The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) acknowledges electricity as a serious workplace hazard, one that can maim or kill employees and produce extensive property damage.
But while electrical risks are often thought of as being unique to certain industries and occupations – ones like construction, utilities and manufacturing – it is not just technical employers who must be prepared for these safety issues, or that could be impacted by potential liability.
In theory, any employee could be shocked or burned by electricity in the workplace, and as such, any company could be held liable for their injuries. Some level of risk is everywhere in offices, from appliances like microwave ovens, coffee makers and refrigerators, to more complex IT equipment. Companies should develop and maintain robust electrical safety protocols for their teams, and workers should be aware of safety and reporting procedures, as well as legal avenues for recourse, in the event an injury does occur.
Risks of Electrical Injury at Work
For engineers working with live power lines, or repair technicians fixing home appliances and office equipment, electrical safety knowledge and protocols are generally second nature. But many other workers do not realize the extent of electrocution risks posed by everyday activities.
For instance, many employees will try to fix power outages, internet or computer problems entirely on their own, reasoning that they can get those jobs done the same as they would at home. Others may unknowingly overload wall sockets by plugging too much equipment into them. When preparing food in kitchens, workers may do risky things like touching electrical plugs with wet or damp hands.
These are all seemingly innocuous actions that can trigger tragic outcomes.
Signs and Symptoms of Electrical Injury
Some electrical injuries are minor, such as feeling a tingling sensation or brief shock. Many others are more serious, including:
- Second- or third-degree burns, including those that reach internal tissue
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle spasms or seizures
- Dizziness and/or trouble seeing
- Falling unconscious
Basic training for electrical first aid must be part of the safety protocol of every company, regardless of industry. If it isn’t offered, you should always ask your supervisor or manager how to gain more information on providing first aid attention to both yourself and others should an accident occur. And in the event of very serious injury, employees should always seek prompt medical help.
How Can Employees Prevent Electrocution?
Regardless of your sector or work environment, there are a few important points to keep in mind to ensure electrical safety:
- Steer clear of live electrical currents. Untrained staff should not be dealing with live electricity over 50 volts. Your employer should always keep the doors to electrical panels secured and shut. Only electricians or other trained professionals should be allowed to repair equipment, regardless of the inconvenience this causes.
- Attend electrical safety programs in your employee training and perform at least yearly refresher courses. In the event electrical safety instruction is not offered, ask your employer about creating this, or consider seeking training outside of work. On an informal level, an IT professional or onsite electrician can help educate you about common hazards you could face.
- Handle electrical cords with care. Unplug them by pulling on the plug head, rather than the cord itself. Do not press or overstretch cords or staple them to floors or walls. And never use cords to hang any kind of tools or equipment.
- Take extra precautions with flammable materials. This includes using cleaning products around computers that are turned on or other actions that increase the risk of serious fire injuries.
- Ensure you understand basic first aid for electrical injuries, can locate first aid kits stocked with basic burn treatment materials, and know the location of fire blankets and extinguishers in the event of a combustion.
What Workers Can Do When Injured by Electricity
Electrical incidents that produce serious symptoms need to always be medically evaluated, and for life-threatening injuries, employees should go to a hospital emergency room or call the local emergency number (911) to summon an ambulance.
While many industries are technically exempt from OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements when it comes to job injuries, employees should still raise the event with their manager, giving the details of where, when, and why an electrical accident happened.
Lastly, if you are concerned that your employer’s negligence was the cause of a serious electrical injury, obtain a consultation with a skilled electrocution attorney as soon as possible.