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Annually there were about one thousand reported electrical accidents that occurred within the workplace in the UK. Of these, 25 were fatal.   Mains electricity, high voltage cables, batteries, static and even lightning can be found or occur in the workplace.

A government report by the Health and Safety Executive shows that the most common injuries and deaths come from direct contact with an electrical charge and can be a direct result of many reasons, including:

  • Badly maintained equipment, especially portable electrical equipment
  • Items or machines coming into contact with overhead power lines
  • The use of unsuitable electrical equipment in wet areas or areas where there is the risk of explosion
  • Coming into contact with underground power lines, while using hand tools or machinery
  • Working with live mains power
  • When a body part comes into contact with or close to a live source of electricity, the body becomes the link from live to earth and the electricity transfers through the body to the earth.

The body will convulse as the electricity passes through the muscles. A current as little as 10 milliamps will cause muscle contraction which can cause the hands, for example, to close around the source of the electricity so that the person cannot release it.  The amount of damage or injury caused will depend on the size of the current passing through the body and the length of time that the person was in contact with the current. Also, the path of the electricity made through the body will affect what injury occurs.

A current of as little of 60mA can be fatal if the conditions are wet because this reduces the bodies resistance and can affect the heart's electrical activity causing a cardiac arrest.   Burns are also a problem as the electricity enters the body but also as it exits the body. These burns can be very severe. As the electricity penetrates deep into the body these burns can be very painful and slow to heal.  Electricity can also cause sparks and this can result in fire or explosion

The first aid treatment will be to ensure the scene is safe as you do not want to be injured yourself. The patient may be "live" if they are still in contact with the supply, or you may come into contact with what hurt them.   If in any doubt, touch them with the back of your hand so when your muscles contract you do not grip the live item.  Firstly check if they are breathing. You may establish this by talking to them as you approach.  If they are not breathing, you will need to deliver CPR. If they are breathing but unconscious, you place them in the recovery position and look for other injuries.   

If no urgent first aid procedures are required, then you need to assess for injuries and you may then treat for burns.  Patients can be burnt by touching hot metal which has been heated by the electricity even if they have not been electrocuted.  Other injuries can be caused by falling or being thrown back, or by flying objects, sharp exposed wires or melted dripping plastic. Finally, children can be in danger of electrical injuries from sockets, playing with electrical equipment or through damaging equipment or wires.  Care and precautions should be taken anywhere children and electricity could come into contact with each other.