Electrocution is a severe hazard that can occur anywhere, but workplaces are especially susceptible to it. Workers in certain industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and electrical services, are at a higher risk of electrocution due to the nature of their work. Electrical hazards can lead to severe electrical injuries, including burns, muscle damage, heart damage, and even death.
In 2020, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) recorded 4,764 occupational fatalities attributable to poorly hazard-proofed working areas. Of these, 120 are caused by electrocutions and electric shocks. The same report indicates that personnel injured by direct exposure to electricity take approximately 2 days off from work. Therefore, it is crucial to take the necessary precautions to ensure workforce safety. In this article, we'll discuss some tips and best practices to prevent electrocution in the workplace.
What is Electrocution in the Workplace?
Electrocution in the workplace is one of OSHA’s fatal four. It is a serious hazard that occurs when a worker is accidentally shocked by electricity, resulting in injury or death. This hazard can occur in various work environments, such as construction sites, factories, and offices. Workers who are exposed to electricity in the workplace are at risk of electrocution, which can be caused by faulty equipment, inadequate training, or non-compliance with safety protocols.
Examples of electrocution in the workplace include a construction worker who is using an improperly grounded power tool and an office worker who is electrocuted due to faulty wiring in the building. Electrocution can also occur in industrial settings when workers are repairing or maintaining electrical equipment, such as a conveyor belt or machine.
Electrocution vs Shock
It is common to use electrocution and electric shock interchangeably; however, these are two different hazards associated with exposure to electricity. Mild electric shock is a sudden discharge of electricity through the body that can cause a temporary or mild electric shock injury, while electrocution is a severe electric shock that can result in death.
An example of electric shock is when a person touches a metal object after walking on a carpet and receives a mild shock due to static electricity discharge. While this type of electric shock can be uncomfortable, it is not typically life-threatening. In contrast, electrocution can cause severe injuries and fatalities.
What are the Signs of Electrocution?
Electrocution is a potentially life-threatening injury that can cause a range of symptoms. The signs of electrocution may vary depending on the severity of the shock and the part of the body that was affected. Here are some common signs of electrocution:
Burns: Burns are a common symptom of electrocution. These burns may be on the skin where the electricity entered or left the body, or they may be internal burns caused by the electric current passing through the body.
Cardiac arrest: Electrical shock can cause the heart to stop beating, resulting in cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest can occur immediately after the shock or shortly after that.
Muscle contractions: Electrical shock can cause the muscles to contract involuntarily. These muscle contractions may be minor, causing a tingling or buzzing sensation, or they may be severe enough to cause the victim to lose control of their muscles.
Numbness and tingling: Electric shock can cause numbness and tingling sensations in the affected area. This may be a result of nerve damage caused by the electrical current.
Respiratory distress: Electrocution can cause respiratory distress, which may include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or labored breathing.
Seizures: Electrical shock can cause seizures, which may include convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.
Vision and hearing problems: Electrocution can cause vision and hearing problems, including temporary or permanent blindness or deafness.
Headache and confusion: Electrical shock can cause headaches, confusion, and memory loss. These symptoms may be a result of the electrical current affecting the brain.
Common Causes of Electrocution in the Workplace
Understanding the common causes of electrocution can help prevent accidents from occurring. Here are some common causes of electrocution in the workplace:
Contact with overhead power lines: Workers in construction and other industries who work near power lines are at risk of electrocution if they come into contact with overhead power lines. This can occur when the worker is carrying equipment or materials that come into contact with the power line.
Faulty electrical equipment: Electrical equipment that is not maintained properly or is used incorrectly can pose a severe risk of electrocution. This can include damaged cords, broken plugs, and exposed wires.
Lack of grounding: Electrical equipment must be grounded to prevent the build-up of electrical charge. If the equipment is not grounded, it can create a hazardous situation for workers.
Inadequate training: Workers who are not adequately trained in how to work with electrical equipment are at increased risk of electrocution. This can include workers who are not familiar with the proper procedures for handling equipment or those who are unaware of the risks associated with working near electrical sources.
