It is not a stretch to state that electricity has transformed people’s lives for the better. However, because electricity is simple and easily accessible, we forget how dangerous it can be.
Construction workers face significant risk of electrical injuries. A construction site accident involving electricity can cause significant injuries, from burns and scarring to long-term heart damage. Today, we look at some of the more dangerous hazards that construction workers face, and what you should do if you are hurt on the job.
What types of workplace hazards lead to electrical injuries?
Construction sites are hazardous places to begin with. There are a lot of heavy machines and power tools, and there is always a risk of falling or being hit with an object. Some of the types of electrical hazards workers face include:
- Overhead power lines
- Improperly grounded power tools
- Unsafe or exposed wiring
- Unfinished electrical systems
- Defective power tools
- Corrosion of tools or wires
- Condensation buildup around outlets or wires
In addition to being exposed to high voltage power lines, workers at construction sites are at risk of being exposed to electrical fires. There are several ways that an electrical fire can happen on a construction site. For example, defective electrical equipment with exposed wiring can cause sparks that can ignite fires. Another risk is an arc flash, “where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground.” In short, it creates a type of explosion that can easily lead to a worksite fire. If the construction sites contain generators or other combustion engines that exhaust gas fumes, those gas fumes have the potential to combine with sparks from electrical equipment and ignite a serious fire.
What injuries do construction workers suffer from electrical accidents?
Construction workers can experience serious injuries from electrical workplace accidents. One of the most common injuries sustained from electrical workplace accidents is burns. Arc flashes and arc blasts in particular can cause severe burns, leading to scarring and disfigurement around their hands, head, and feet.
In addition to burns, construction workers who are injured from electrical workplace accidents can suffer extreme damage to the heart, central nervous system, muscles, tendons, and other internal organs. These types of injuries can occur when construction workers suffer an electric shock from high voltage power lines, defective equipment, or improper grounding. If workers come into contact with improperly grounded tools, they risk the chance of being shocked by their tools. Even while driving or operating heavy machinery, construction workers are at risk of being shocked. Electrocution, the most severe type of electric shock of all, is often fatal.
Finally, construction workers can sustain serious injuries related to, but not caused by, electricity. For an example, if a worker suffers a shock while using a power saw, he or she could end up slicing off a finger, passing off an hitting his or her head, or falling off a ladder or scaffold. If electricity causes an explosion, even a worker who is far enough not to be burned may still be close enough to inhale ash, smoke, or other toxins.
What makes electrical burns so severe?
While all burns are painful, there are certain characteristics of electrical burns that make them more severe. When a worker comes into contact with an electrical current, he or she experiences damage to the body from the inside and the outside – and the internal damage can be significant:
Electricity, the path of least resistance; thus, most injuries occur to tissues with the least amount of resistance. Skin is the tissue with the most amount of resistance in the human body, followed by bone. Nerves, muscle, and blood have the least amount of resistance. Further reinforcing this concept is that moist tissues (muscle) have much lower resistance than dry tissues (skin). Higher skin resistance results in more diffuse burns to the skin. Lower skin resistance results in deeper burns that are more likely to involve internal organs. Whether skin is relatively dry or moist, electricity passes through the highly-resistant skin tissue and then spreads out through the underlying tissues with less resistance. Therefore, skin burns can appear mild when internal tissues and organs are severely damaged.
In other words, what might look like a serious-but-not-life-threatening burn on the outside could, indeed, have caused life-threatening burn damage on the inside.
The level of voltage will produce different amounts of pain and damage for the victim, too. Low voltage electricity (up to 500 volts) can cause burns, but should be less severe and more easily treated. High voltage electricity (500+ volts), can cause “deep burns and extensive deep tissue and organ damage.”
Seeking treatment for injuries from electrical accidents on worksites
Any type of worksite accident related to electricity must be addressed quickly. If your coworker is hurt, call 9-1-1 and notify a supervisor ASAP. From there, the type of treatments will be based on the type of injury.
If you are treating someone who suffered a high voltage shock, be mindful of your surroundings so you can avoid a shock yourself. If a high voltage power line falls down, leave the area, call the electrical company, and wait for help. Victims of high voltage shock should seek care at a hospital’s emergency department.
Victims of low voltage shocks should seek medical attention if their burns are not healing well; if it has been five years since their last tetanus shot; if the victim is a pregnant woman; or if they have experienced any periods of unconsciousness, confusion, or difficulty breathing.
At Biby Law Firm, we fight for injury victims in and around Tulsa. If you suffered injuries from an electrical accident on a construction site, we can discuss the best course of action. To schedule a free consultation with a Tulsa injury lawyer, call us at 918-574-8458, or fill out our contact form.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.