Electrocution is the cause of death for approximately 10% of workplace fatalities in a given year. Nationwide, construction workers are at greatest risk and in 2015, contact with electricity and the injuries such contact can cause was responsible for 8.6% of construction worker fatalities.
Those at greatest risk are electricians followed by general laborers, their supervisors, and electrical linemen/repair technicians. Most recently a 42-year-old steelworker was electrocuted at his job at US Steel in Granite City. In Illinois, Chicago work injury lawyers and workers who are injured by electrical current can pursue damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical and long-term care expenses, and the impact the injuries have on their quality of life and earning capacity.
Injured by Electricity
Not all contact with electricity will lead to electrocution. Factors such as humidity, duration of contact, voltage (generally speaking, more than 600 volts is the threshold for fatal exposure), etc. all play a role in determining the severity of the injuries. Aside from electrocution, the following are common injuries:
Burns – Electrical, arc, or thermal contact burns are common when a worker touches an exposed electrical source. The type of burn that can be inflicted depends on the voltage and whether the electrical current passes over the skin, is absorbed into tissue, or passes through the body and into another conductor. Prolonged contact with electrical current can “cook” the body and ignite tissue leading to severe, often life-threatening burns.
Shock – Electrical shock occurs when the current passes through the body. Low voltage contact typically does not cause electric shock, but higher voltage levels can cause serious damage to tissues and organs. Electric shock can cause heart attacks, seizures, stroke, and respiratory failure.
Explosion – If an electrical current comes into contact with combustible materials, it can lead to an explosive discharge of energy. Gasoline, cleaning solutions, paint, solvents and grain/wood dust are easily ignited by electrical sparks.
Causes of Electrocution
Common causes of electrocution in the workplace include:
- Contact with overhead power lines. This can include a lineman touching the wire with their bare hands or making contact with metal objects including ladders, pruning sheers, and other hand tools.
- Contact with bare wires. Contact with bare wires that are either disconnected or “stripped” is a common cause of workplace electrocutions.
- Malfunctioning equipment. Worn electric cords and wires that come loose within power tools thus electrifying the tool are frequently cited workplace hazards.