Wet conditions: Water is an excellent conductor of electricity, which means that workers who are working in wet conditions are at increased risk of electrocution. This can include workers who are working in areas where water is present, such as construction sites or manufacturing plants.
Contact with underground power lines: Workers who are digging or excavating in areas where underground power lines are present can be at risk of electrocution if they accidentally come into contact with the lines.
Tips to Prevent Electrocution in the Workplace
Taking the common causes of electrocution in mind, here are several measures that can be taken to prevent electrocution in the workplace.
Use lockout tagout procedures: Lockout tagout is a safety procedure that is used to ensure that equipment is de-energized and safe to work on before any maintenance or repair work is carried out. This involves disconnecting the equipment from its energy source and locking it out so that it cannot be re-energized while work is being carried out. This is a critical step to prevent electrocution in the workplace.
Proper training: Workers must be adequately trained in how to work with electrical equipment and the risks associated with working near electrical sources. Employers should provide regular training sessions to ensure workers understand the hazards and how to prevent them.
Use of personal protective equipment (PPE): Workers should wear appropriate PPE, such as insulated gloves, boots, and other protective gear, to minimize the risk of electrical injury.
Regular equipment maintenance: Electrical equipment should be maintained regularly to ensure it is in proper working order. This can include checking cords, plugs, and wires for damage or wear.
Use of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs): GFCIs are designed to prevent electrocution by quickly shutting off power when they detect a ground fault. Employers should ensure that all electrical outlets in the workplace are equipped with GFCIs.
Insulation of wires and cables: All wires and cables in the workplace should be insulated to prevent workers from coming into contact with electrical currents.
Safety signage: Employers should place clear signage in areas where electrical hazards are present to alert workers to potential danger.
Proper handling of electrical equipment: Workers should be trained on how to handle electrical equipment properly, including the correct procedures for plugging and unplugging equipment.
Electrocution is a severe hazard that can be prevented in the workplace through these tips. Employers, therefore, must take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of their workers and prevent the occurrence of electrocution accidents.
Best Practices for Electrical Safety
Aside from the tips above, these are the best practices that employers should consider in order to promote electrical safety in the workplace.
First, develop electrical safety policies and procedures and make sure all employees are trained in them. This includes implementing safety procedures and guidelines for working with electrical equipment and machinery, as well as ensuring that all employees are trained in these policies and procedures. Training should include how to recognize electrical hazards, how to work safely with electrical equipment, and how to respond to electrical accidents.
It is also crucial to create an emergency response plan for electrical accidents to ensure that employees know what to do in case of an electrical accident. The emergency response plan should outline steps to take in case of electrical accidents, including how to shut off power to the affected area, how to administer first aid, and how to call for emergency medical assistance if needed. Employees should also be trained in how to follow the emergency response plan.
Conduct regular electrical safety audits to identify potential hazards and address them before they become a problem. Regular audits can help identify electrical hazards such as frayed or damaged wiring, overloaded circuits, or improperly grounded equipment. Once identified, these hazards can be addressed and corrected promptly, reducing the risk of electrical accidents.
FAQs About Preventing Electrocution in the Workplace
Q. What types of electrical hazards are present in the workplace?
A. Electrical hazards can come in many forms, including electrical shock, burns, explosions, and fires caused by faulty wiring or overloaded circuits.
Q. How often should electrical equipment be inspected and maintained?
A. Electrical equipment should be inspected and maintained regularly, according to the manufacturer's recommendations and any relevant regulations. This can help to identify potential hazards and prevent accidents from occurring.
Q. What PPE should be provided to employees to protect them from electrical hazards?
A. The type of PPE required will depend on the specific hazards present in the workplace. However, some common types of PPE used to protect against electrical hazards include insulated gloves, goggles, face shields, and flame-resistant clothing.
Q. What should I do if I witness electrocution in the workplace?
A. If you witness electrocution in the workplace, it is important to take immediate action to ensure the safety of the victim and those around them. Some steps to follow include calling for emergency medical assistance, turning off the power, and providing first aid.