Electrical Shock Burn Injuries

Electrical shock injuries are not uncommon in the workplace. They can result in damage to multiple organ systems, and the severity of the injury, and the type of current, length of contact, the circuit type and voltage amount determines its extent. (See the above photograph for an example of a common way in which people are seriously injured or killed by electrical shock in the workplace.)  It is difficult to determine the pathway electricity will take through the body, and sometimes injuries from electrical shock may initially be underestimated or overlooked.  Death due to electrical shock is referred to as electrocution.

The mechanism of electrical shock can be from a natural source, such as lightening, or can be the result of direct electrical contact, an arc of electricity, a flash injury caused by heat from contact with an electrical arc, or burns caused by arcing and electrothermal currents. Any contact with electricity that causes current to flow through the tissues of the human body is known as electrical shock. Depending upon the type of current, different voltages may cause more or less extensive damage.

Technically, at 10 milliamperes of AC current, muscle contractions in the average person prevent the person from being able to voluntarily release the electrical source.

Electrical shock injuries can cause the heart to stop, a state known as asystole, Should this occur, CPR should be immediately instituted, although defibrillation is not indicated in asystole. However, lower currents may cause a terminal rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation, which is a disorganized pumping of the ventricular muscles, preventing oxygen carrying blood from reaching all tissues, including the heart muscle itself, which is supplied by the coronary arteries. Ventricular fibrillation should be treated as soon as an automated electrical defibrillator is located, and one should be available in most public places and any workplaces where electrical shock is a possibility.

Victims of an electrical shock often are thrown from the electrical source, or may fall from a height, as in a construction site or workplace setting. This results in blunt trauma, usually to the head, neck, or perhaps lower areas of the spinal cord. If someone falls to the ground as a result of an electrical shock, precautions should be taken to keep the head and neck stabilized until they are evaluated at a hospital with radiologic imaging. These victims should be presumed to have a potential spinal cord injury until it is proven otherwise.

Electrical shock can damage the peripheral nervous system, and if current affects the central nervous system, the victim may suffer prolonged psychiatric and neurologic symptoms.

Burns to the skin may appear less severe than they actually are, as the subcutaneous tissues conduct electricity and may be extensively damaged. Heating due to resistance in the tissues can cause very severe burns. Severe burns should be treated at a burn center. Depending upon the path of the current, there may be extensive damage to internal organs.

Electrical injuries in the workplace comprise the majority of electrical injuries in the United States. Employers should ensure that employees are aware of the risks in the workplace, and they should take precautions to ensure safe practices. If you have been the victim of an electrical burn injury in the workplace, you should consult one of our experienced burn injury lawyers to evaluate your case, as damages can be extensive and may have life-long consequences.