Electrical Injury

Electric shock

Electrical injury occurs when an electric current runs through a portion of the body, usually from either a man-made source or lightning.  The outside of the person’s body may appear to have only minor injuries, but internal injuries may still be significant.  As current enters the body (source), it causes surface to deep burns, damages muscle and organs as it passes through the body and eventually exits at another distant point (ground), which causes a second burn or wound.  The electrical current may trigger irregular heartbeat or stop the heart entirely.

The human body is a good conductor of electricity.  Direct contact with electrical current can be fatal.  While some electrical burns look minor, there still may be serious internal damage, especially to the heart, muscles or brain.

About 1,000 people die of electric shock each year in the United States.

The affect of an electric shock on an individual depends on the intensity of the voltage to which the person was exposed, the route the current took through the body, the person’s state of health and the speed and adequacy of treatment.

Electric current can cause injury in three main ways:

  • Cardiac arrest due to the electrical effect on the heart
  • Muscle, nerve and tissue destruction from a current passing through the body
  • Thermal burns from contact with the electrical source

 

The severity of electrical injury depends on:

  • Type of current: AC (alternating current) or DC (direct current).  DC tends to throw people from the source after one shock.  AC is more dangerous.  AC causes muscle spasms that often prolong contact with the power source, which increases the extent of the injury.
  • Voltage and amperage
  • Duration of exposure
  • Body resistance
  • Pathway of current which determines the specific tissue damaged

First aid

Things you can do when you find someone facing electrical injury:

1. If safely possible, shut off the electrical current. Unplug the cord, remove the fuse from the fuse box, or turn off the circuit breakers.  Simply turning off an appliance may NOT stop the flow of electricity.

2. Call for medical help.

3. If the current can’t be turned off, use a non-conducting object, such as a broom, chair, rug, or rubber doormat to push the victim away from the source of the current.  Do NOT use a wet or metal object.  If possible, stand on something dry and non-conducting, such as a mat or folded newspapers.  Do NOT attempt to rescue a victim near active high-voltage lines.

4. Once the victim is free from the source of electricity, check the victim’s airway, breathing, and pulse.  If either has stopped or seems dangerously slow or shallow, start first aid (CPR).

5. If the victim has a burn, remove any clothing that comes off easily and rinse the burned area in cool running water until the pain subsides.  Give first aid for burns.

6. If the victim is faint, pale or shows other signs of shock, lay him or her down, with the head slightly lower than the trunk of the body and the legs elevated and cover him or her with a warm blanket or a coat.

7. Stay with the victim until medical help arrives.

8. Electrical injury is frequently associated with explosions or falls that can cause additional traumatic injuries, including both obvious external injuries and concealed internal injuries.  Avoid moving the victim’s head or neck if a spinal injury is suspected.  Administer appropriate first aid as needed for other wounds or fractures.

 

Prevention

  • Avoid electrical hazards at home and at work. Always follow manufacturer’s safety instructions when using electrical appliances
  • Avoid using electrical appliances while showering or wet
  • Keep children away from electrical devices, especially those that are plugged in
  • Keep electrical cords out of children’s reach
  • Never touch electrical appliances while touching faucets or cold water pipes
  • Teach children about the dangers of electricity
  • Use child safety plugs in all outlets
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