Electrical accidents have the potential to cause major injuries or even deaths. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), electrocution is one of the “fatal four” leading causes of fatalities in construction accidents other than falls, struck-by accidents and caught in/between incidents. Power lines and electrical circuits are present in most if not all construction sites. So, it becomes crucial for construction workers and laborers to be protected at all times from any electrical hazard during the project.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction site electrical accident, or if you have lost a loved one as the result of a tragic worksite accident, you may be able to seek compensation for your damages and losses. An experienced New York construction accident lawyer will be able to fight for your rights and help you secure maximum compensation for your tremendous losses.
Understanding Electrical Accidents
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, there were 136 deaths caused by electrical accidents in the workplace in 2017. Contact with or exposure to electric current accounted for 2.6 percent of all workplace fatalities. Also, 54 percent of all fatal electrical injuries occurred in the construction industry. Younger workers are more likely to experience electrical injuries. In fact, workers 16 to 17 years of age experienced electrical fatalities at 5.4 times the average of all age groups.
An electrical switch works more or less like a water faucet. Behind the switch is the source of power – electricity. Just as a pump provides enough pressure for the water to travel through the pipes, the switch’s electrical sources serve as a power generating station and provides the “pressure” for the electrical current to travel through electrical conductors or wires.
Electricity essentially travels in closed circuits, normally through a conductor. An electric shock occurs when the victim accidentally becomes part of the circuit. The current enters the body at one point and leaves at another. A person is “shocked” or electrocuted when he or she comes in contact with either both wires of an energized circuit current or one wire of an energized circuit and the ground current. Electrical shock can also occur when a metallic part is in contact with an energized wire while the person is also in contact with the ground.
It is important to understand that metallic parts of power tools and machines can become energized if there is a break in the insulation of their wiring. A low-resistance wire between the metallic case of the tool/machine and the ground – an equipment grounding conductor – provides a path for the current to pass directly to the ground. This helps reduce the amount of current passing through the body of the person who is in contact with a tool or machine. When properly installed, the grounding conductor serves as a safeguard from electric shock.
How is the Human Body Affected?
There are three main factors that affect the severity of the shock a person receives when he or she is part of an electrical circuit:
- The amount of current flowing through the body
- The path of the current through the body.
- The length of time the body is in the circuit.
There are also other factors that might affect the severity of shock such as the voltage of the current, the presence of moisture in the environment and the general health of the person before receiving the shock. The effects of an electric shock can range from a tingle to severe burns or even immediate cardiac arrest that results in death.
Injuries Caused by Electric Shock
Shock-related injuries can be severe or even fatal. Here are some of the common injuries that stem from electrocution:
Burn injuries: These are the most common shock-related injuries. Burns suffered in electrical accidents are also of different types. Electrical burns, for example, occur as the result of heat generated by the flow of electric current through the body and may result in tissue damage. Electrical burns are one of the most serious injuries anyone can receive. Immediate medical attention is required. Flash burns are caused by high temperatures such as produced by an electric arc or explosion near the body. Thermal contact burns occur when the skin comes in contact with overheated electric equipment or when a worker’s clothing catches fire in an electrical incident. Burn injuries often need extensive treatment and rehabilitation. Those who have been severely burned may require cosmetic surgery procedures, which are often not fully covered by health insurance plans.
Internal injuries: Victims of electrical accidents may also suffer internal injuries as a result of excessive electricity flowing through the body. This may causes serious damage to internal organs. Some of the medical problems that occur here include internal bleeding, tissue damage and nerve or muscle damage. These internal injuries may not be immediately apparent to the victim or even to first responders. But, if left untreated, these injuries may prove fatal.
Involuntary muscle contraction: Normal muscle contraction is typically caused by small amounts of electricity created within the body. However, when excessive amounts of electricity pass through the body, our muscles contract violently. This may result in damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments. It may also cause broken bones. If the victim is holding an electrocuting (malfunctioning and causing electric shock) object, the muscles of the hand may contract making it impossible for the victim to drop the object, thereby prolonging contact with the current. Also when muscle contractions become violent they cause workers to fall from ladders or scaffolds. Other catastrophic injuries or even fatalities might occur in these incidents.
