What kinds of injuries result from electrical currents?
People are injured when they become part of the electrical circuit. Humans are more conductive than the earth (the ground we stand on) which means if there is no other easy path, electricity will try to flow through our bodies.
There are four main types of injuries: electrocution (fatal), electric shock, burns, and falls. These injuries can happen in various ways:
- Direct contact with exposed energized conductors or circuit parts. When electrical current travels through our bodies, it can interfere with the normal electrical signals between the brain and our muscles (e.g., heart may stop beating properly, breathing may stop, or muscles may spasm).
- When the electricity arcs (jumps, or "arcs") from an exposed energized conductor or circuit part (e.g., overhead power lines) through a gas (such as air) to a person who is grounded (that would provide an alternative route to the ground for the electrical current).
- Thermal burns including burns from heat generated by an electric arc, and flame burns from materials that catch on fire from heating or ignition by electrical currents or an electric arc flash. Contact burns from being shocked can burn internal tissues while leaving only very small injuries on the outside of the skin.
- Thermal burns from the heat radiated from an electric arc flash. Ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light emitted from the arc flash can also cause damage to the eyes.
- An arc blast can include a potential pressure wave released from an arc flash. This wave can cause physical injuries, collapse your lungs, or create noise that can damage hearing.
- Muscle contractions, or a startle reaction, can cause a person to fall from a ladder, scaffold or aerial bucket. The fall can cause serious injuries.
What are some general safety tips for working with or near electricity?
- Inspect portable cord-and-plug connected equipment, extension cords, power bars, and electrical fittings for damage or wear before each use. Repair or replace damaged equipment immediately.
- Always tape extension cords to walls or floors when necessary. Do not use nails and staples because they can damage extension cords and cause fire and shocks.
- Use extension cords or equipment that is rated for the level of amperage or wattage that you are using.
- Always use the correct size fuse. Replacing a fuse with one of a larger size can cause excessive currents in the wiring and possibly start a fire.
- Be aware that unusually warm or hot outlets or cords may be a sign that unsafe wiring conditions exists. Unplug any cords or extension cords from these outlets and do not use until a qualified electrician has checked the wiring.
- Always use ladders made with non-conductive side rails (e.g., fibreglass) when working with or near electricity or power lines.
- Risk of electric shock is greater in areas that are wet or damp. Install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters(GFCIs) as they will interrupt the electrical circuit before a current sufficient to cause death or serious injury occurs.
- Use a portable in-line Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) if you are not certain that the receptacle you are plugging your extension cord into is GFCI protected.
- Make sure that exposed receptacle boxes are made of non-conductive materials.
- Know where the panel and circuit breakers are located in case of an emergency.
- Label all circuit breakers and fuse boxes clearly. Each switch should be positively identified as to which outlet or appliance it is for.
- Do not use outlets or cords that have exposed wiring.
- Do not use portable cord-and-plug connected power tools if the guards are removed.
- Do not block access to panels and circuit breakers or fuse boxes.
- Do not touch a person or electrical apparatus in the event of an electrical incident. Always disconnect the power source first.
What is a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)?
A Class A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) works by detecting any loss of electrical current in a circuit (e.g., it will trip at a maximum of 6mA). When a loss is detected, the GFCI turns the electricity off before severe injuries or electrocution can occur. A painful non-fatal shock may occur during the time that it takes for the GFCI to cut off the electricity so it is important to use the GFCI as an extra protective measure rather than a replacement for safe work practices.
GFCI wall outlets can be installed in place of standard outlets to protect against electrocution for just that outlet, or a series of outlets in the same branch circuit. A GFCI Circuit Breaker can be installed on some circuit breaker electrical panels to protect an entire branch circuit. Portable in-line plug-in GFCIs can be plugged into wall outlets where appliances will be used.