How Can Electrocution Be Prevented at Work?

Nearly 1,000 people die of an electrical shock each year in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the majority of electrocutions occur at work, from an office worker using a damaged extension cord to construction workers operating near high-voltage power lines.

Nearly 60 percent of electric shock results from direct contact with electricity, and nearly three quarters of those injured are employed in the construction industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), construction workers are approximately four times more likely to experience an electric shock than all other industries combined.

What Are Common Causes of Workplace Electrical Shock?

The human body is an excellent conductor of electricity. The severity of electrical shock varies depending on the source and amount of voltage, ranging from mild discomfort to death. Workplace electrical shocks are typically serious and frequently result in long-term disability in survivors. Leading causes of electrical shock include the following:

  • Extension cords: When extension cords are damaged and have exposed wires, they can deliver electrical shocks and burns when touched. Extension cords, a common staple on most construction sites, can easily be damaged by a number of things, but wires can also become exposed from the everyday wear and tear of extensive use. To reduce the risk of electrical shock, use only UL- and OSHA-labeled cords, inspect regularly for wear, use exterior cords for outdoor work, do not overload, pull by the plug only, and replace old frayed or cracked cords.
  • Outlets: Overall, electrical outlets are safe when used properly, but touching the metal prongs when inserting the plug can cause shock and severe injury.
  • Appliances: A common source of electrical shock in homes, appliances are also present in nearly every office building. Computers, copy machines, refrigerators, coffee pots, and toaster ovens can deliver electric shock if not properly used or maintained. Do not use electrical appliances near water, those with damaged cords or plugs, and do not attempt to repair electrical appliances yourself.
  • Power lines: Power lines are incredibly dangerous. The high voltage these wires carry can cause anyone who comes into contact with them severe injuries or death, typically the latter. Workers using metal ladders and lifts around power lines are at extreme risk of shock if precautions and safety protocols are ignored. Never place equipment near power lines, and never go near a felled power line on the ground until the electric company shuts off the power. The live wires can quickly deliver a deadly jolt of electricity that will almost certainly be fatal. Never touch a vehicle that live wires have fallen onto, as the metal will conduct the electricity and cause severe shock.
  • Lightning: Workers whose jobs require them to be outdoors during inclement weather run the risk of a lightning strike during hot and humid summer days. Lightning is especially dangerous because of the number of ways you can be shocked indirectly as well as directly, such as:
    • A side-flash strike that uses the body as an alternate or parallel method for the electrical current to reach the ground.
    • A poorly grounded power pole can divert the lightning’s current through wiring systems.
    • The voltage can radiate from a struck pole or tree through the ground and electrocute someone nearby.

What Should I Do to Help a Coworker Sustaining a Shock?

If someone with whom you are working receives an electrical shock, first call for emergency responders to help treat and transport the worker to a nearby hospital. Only trained emergency personnel should attend to the injured worker; trying to treat the worker yourself could put you and others at risk of also being shocked. According to the NIH, you should never:

  • Touch the worker barehanded if the person is still in contact with the electricity source
  • Break blisters or remove dead skin if the worker is burned
  • Touch the skin of someone who is actively being electrocuted
  • Get within 20 feet of a worker being electrocuted by high-voltage current until the power source has been turned off
  • Move the injured unless there is another immediate danger

What Are Some Workplace Electrical Safety Tips?

Workers in the construction and utility fields are at the most risk of electric shock by the nature and location of their work, which is often around high-voltage power lines. However, electrical equipment is used in nearly any work setting, and electrical hazards exist at some degree in all, but there are precautions that can be taken to ensure everyone’s safety, such as the following:

  • Locate danger zones: When working around power lines and other sources of high-voltage electrical current, workers should be informed of where above and below-ground cables and wires are located in order to avoid them. Mark the ground areas, if possible, so that heavy equipment operators can easily see the locations to avoid digging. Additionally, non-essential personnel should be kept away as a precautionary measure.
  • Use safe cables: Use thick and well-insulated cables that are strictly safety tested and OSHA approved, and replace any cables with worn insulation, cuts, or exposed wires. When moving or installing equipment, swap out old, less insulated, or damaged power cables with those with more insulating ability, particularly on equipment that is moved frequently.
  • Use conduits: To keep workers safe, use protective conduits with more insulation to ensure safety. Outdoor job sites and those with many wires should be run through protective conduits to keep cables safe from damage and lower the risk of electric shock. Some conduits are made to withstand temperatures from 58 degrees below zero and 392 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ensure grounding: Make sure all equipment is properly grounded, which helps provide a low-resistant path connected to the earth. Grounding helps prevent voltage build-up that can cause a serious accident.
  • Disconnect: Turn off or disconnect machines and other electrical equipment when not in use or install lockout/tagout measures to prevent workers from experiencing an electric shock.
  • Do not double cords: Do not connect two or more extension cords together. The cords are not meant to work in conjunction with one another, and connecting them can put load running through them for which they are rated, and workers who handle them may receive an electric shock or burn. Also, cords should never be nailed to a surface to keep them in place. This punctures the protective coating, which exposes the wires.
  • Avoid overloaded sockets: If multiple cords need plugging in, use a grounded power board designed to handle multiple plugs. Do not overload outlets, sockets, or extension cords.
  • Use circuit protection: Install circuit protection devices, such as arc-fault circuit interrupters, fuses, and circuit breakers that limit or stop the flow of current in the event of a short circuit, ground fault, or overload.
  • Ensure only dry conditions: Water greatly enhances the risk of electrocution when it comes in contact with wet environments or conditions. Keep electrical equipment away from wet surfaces or locations, do not work in wet conditions, and do not handle electrical equipment with damp or wet hands.
  • Use a check-in system: Establish a check-in system for workers who operate alone or away from others. There are different methods of adopting such a plan, including software-based programs that maintain regular contact or tracking. A check-in system helps protect workers and serves as an alert if a worker becomes injured, incapacitated, or does not respond when prompted.

Another safe practice to protect workers from electrocution is to keep a clean and maintained work area to prevent unnecessary hazards and accidents.


Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Clients Injured in a Workplace Electrocution

Electric shocks are extremely dangerous and can have devastating consequences for you and your family. If you were electrocuted at work, the experienced Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help you recover compensation for your injuries and loss of income. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.