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Electrical Work Injuries: Types, Causes, and Stats

Worker on the floor of a control room lies unconscious after an electric shock accident as co-workers call for help and administer first aid.

While electrical injuries on the job are rare, they have a high morbidity rate due to the rapid trauma inflicted on the body. Even if a worker survives contact, they may suffer long-term damage that affects multiple tissues and internal organs.

Nearly all electrical accidents and injuries are preventable. When safety procedures are ignored — or workers are improperly trained — injuries are bound to occur.

Workers injured in electrical accidents or family members who have lost a loved one to electrocution can apply for workers’ compensation benefits. Follow these eight simple steps to protect your rights and get the legal help you need.

The Four Types of Electrical Injuries

Electric Shock - Electric shock is a reflex response to an electrical current passing over or through the worker’s body. Severe electric shock injuries may involve internal trauma such as burns, abnormal heart rhythm, and unconsciousness.

Electrocution - An electrical current passing through the body injures the worker so severely that it results in a fatality.

Falls - Falls can happen when an electric shock causes muscles to contract and a worker loses their balance. An electrical incident may also involve an explosion, flinging the worker from a great height.

Burns - The most common non-fatal, shock-related injury are electrical burns. They happen when a worker comes into contact with energized wiring or equipment. While electrical burns can present anywhere on the body, they most often occur on the extremities (the current flows through the hands and out the feet).

How Electric Current Affects the Human Body

The severity of an electric shock depends on several factors:

  • The path of the current through the body
  • The amount of current flowing through the body
  • Duration of contact with the current
  • Gender and body mass
  • Moisture

At 50-150 milliamperes, victims may experience extreme pain, respiratory arrest, severe muscle contractions, inability to let go, and possibly death.

Exposure to 1,000-4,300 milliamperes often results in arrhythmia (heart stops pumping), nerve damage, and most likely, death.

At 10,000+ milliamperes, the victim suffers almost instant cardiac arrest, severe burns, and probable death.

Most Common Causes of Electrical Injury and Death

For workers injured by electricity, the means of exposure most often included:

  • Contact with the electric current of a machine, tool, appliance, or light fixture
  • Contact with wiring, transformers, or other electrical components
  • Contact with buried, underground power lines

Workers fatally injured on the job were usually electrocuted under the following circumstances:

  • Contact with overhead power lines
  • Failure to properly de-energize electrical equipment prior to commencing work
  • Contact with electrical components mistakenly believed to be de-energized
  • Contact with buried, underground power lines

Non-Fatal Electrical Injury Stats

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), there were 2,220 non-fatal electrical injuries that required days missed from work in 2020. More than two-thirds of those injured were workers between the ages of 20 to 44 years old.

Occupation has a lot to do with electric injury rates.

Most workers (77%) who sustained electrical injuries worked in the fields of installation, maintenance, and repair; the service industry; and construction and extraction. Industries with the greatest number of electrical injuries were construction, accommodation and food services, wholesale trade, and manufacturing.

Non-fatal electrical injury infographic

Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that most non-fatal electrical injuries occurred after one year or more of employment. The reasons are unclear, but lax safety standards, rushed jobs, or poor planning may be to blame.

Workers are more likely to be electrocuted on a Tuesday (33%) after working four to six hours (32%). This is possibly because workers are exhausted from the day before, and early to mid-afternoon is when most people’s circadian rhythm dips.

Fatal Electrical Injury Stats

In 2020, there were 126 electrical fatalities across the U.S. Nearly two-thirds of electric fatalities occur in service-providing industries, while the remaining 35% happen in goods-producing sectors.

Fatal electrical injury infographic

Some data highlights from the infographic above include:

  • One-third of electrical deaths happened to workers between the ages of 25 to 34.
  • Roughly 33% of electrical fatalities occur while working at private residences. Industrial sites and premises account for 31% of deaths.
  • A worker is more likely to be killed by electricity if they work in construction or extraction than in other industries such as cleaning/maintenance and transportation/material moving.

The good news is that the number of fatalities from electrical injuries has been steadily dropping over the past two decades.

Hispanic/Latino Workers Are Disproportionately Affected by Electrical Injuries

A significant number of workers injured or killed by electricity identified as Hispanic or Latino. The group represented 40% of electric fatalities at job sites, even though they only account for 18% of the workforce.

Complications and Health Outcomes for Electrical Injuries

Exposure to high voltage can result in severe injuries. Muscles may release proteins and electrolytes into the blood that damage the heart and kidneys (rhabdomyolysis). Neurological damage may manifest as seizures, tinnitus, paresthesia, weakness, and poor body coordination. Psychologically a victim may develop memory issues, personality changes, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other issues may present, including pain, fatigue, muscle spasms, headaches, night sweats, and joint stiffness.

The injured worker will require a team of doctors such as surgeons, critical care specialists, neurologists, cardiologists, and psychiatrists. They will likely be transported to an emergency room and treated for trauma for an extended period.

Electrical Work Injuries Often Qualify for Workers’ Compensation

Workers injured on the job due to electrical accidents most likely can file for workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation covers all medical bills and treatment associated with the injury and provides a source of income while the victim recovers.

If you suffered a heart attack; muscle, nerve, or tissue damage; thermal burns; or a fall after contact with an electrical current while working, you probably have a strong case for compensation.

If filing for workers’ compensation feels overwhelming, we’ve got you covered. Our experienced workers’ compensation lawyers know how to navigate the complex bureaucracy of insurance and government forms. We protect your claim and ensure all of your rights are respected.

Don’t let your employer and their team of lawyers intimidate you into suffering in silence. Contact our electrical injury lawyers at (770) 934-8000 today for a free consultation regarding your work accident case.

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