Understanding Electrical Accidents
According to OSHA, injuries caused by electrical shock lead to more than 350 deaths each year in the United States alone. Private sources peg the number much higher, ranging between 500 and 1000 deaths per year. While car accidents, violent crimes, and other types of injuries may produce a higher death toll, electrical injuries tend to cause severe and long lasting damage to victims. Two groups are at particularly high risk of electrical injury; toddlers (electrical accidents are responsible for 3% of all childhood ER visits and the resulting damage, usually to the mouth, face, and brain) and construction workers (electrical accidents are the fourth highest workplace hazard in construction related industries). Whats worse, electrical injuries can have as much as a 15% fatality rate and even when not fatal, burns, muscle damage, broken bones, heart attacks, lung failure, and brain damage are all common, and sometimes permanent, severe injuries.
How Do Electrical Injuries Occur?
Electrical injuries can result from a wide array of settings and causes. For adults, electrical injuries are commonly the result of occupational hazards on construction or utilities work sites where contact with electrical circuits is often a part of the job. For children, the most common cause of an electrical injury is biting or playing with an extension cord or unprotected outlet. Most childhood victims are under six years old.
While these two broad types of situations cover many electrical injuries, there are a number of other accidents that should be guarded against. Downed power lines, standing flood water, improperly installed or maintained residential or commercial electrical wiring, faulty equipment or appliances, worn or unsafe power cords and plugs, missing ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), and faulty underwater or poolside wiring also cause serious injuries and deaths.
Understanding Electrical Injuries
Electrical injuries are sometimes difficult to properly diagnose, even for trained medical professionals and it is therefore critical that responding medical personnel be given a complete and accurate account of the surrounding events. In many cases, internal or nervous system injuries do not immediately present but can still lead to life threatening complications. Electrical injuries fall into three broad categories.
When electrical current passes through the human body, the pathway can become superheated, rapidly burning away or damaging surrounding tissue, muscle, and bone. In addition to direct electrical burns, the heat given off by faulty equipment and other conductors can sometimes cause secondary burns and in some cases the spark generated by a fault can send off a wave of heat (as high as 5000 degrees) that “flash burns” anything in its path. While the length of contact, grounding properties, voltage, and type of current all impact the severity of a burn, any burn is tremendously painful and can take a long time to heal. Scaring is often permanent.
Muscle, Skeletal, & Incidental Damage
Muscles are actually a tissue type, but the form of damage were referring to here is mechanical in nature. Muscles are triggered by very slight electrical impulses governed by our nervous system. When larger currents travel through muscle tissue they can cause drastically harder muscle contractions; sometimes hard enough to break surrounding bones. Even if a contraction is not severe enough to break bones, involuntary muscle reflexes can lead to other types of physical injuries, such as those resulting from falls or other types of impacts. Head, neck, and spine injuries often result from falls or convulsions triggered by involuntary muscle contractions.
Brain & Nervous System Damage
Though somewhat less common than burns or mechanical injuries, damage to the brain or other parts of the nervous system tend to cause some of the longest lasting injuries. Brain damage can result either from the electrical shock itself or from a prolonged lack of oxygen after a heart attack. In severe cases, unconsciousness can result from current passing through the top of the head making it harder for emergency responders to figure out what happened. In other cases, long term vision damage may result, though such side effects may not be noticed for a few weeks. Damage to either the brain or another part of the nervous system may never heal completely and permanent disabilities can result.
In cases of negligence, substandard manufacturing, improper installation or maintenance of electrical systems, household electrical hazards or insufficient workplace safety measures, liability can often be established and the victim compensated for their injuries.
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