Common Causes of Electrical Accidents
There is no question that most electrical accidents are preventable. Construction companies, contractors, property owners, property managers, etc. have a responsibility to ensure and maintain a safe worksite. Here are some of the most often cited factors involving electrical accidents at construction sites that result in severe injuries as well as fatalities:
Overhead power lines: It is important to know that overhead power lines near work sites are typically very high-voltage lines and can cause serious burn injuries. The solution to this problem is to ensure that the area under the power lines is clear. Proper signage should be displayed to warn workers and others regarding the dangers posed by the power lines.
Overloaded power circuits: Fires often develop when wires become overheated. This dangerous situation can be prevented by ensuring that the wires are suitable and rated for their electrical load. Employees should be trained/educated so they use the right breaker for each wire and electrical load. Supervisors should be instructed during each shift to assess areas for bad wiring and report it immediately so proper steps can be taken to address the issue.
Damaged tools and equipment: While this is usually under-reported, damaged tools are one of the biggest causes of electrical shock. It is important that tools and equipment that are being used for the job are inspected on a daily basis for defective wiring and damages such as cracks and cuts.
Damp conditions: Wet working conditions, in addition to causing slip-and-fall accidents can also result in electrocution. Water increases the risk of electrical shock. Workers should be trained to exercise caution when they are working with machinery near water. Workers should never work in wet conditions. Any area with water should be inspected by a qualified electrician before work can commence.
Improper grounding of equipment: This is the most common violation of OSHA standards when it comes to electrical incidents. Improper grounding can cause unwanted voltage and increase the danger of electrocution.
OSHA’s Guidelines on Electrical Safety
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a number of important guidelines for construction companies, contractors and other parties in charge of site management to prevent construction site electrical injuries. The guidelines include:
- Prohibiting workers from working on any new or existing electrical circuits until power is shut off and grounds are attached.
- Ensuring all damaged wiring is replaced.
- Making sure extension cords have grounding prongs.
- Inspecting all tools and equipment regularly. Any damaged or defective tools and equipment should be repaired or replaced right away.
- Making sure ladders, scaffolding equipment and materials are at least 10 feet away from electrical power lines.
In addition to these measures, workers should also be provided with personal protective equipment such as eye and face protection (safety goggles, face shields), hand protection (gloves) and head protection (hard hats), etc. Workers who are on scaffolds should also be equipped with fall protection devices such as harnesses, safety nets, guardrails, etc. Workers should be given proper training on how to do their jobs and how to take the measures necessary to keep them safe on the job. Such training should be provided in a language that workers can understand.
Who Can Be Held Liable?
If you have been injured in an electrical accident on the job or if you have lost a loved one, there are a number of parties who may be held liable for the injuries, damages and losses caused. Injured workers will often be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they were injured on the job. However, workers’ compensation benefits don’t cover all the losses sustained by workers and their families. In some cases, depending on the circumstances and facts, workers may also be able to hold other parties liable:
General contractor/construction company: These companies and entities have a responsibility to ensure the workspace is safe for construction workers. When they allow dangerous conditions to exist at the site or deliberately violate safety standards leading to an electrocution or electrical injury, these parties can be held liable.
Property owner: In addition to companies, the owner of a property or building where the construction work is being done may also be held liable for the injuries and fatalities caused by electrical accidents. In such cases, plaintiffs may argue that the property owner knew or should have known about the hazardous condition that led to the incident.
Product manufacturer: In some cases, faulty or malfunctioning products may cause an electrical injury or electrocution at a construction site. In these circumstances, the manufacturer of the defective products can be held liable.
Utility companies: There are times when electrical accidents at work sites are caused by the negligence (carelessness) of utility companies such as the power company. In these cases, the utility company whose actions (or lack of action) caused the accident may also be held financially responsible.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
Injured workers may be able to seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, lost income and benefits, hospitalization, cost of rehabilitation, permanent injuries, disabilities, past and future pain and suffering, etc. In cases where a family has lost a loved one in an electrical accident, they may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit seeking compensation as well. Electrical accidents often result in major injuries that may disable a worker permanently or prevent him or her from returning to work for a long period of time.
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a construction site accident, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you. Our law firm recovered $3,375,576 for a construction worker (an undocumented immigrant) who was injured on the job – one of the highest construction case settlements in New York that year.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury and medical malpractice cases in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case. We have recovered many millions of dollars for victims of construction site accidents.
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