Electrical Injury at Work
Electrical power is a vital element of modern society, however with that comes an equal threat in regards to safety and regulation. Accidents do occur, particularly in the case of electrical workers who handle commercial electricity power lines on a daily basis.
Electrical shock is one of the leading causes of work related injury, comprising 7% of all workplace fatalities.
What is electrical injury?
Electrical injury occurs when the body experiences levels of current which will alter electrophysiological function or cause tissue damage. In general tissue damage depends on the strength of the electrical field, the frequency and duration of current flow and tissue type that has been exposed. Most common injuries result from contact with commercial electrical power sources in the home and the workplace.
Parts of the body are designed to be very sensitive to electrical signals. Nerves and muscles communicate via small electrical pulses. Abnormal electrical current can directly stimulate nerves and muscles. When direct muscle stimulation occurs, the brain is no longer in control of the muscle and the person being shocked cannot move the hand away from the power source. This is known as a ‘not let go’ phenomenon.
Electrical shock injuries are extremely complex and can manifest in several ways. Even when the injury does not involve any visible tissue damage, electrical trauma survivors may be left with significant consequences. Even brief electrical shocks may result in permanent damage to components of the nervous system, resulting in subtle abnormalities or persistent pain. The impact of electrical shock on brain function can be immediate or delayed depending on the path of the current.
Many case studies have reported diverse neuropsychological effects associated with electrical injury, including visual disturbances, confusion, compromised intellectual function, memory loss and aphasia. Electrical injury is also associated with a high rate of psychiatric morbidity including major depressive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders. These problems are commonplace regardless of whether there is direct brain exposure to the electrical current. In addition, anxiety and depression play a significant role in pain perception.
A High Court action has been settled for €700,000 for a boy who electrocuted himself when he hammered a nail into an ESB pole. While playing with friends in a wooded area near his home, Kurt O’Callaghan was making a camp and decided to put up a ‘Keep Out’ sign. When he struck the nail with the hammer, he hit and cable and was thrown backward and suffered severe burn injuries. Subsequent to these initial injuries he had multiple operations and skin grafts to burn areas on his head, neck, shoulders and hands.
The incident which happened near his home town of Wexford in 2008, at which time Kurt was aged just 10 years old, occurred as he climbed onto a low boundary wall to a housing estate to gain access to the ESB pole.
It was alleged that the ESB had failed to inspect the wall or the electricity pole in order to detect the allegedly dangerous nature of the wall’s proximity to the nearby electrical pole and particularly the presence of high velocity cables.
Senior Counsel in the case, Michael Counihan, stated that there is a statutory requirement to ensure electricity poles are protected up to three metres from the ground. An electrical engineer acting for the plaintiff believed the ESB should have spotted that there was access to the pole if a person was climbing on the nearby boundary wall.
The victim of this tragedy was believed to be in his late 50’s from the Ballinasloe area of County Galway and was married with a family.
Two men working for a contractor were carrying out work on behalf of ESB networks. It is understood they were erecting a pole to carry power to a new house in the area. The victim was operating a JCB to lift a timber pole into place, and whilst doing so the pole touched overhead wires that were carrying 10,000 volts. Tragically, the man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Tragically, a young landscape gardener was killed when he picked up a damaged electrical cable when it was live. Rory Davies, 25, was working in Bantry when the fatal incident occurred in 2009.
In 2014, at a Cork Circuit Court hearing, the deceased’s employer, Paul Dyer, pleaded guilty to three health and safety offences, for which he was given a one-year suspended jail sentence.
On the day of the incident back in 2009, the deceased was working in the garden and power from a cable plugged into a domestic shed supply was used for a power-washer and a cement mixer.
The defendant paid monies to the deceased’s mother for three years following the incident and also contributed €5,000 towards the man’s funeral.
Sadly, electrical accidents and fatalities are more common than we may initially be aware. It is essential to be cautious when working with electrical equipment both in a professional capacity and in the home.