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Electrical Injuries and Electrocutions

Electrical injuries typically occur as a result of accidental contact between a worker using a tool and an unsecure electric current. The moment of contact is traumatic and the consequences catastrophic. Specifically, the event often involves a worker making contact with the electric current of a machine, tool, appliance, or light fixture; contact with wiring, transformers, or other electrical components; contact with overhead power lines; or contact with underground, buried power lines.

Electrical injuries are often severe, including extensive burns, loss of limbs, or even death. As noted by the Journal of Safety Research, “In 2006, contact with electric current was responsible for approximately 4% of the fatal injuries in the United Stated, accounting for 250 deaths.” 1 In 2013, the US construction sector accounted for over 50 percent of electrical fatalities from all industries combined. According to the Journal of Construction and Engineering Management, “the electrocution rate in construction was 12.2 deaths per million workers, whereas the all-industry average was 1.3 per million workers.” 2

Many electrical injuries and electrocutions happen as a result of a decision-making error, 3 including for example:

  • Lack of basic electrical safety knowledge
  • Improper use of PPE or electricity-testing equipment
  • Lack or failure of site surveying
  • Failure of insulation by de-energizing or grounding
  • Design flaw of safety procedure of prevention
  • Failure of guardian workers, warning signs, or safety supervision
  • Failure of lockout/tagout
  • Damaged tools, wires, or equipment
  • Failure of maintaining safe distance
  • Improper use of tools and machinery

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, a fatal injury is considered work-related if 1) the event leading to the injury occurred while the employee was working, and 2) the event is verified by at least two independent data sources. 4

Occupational Risk for Electrocution and Electrical Injury

Not surprisingly, the professionals that are most at risk for electrical injuries and fatalities are electricians, electrical apprentices, and electrical power installers. However, nearly half of all electrical injuries and fatalities afflict other trades and occupations, including painters, truck drivers, farm workers, grounds keepers, gardeners, carpenters, construction laborers, managers and administrators. Nearly half of those injuries are sustained through contact with overhead electric lines; of that number, approximately 22% make accidental contact with the overhead line using a handheld object, while 17% make contact with the power source indirectly through high-reaching mobile equipment such as cranes, drilling rigs, mobile work platforms, antennas, irrigation rigs, and raised truck beds.

As noted by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), “We live in an electrical world, with nearly every aspect of modern business and commerce dependent on electrical technologies and interactions with tools, appliances, equipment, and systems having inherently hazardous electrical energy.” 5 The IEEE emphasizes that “It is essential that workplace electrical safety programs address electrical safety for all workers and not just workers whose job responsibilities involve working on or near energized circuits.”

Economic Impact of Electrical Injuries and Electrocutions

As a correlate of the severity of electrical injuries, the financial cost involved is extremely high. Simply put, as traumatic as electrical injuries and electrocutions are for victims and their families, they are also staggeringly expensive for employers and insurance providers. According to the IEEE, “Electrical injury accounts for the highest per-fatal- case cost ($948,844) and the second highest per-nonfatal- case cost ($86,829) in construction.” 6 The financial impact of an electrical injury refers to both medical expenses incurred by the victim and his/her family and the indirect losses of household productivity and quality of life.

Many workplace accidents related to electrical injury and damage happen as a result of a negative culture and environment, wherein employees are fatigued, distracted, ill-trained, and/or experience stress and pressure from supervisors. These circumstances are extremely dangerous, and often the result of interacting networks of corporations, industries, and government agencies. Identifying the source and cause of a catastrophic electrical injury in order to build a legal case is complicated, and requires an experiences legal professional. Anyone who has been involved with an electrical injury should seek legal counsel and competent representation.

References

1 Christopher A. Janicak, “Occupational Fatalities due to Electrocutions in the Construction Industry,” Journal of Safety Research 39 (2008): 617.

2 Dong Zhao, et al., “Decision-Making Chains in Electrical Safety for Construction Workers,” Journal of Construction and Engineering Management 142 (2016): 04015055-1.

3 Dong Zhao, et al., “Decision-Making Chains in Electrical Safety for Construction Workers,” Journal of Construction and Engineering Management 142 (2016): 04015055-3.

4 Krystal L. Mason, et al., “Occupational Fatalities During the Oil and Gas Boom – United States, 2003-2013,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 64 (May, 29, 2015).

5 H. Landis Floyd, “Facilitating Application of Electrical Safety Best Practices to ‘Other’ Workers,” IEEE Transactions of Industry Applications 51 (2015): 1350.

6 Dong Zhao, et al., “Decision-Making Chains in Electrical Safety for Construction Workers,” Journal of Construction and Engineering Management 142 (2016): 04015055-1.