Many work environments present hazards that can lead to personal injury. Yet, some industries and careers have a greater risk of being injured or killed by electrical hazards than others. Jobs in construction, utilities and manufacturing are some of the sectors that record the most electrical accidents each year. In fact, approximately 9% of fatal injuries on construction sites are due to electrocution, and there are several electrical hazards to which construction workers are exposed regularly.
Employers are required to follow federal and state regulations to protect their employees from injury. Safety training, occupational certification and education, protective equipment and devices, routine equipment and site inspections, and other measures can reduce electrical hazards in the workplace.
For jobs that involve working near or around power lines, the Louisiana Overhead Power Line Safety Act (LOPLSA) exists to keep employees safe by requiring approval for work near power lines. In Louisiana, line crews and contractors working for Cleco Power, Dixie Electric, Membership Corporation, Entergy, and Southwestern Electric Power Company, work in an electrical substation, transmission line, or distribution project?
In addition, all utility companies are required to meet the minimum standards outlined in the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC). The NESC includes maintenance guidelines for all equipment used by electric utility companies, height requirements for positioning power lines, and their proximity to different types of structures.
Electrical hazards can cause shocks and electrocutions, explosions and fires. Injuries from an electrical accident can be minor, serious, or catastrophic, and there are a range of short- and long-term health issues a worker can experience.
Workplace electrical injuries include burns, neurological and nerve damage, cardiac arrest, muscle spasms, organ damage and hearing loss. These accidents can result in physical disability and disfigurement as well as emotional and mental distress. Knowing the hazards in the workplace, the safety standards businesses must follow, and employee rights can help reduce the risk of electrical-related accidents.
However, even with safety standards and practices, electrical accidents do happen and most of them are preventable. People injured by an electrical hazard at work may have grounds for personal injury claims to help cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If the worst happens, the surviving families of someone who suffers a fatal electrical injury on the job may be able to make a wrongful death claim.
Common Electrical Hazards in the Workplace
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are approximately 12 fatal workplace accidents every day in the United States. Sadly, electrical accidents cause many bodily injuries and lead to deaths every year.
Major electrical hazards in the workplace include:
Exposed electrical wires and parts: Workers can suffer electric shocks and burns when electrical wires are exposed. Safety checks of all equipment and regular site assessments can identify these hazards. Checking power cords is important because workers could be injured if the cord’s protective layer is damaged, exposing the wires inside. Electrical panels and temporary lighting are other sources of danger if there are exposed wires or inadequate protection.
Overhead power lines: Power lines carry a huge amount of electricity. Long-distance transmission lines contain hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity, making any work around or on these power lines extremely dangerous.
The Louisiana Overhead Power Line Safety Act limits the distance a person can stand or work near a power line. The power line owner or operator must be notified if a worker or their equipment is within 10 feet of the power line, must agree how the work will be done safely before work begins – but these requirements are not always met.
Additionally, some electric utility companies do not properly maintain or rate their power lines as often as they should. This increases the risk of overhead power lines as they can sag and lower closer to the ground and the line insulation deteriorates. When this happens, workers are more at risk of electrical injuries.
Insufficient or damaged insulation: By law, power companies must ensure that their power lines are fully insulated or insulated by insulation (lines are high enough that they are inaccessible). However, pipe insulation can be damaged over time, posing hazards to anyone working near or on them. Exposed power line wires can cause shock and electrocution if damaged.
Improper use of equipment and cords: When the equipment is not used correctly, there is a risk of electrical accident. Improper use of extension cords and flexible cords can result in exposed or loose wires, which can cause electric shock. Also, if an extension cord is not designed for the way it is used, the electrical hazard is even greater. Appropriate training and safeguards help employees and employers recognize and limit electrical hazards in the workplace to ensure that those using the equipment do so safely. This ultimately limits the risk of personal injury from contact with electricity.
Wet conditions: Electrical equipment and wiring become more dangerous in wet conditions. Damaged insulation becomes an even greater danger when it rains or snows or when leaks occur on construction sites. Wet conditions can lead to electrocution when working near or with electricity, and a current can carry water and shock anyone in the affected area.
Ungrounded power supply: The grounding power supply ensures that unwanted voltage is eliminated by returning it to ground. All electrical equipment on any job site must be properly grounded so that employees are safe from electrical hazards. But sometimes the equipment is not grounded, which causes electrical injuries that can be fatal.
Electrical Injury Claims at Work
Electricity is a serious workplace hazard that results in minor to catastrophic injuries every year. In 2019, there were 166 electrical deaths in the United States, with 8% of all fatal electrical injuries. The highest electrical death rate was in the construction industry, with utility workplaces the second highest.