to Avoid Electrical Injuries
Construction and electrical workers, as well as other professions that routinely handle electricity as part of their typical work duties, are at a higher risk of injury than most professions. However, that is not to say that employees in other industries are not at risk. According to ESFI, in 2018, the professional and business services sector had the second highest number of electrical fatalities, ahead of industries including transport, mining, and manufacturing. Thus, all employers and workers should take precautions and implement safety procedures to avoid electrical injuries. Guidelines to avoid accidents and electrical injuries in the workplace include:
- Make sure that only qualified electricians and experienced trade professionals perform electrical work. Employers should ensure that workers performing projects or tasks that involve electricity are familiar and have received the proper training.
- When needed, employers should provide personal protective gear (PPE) to workers and issue frequent warnings of electric power circuits, line and hazards.
- Inspect tools and equipment prior to use, including power cords, to make sure they are not damaged or pose risks.
- Always use the proper tools, fuses, cords and other equipment that is appropriate for the circumstances (i.e., rated for the level of amperage or wattage).
- Always test the circuit before workers physically touch it.
- Ensure that all employees are knowledgeable of emergency protocols and procedures should an on-the-job electrical injury or accident occur.
What Can I Do After an Electrical Accident or Injury?
Should an accident occur, the first and most important step is to ensure that the injured individual remains calm, 911 is contacted and immediate medical attention is taken. Often, an individual may be in shock and will not be aware that they have suffered severe injuries until much later. Thus, it is necessary for the injured party to have their ailments thoroughly evaluated, documented and treated by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Once the worker's condition is stable and treatment has been administered, the injured party should file an accident report and workers' compensation claim. In most circumstances, employees cannot sue their employers for injuries or illnesses that occur on the job. Workers can instead file a claim under their state's workers' compensation law in order to recover certain losses, including wages, medical costs, total and partial disability, and wrongful death benefits. Negligence does not determine whether workers' compensation benefits can be provided. Regardless of whether the injury or illness was the fault of the worker or employer, coverage can still be provided.
For those who suffer an electrical-related injury or lose a loved one due to the negligence of a non-employment related third party, victims may be able to secure compensation for their losses due to injuries through a personal injury lawsuit. Damages awarded in personal injury cases are provided to make victims "whole." This can include, but is not limited to, lost income, compensation for medical bills, physical pain and suffering, as well as mental anguish, lost quality of life, and other emotional injuries. Injured workers who wish to seek legal action for injuries they have suffered due to negligence, should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer who can discuss their matter and advise them of their legal rights and remedies.
While the severity of electrical injuries ranges from mild to fatal, all have the potential to impair a worker's livelihood and ability to perform their typical duties. Due to the nature of their job, workers in occupations regularly exposed to electricity are at a particularly high risk of serious injury. However, these injuries are often preventable with proper preparation and precautions. Workers injured on the job may be able to recover lost expenses, including wages, as well as medical and disability benefits.