Last month there was another construction injury at the site of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium. Just days after a crane collapsed at the site, an electrician died from electrocution while performing tests on the new stadium’s wiring. While fans may be quick to blame the Jessica Simpson-Tony Romo jinx, they’ll be surprised to find that construction site electrocutions are not out of the ordinary. One shocking statistic is that deaths from contact with electricity are the fourth leading cause of fatal injuries relating to construction sites. As evidenced by NIOSH’s case reports, electric shock can happen in a variety of different scenarios. In California, a construction worker was electrocuted after tripping and encountering an energized crane while carrying wire rope. Elsewhere in Iowa, another worker was electrocuted when a boom forklift contacted power lines. Although he was standing on the ground, the electric current passed through a series of steel cables and hydraulic lines to reach him. These victims were among the 121 averaged electrocution deaths per year between 2003-2005.
According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, some occupations are more susceptible to electric shock injury. Deaths resulting from electrocution are highest amongst electrical power installers and earth drillers. Looking specifically at construction occupations, the highest numbers of deaths are found with electricians, construction laborers, supervisors/managers, and electrical power installers and repairers.
The causes of construction electrocutions can also vary according to occupation. The major difference is between electrical workers and non-electrical workers. Electrical workers are most likely to be injured by contact with live equipment and wiring. This means the equipment was energized and the injury resulted from a failure to de-energize electrical circuits and equipment. However, nonelectrical workers are mostly injured by coming in contact with overhead power lines. The contact may be direct contact with the overhead power lines or it may be by indirect contact through other equipment or mediums.
Even though death is the severest consequence of electrocution, there are less fatal injuries that may occur. Electrical injuries can include shock, electrical burns, heat burns, arc blast effects, and falls (resulting from being shocked). Whether the injury is severe or mild, construction sites should always practice electrical safety to protect employees from this occupational hazard. Since overhead power lines pose the greatest threat to construction workers, we will briefly discuss relative safety tips. If overhead power lines are the source of danger, try to avoid or limit proximity to the power lines as much as possible, or otherwise maintain a safe working distance. Should the power lines be energized, first notify the local electric utility company for assistance. If the lines are energized, do not use a metal ladder. Also, do not store equipment or materials below or near overhead power lines. Finally, always LOOK UP! Plenty of accidents occur when no one is looking to make sure the overhead power lines do not get bumped.
For more safety tips regarding other electrocution hazards, please visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s website on “Electrical Safety.”