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The Truth About Electric Shock Hazards In The Workplace 

Accidents are bound to happen no matter how careful you are. You can try to prevent them, but even the most comprehensive safety policies and procedures won’t prevent every incident. 

You might think electric shock injuries are unlikely to happen in your business. Maybe you have a simple office with a handful of employees who sit at a desk all day. Isn’t carpal tunnel the only probable injury?

Electric shock and electrocution are hidden workplace dangers.

If you’ve ever experienced a minor electrical shock from an unexpected source – like a frayed charging cable – you know electricity is nothing to mess around with. A shock doesn’t need to be intense to be intimidating, and electrocution results in death. Workplace safety, especially electrical safety, needs to be taken seriously.

In the workplace, electric shock hazards are prevalent yet hidden due to most people’s ignorance regarding what a hazard looks like. For example, a worker charging their iPhone next to the sink while doing dishes is putting themselves at risk for electric shock injury and possibly death. 

Doing dishes next to a charging phone seems innocent, especially since today’s phones are marketed as waterproof and water resistant. You could probably drop a smartphone into water without receiving a shock (but please don’t try it). However, everything changes when you plug a phone into the wall. It doesn’t matter if a phone is 100% waterproof – when it’s plugged into the wall, it doesn’t belong anywhere near water.

What does an electric shock hazard look like? It’s not always obvious.

Any device plugged into the wall has a live current flowing to it, which makes it a shock risk. Water and electricity don’t mix. An appliance or device doesn’t have to be submerged or even come in contact with water for it to cause electrocution. When a person is submerged in water – fully or partially – all they have to do is touch a frayed wire and they could be electrocuted. 

This was a heartbreaking realization for the family of 14-year-old Madison Coe, who was electrocuted while using her phone in the bathtub. Investigators say she touched the frayed wire of the extension cord she had been using to charge her phone. At the time of the incident, the phone charger wasn’t connected to the extension cord and the phone never fell into the tub. The frayed extension cord was connected to a non-grounded outlet.

Nobody survives electrocution, but those who are injured by electric shock experience immense pain and usually severe burns. Recovery can take a long time, and victims usually file a lawsuit to recover compensation. The damages awarded for electric shock can be higher than other injuries. As an example, the Burch Law Firm recovered a $1,847,000 settlement for a victim who suffered injury from electric shock.

Without training, it’s hard to recognize electrical hazards.

On the other hand, when you’re not trained to understand the principles of electricity, non-hazards might appear to be hazards. For instance, when a grounding pin breaks off and remains in an electrical outlet, common sense says you shouldn’t pull it out with anything metal, like a pair of pliers. It’s a scary situation if you don’t know how electricity works. However, when you call an electrician, they’ll whip out a pair of needle nose pliers and pull it out. They’ll probably turn off the power and use pliers with an insulated handle as a safety precaution, but it’s not necessary. 

Grounding pins aren’t directly connected to a live current. You just have to make sure the pliers don’t come in contact with a live current, and that’s why electricians will shut off the power first.

Is your business’ electrical system grounded?

Grounding is important. Improperly grounded electrical systems can cause a short circuit, which happens to be an extremely dangerous scenario. A short circuit happens when a current deviates from its intended path. When a hot current is allowed to flow outside its designated wires, it will flow through a building’s wood framing, metal pipes, and flammable materials. The only way to prevent this scenario is to make sure your electrical system is grounded.

According to The Spruce, a grounding system “provides an alternate pathway for electrical current to follow should there be a breakdown in the system of hot and neutral wires that normally carry the current. If a wire connection becomes loose, for example, or a rodent gnaws through a wire, the grounding system channels the stray current back to ground before it can cause a fire or shock.”

Avoid workplace injuries from electrical hazards with regular inspections.

If you’re not an electrician, don’t try to figure out what’s safe and what isn’t. Get regular inspections from a certified electrician. Before they leave, ask them to point out potential hazards they spot in your building and ask them if there are any policies you should implement in your specific industry. You can’t ask too many questions, and you can’t be too safe.

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