Lockout/tagout procedures and providing appropriate PPE are the two most effective methods of preventing workplace electrocutions. Equipment that requires electricity for operation is extremely hazardous and employers have a duty to their employees to protect them from foreseeable hazards. With proper training and implementation of safety procedures, the risk of workplace electrocution is significantly reduced.
The Effects of Contact with Hazardous Energy
When an electrical current passes through the human body it can cause significant harm. It can cause burns to skin and organs and can result in immediate organ failure. Most commonly, it results in cardiac arrest. Of those who are electrocuted, OSHA estimates that approximately 80% suffer thermal burns. Contact can result in involuntary muscle contraction thus intensifying the exposure and harm caused to the victim’s body. Individuals who come into contact with electricity may also suffer secondary injuries such as broken bones and lacerations when they jerk away, collapse, or fall to the ground.
Electrocution can cause significant damage to the heart, lungs, and neurological systems. Damage to the neurological system is known to cause depression, anxiety, and memory loss that may or may not heal with the passage of time.
Lockout/tagout procedures are vital for protecting workers from electrocution. These policies and procedures govern the handling of electrical equipment and components to protect workers from an unexpected energy release.
Effective lockout/tagout procedures are a focus of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. These require that people working with electrical components receive the necessary training and possess the required skills to operate such components safely. These include knowing how to identify potential hazards and to determine safe, effective methods of handling such hazards. Workers must also know the required clearance distances and workspace required for the machinery they are handling.
OSHA has a long list of recommended lockout/tagout procedures. These include the documentation, implementation, and enforcement of all energy control procedures. OSHA recommends that only lockout/tagout devices be used that are authorized for a particular piece of machinery. This helps ensure that the device is suitable to provide the requisite protection. It is also recommended that only employees who applied the device be allowed to remove it.
OSHA recommends that all energy control procedures go through a thorough review at least once per year. This frequency can be increased depending on workplace conditions and any increased risks that may be present. It is also recommended that all equipment undergo thorough testing and examination when it is moved or repositioned, or following work performed on the unit by either employees or contractors.
Common Causes of Electrocution in the Workplace
There are many causes of electrocution in the workplace. These include inadequate or deficient wiring including extension cords that are tasked with handling energy levels that exceed their safety rating. This can lead to overloads within the extension cord or the circuit that can transfer through equipment and into a worker’s body.
One of the most common causes of electrocution is contact with power lines. This is a significant risk for roofers, linemen, tree trimmers, Workers in manufacturing are at significant risk of electrocution from contact with live parts. In addition to effective lockout/tagout procedures, protecting workers from such contact also requires the provision of the appropriate protective gear as well as prompt maintenance of any damaged components or defective shields that are intended to prevent such contact.
Finally, temporary wiring is a considerable concern that should be addressed as part of a lockout/tagout plan. Temporary wiring may be applied as an ad hoc repair, but it is not as resilient and durable as a permanent solution. As such, rather than applying temporary fixes, employers should avoid temporary repairs and simply shut the machine down until it can undergo an appropriate repair.
Recognizing Workplace Electrocution
Prompt recognition of electrical injuries has a significant effect on survivability. Workers must be trained to recognize these signs to protect themselves and their co-workers. Signs of electrocution include visible burns, charred clothing, mental confusion, difficulty breathing, muscle pain, and loss of consciousness.
Even in the absence of these symptoms, individuals should receive prompt treatment following a suspected electrical exposure. That is because some symptoms may not appear for as much as 10 days post-exposure. Even with prompt recognition and treatment, recovery from an electrical shock can take months and even years. In some cases where the severe injury was suffered, full recovery may not occur and the individual can be left with debilitating injuries that reduce their quality of life and limit their earning capacity. Thus, it is vital that individuals who suffer electrical injuries in the workplace work with their job injury lawyer to thoroughly document their injuries, treatments, and impacts.