Electricity has become a vital energy source of modern life over the last century. It’s central to so many of our everyday tasks that we often forget it’s even there. But as routine as it’s become, it must be respected for the possible safety risks it poses – particularly to those working on construction sites.
Construction injury lawyers at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, note electricity is known to be a major construction hazard because it exposes workers to the possibility of electric shock, electrocution, burns, fires and even explosions.
In construction, the danger of electrical shock is almost ever-present – but that doesn’t mean it’s unavoidable. Although electricians, engineers and other professionals work with electricity directly, there are a number of other employees who are exposed to electrical hazards indirectly.Understanding Electrical Shock
Electricity typically travels through a conductor in a closed circuit. A shock happens when the body becomes part of that electrical circuit. The electrical current goes in the body at one point and leaves through another.
Construction site electric shock usually happens one of three ways, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration:
- A worker comes into contact with both wires of an energized circuit;
- Worker comes in contact with one energized circuit and the ground;
- Worker comes in contact with a metallic part that is in contact with an energized wire while the person is also in contact with the ground.
Sometimes, the worker will simply experience a slight tingling sensation, startling but generally harmless. Other times, the shock can result in extreme pain, loss of muscular control, hemorrhages, kidney damage, nerve damage, severe burns, tissue destruction, respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest and death. When death occurs, the incident is referred to as electrocution.
Some of these injuries might not be immediately apparent to observers or even the victim. That’s why a construction worker who suffers electrical shock – no matter how severe – must seek immediate medical attention, even if he or she feels “fine.”
The severity of the shock is going to depend on a number of factors, which includes:
- Amount of current flowing through the body;
- Path of the current through the body;
- Strength of the voltage;
- Presence of moisture;
- Phase of the heart cycle when the shock happens;
- General health of the person who suffers the shock.
It’s worth noting that just because a shock contains low voltage doesn’t necessarily mean it’s low hazard. Even a low volt can cause serious damage if a victim can’t immediately free himself or herself from the circuit because continued exposure – even at low levels – can affect the heart’s rhythm.Electricity Hazards on a Construction Site
While anyone who works with or near electricity is at risk of a related injury, construction sites often have a heightened risk of electrical injury because of exposed wiring, proximity to overhead and buried power lines and the regular use of powerful electrical equipment.
A recent OSHA Fact Sheet outlined the top electricity risks associated with construction work, and how to avoid it.
- Contact with power lines. Construction workers who operate or work on backhoes, cranes, concrete pumpers, long-handled cement fishing floats, metal ladders, scaffolds, raised dump truck beds and metal building materials are at increased risk of contact with power lines – both buried and overhead. The latter can be uninsulated, carrying tens of thousands of volts and making them extremely dangerous to those who work close by. Construction firms should contact utilities for locations of buried lines and take note of any lines overhead. Workers should maintain a 10-foot distance from power lines and always assume lines are energized. Ground lines should be de-energized when working near them, and workers should use fiberglass or wood ladders when working near power lines.
- Generators. Many construction sites employ the use of generators when the electrical systems on site aren’t yet fully functional. These gas-powered systems produce electricity, and can be very dangerous. Generators should never be brought indoors, and ventilation is always key when working near them. Also, workers should make sure the main circuit breaker is off and locked out prior to starting any generator. This prevents unintentional energization of power lines from back feed electrical energy, which can harm utility workers.
- Equipment. Normal wear and tear of electrical equipment used in construction can result in exposed wires, short-circuits and insulation breaks that could expose workers to electric shock. Tools and equipment should be double-insulated and clearly marked. All electrical equipment should be carefully inspected prior to use, and any equipment that has cracked tool casings, missing ground prongs or frayed cords should be removed from service, repaired or replaced.
- Exposed electrical parts. Guards or barriers should be used in open wire or breaker boxes in which the cover isn’t replaced. The conductors that go into electrical cabinets or boxes should be protected.
Workers who have suffered electrical shock may have other alternatives besides workers’ compensation to collect damages for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.
Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation