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Best Practices to Avoid Injuries in Recognition of National Electrical Safety Month
Electricity can be dangerous, especially for workers who work in the construction and trade industries. According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), in 2018, the construction industry accounted for more than half of all electrical fatalities. In addition to engineers, electricians and other professionals who work directly with electricity, workers in other professions are often unaware of the dangers of electrical hazards on the job, making them more vulnerable to severe injuries. Many are surprised to learn that are workers in non-trade occupations are also at high risk for electrical-related injuries. In 2018, professional and business services accounted for over a quarter of electrical-related deaths.
In recognition of May being National Electrical Safety Month, both employers and workers across occupational sectors need to be aware of the dangers electrical hazards can pose and take precautions to prevent electrical-related injuries and fatalities in the workplace. Should an on-the-job accident occur, workers have the option of filing a workers' compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit if the injury was caused by third-party negligence.
Electrical Risks in the Workplace
Given the potential for devastating injuries, all workers need to have a healthy respect for electricity. Regardless of a worker's occupational sector or experience working with electrical hazards, serious accidents can occur, so it's important always to take proper precautions.
Types of Electrical injuries
Workers are at risk of various kinds of electrical injuries on the job, and each cause different severities of injuries, including:
- Electric Shock: Electrical shock injuries involve electrical current passing through an individual's body and can result in muscle, nerves, tissues and organ damage. The severity of injuries may depend on various factors, including: type of current, intensity of current, path of current, resistance and amount of time exposed
- Electrical Burns: Electrical burns can result in injuries that vary in severity, including:
- Flash burns – Caused by an arc flash and cause superficial injuries. Current does not pass through the body.
- Flame burns – Occurs when arc flashes ignite or cause fires.
- Low voltage burns – Produced by direct contact between the body and a power source of 500 volts or less. Typically, only the site of contact is affected.
- High voltage burns – Results from direct contact with a high voltage electrical source. This can result in severe damage underneath the skin and throughout the body.
- Electrocution: Electrocution is a term used to describe a fatal electrical injury; it always means that the victim passed away as a result. Electrocution is one of the Occupational Health & Safety Administration's (OSHA) “Fatal Four.” It is a common fatal workplace injury, and those working in an occupation that deals directly with electricity, such as construction and electrical work, are particularly at risk.
Best Practices to Avoid Electrical Injuries
To protect the safety of everyone in the workplace, both employers and workers should take precautions and implement strategies to avoid electrical-related injuries. Some best practices to avoid electrical accidents in the workplace include:
- Employers and site managers should ensure that federal, state and local laws and regulations relating to worker safety are followed at all times.
- Employers should provide appropriate personal protective gear (PPE) to workers and issue frequent warnings of electric power circuits, line and hazards.
- Walk sites to identify potential electrical hazards and determine voltage levels.
- Guard open switches and circuit-interrupting devices.
- Enforce OSHA standards for proper lockout/tagout procedures on job sites.
- Inspect tools and equipment, including power cords, portable cord-and-plug equipment, to make sure they are not damaged or pose risks.
- Always make sure that qualified electricians and other experienced trade professionals perform electrical work. Employers should ensure that workers performing particular projects or tasks involving electricity are familiar and trained for such work.
- 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. Each year, thousands of workers suffer injuries from circuits they believed were safety turned off. Routinely inspect all testing devices.
- Always look up to identify potential electrical hazards overhead, such as powerlines. Prior to digging or excavation, know what's below. Workers can call 811 or use their state's 811 center's website a few business days before digging to confirm no utility lines below pose danger.
- Ensure that workers are knowledgeable of emergency protocols and procedures should an on-the-job electrical injury or accident occur.
Steps to Take After an Electrical Accident or Injury Occurs
While no one anticipates that they will suffer an electrical-related injury, it is important to be prepared and take action should an accident occur. First and foremost, it's important that injured individuals remain calm, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention for their injuries. In some cases, an individual may be in shock and will not be aware that they have suffered severe injuries until well after the accident occurs. For this reason, it's important for injured persons to have their ailments properly evaluated, documented, and treated by a medical professional.
Following the treatment of injuries, workers should file an accident report and file a workers' compensation claim. In most circumstances, employees cannot sue their employers for injuries or illnesses that occur in the workplace. Workers can instead file a claim under their state's workers' compensation law in order to recover losses, including medical bills, lost wages, total and partial disability and wrongful death benefits. Negligence does not determine whether or not workers' compensation benefits can be provided, so 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 third party person or entity, outside of an employer, victims may secure compensation for losses due to their injuries through a personal injury lawsuit. Damages awarded in personal injury cases are provided to make victims "whole." They can include compensation for medical expenses, lost income, future wages or diminished earning potential, physical pain and suffering, as well as mental anguish, lost quality of life and other emotional injuries. Injured workers who wish to seek legal recourse for injuries they've 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.
Electrical injuries can have devastating and, sometimes, deadly effects. However, these injuries often preventable with proper safety strategies and precautions in place. Workers in occupations regularly exposed to electricity are particularly at risk of serious injury. Thus, employers should set the standard of safety and take measures to protect staff from electrical exposure. Workers injured on the job may be able to recover medical and disability benefits, among others, through a workers' compensation claim. Those injured due to a third party's negligence may seek legal remedies through a personal injury lawsuit.