As a law firm that has built a reputation protecting the rights of construction, trade, and utility workers following preventable injuries and work-related accidents, The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is proud to support National Electrical Safety Month!
During May, we take an opportunity to recognize how we’ve all come to rely on electricity for our daily needs – and how we depend on electricians, skilled tradespeople and workers to ensure electrical systems remain safe and operational.
While workers do a great job of bringing power to our homes, businesses, and communities, they face tremendous risks when doing so. As we’ve seen personally at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., electrical injuries can have profound repercussions on victims’ lives.
Electrical Risks Posed to Workers
Given the potential for grave injuries, a healthy respect for electricity is essential. From apprentices to journeymen, and from tradespeople of all types to the most experienced utility workers and high-voltage linemen, electricity does not discriminate.
While every project is different, any place with electrical power poses risks. Some of these include:
1. Electric Shock
Electric shock injuries involve electrical current passing through the body, which can harm muscle, nerves, tissues, and organs. The severity of the damage depends on many factors, including:
- Current Type: Alternating current (AC) is more dangerous than direct current (DC), as it may cause continuous muscle contraction, preventing victims from releasing themselves from an electrical source and resulting in more prolonged exposure).
- Current Intensity: Standard current used in most U.S. homes, 110 to 220 volts, has less potential for severe injuries in and of itself than high voltage, anything over 300 to 500 volts.
- Current Path: Electrical current travels through the body during an electrical shock, and the path it takes can influence the severity of the injury a person may experience. Current that travels from the fingers to the hand, arm, and body may injure the body’s heart and cardiovascular system, whereas current that travels from the head can cause brain injury or damage to the eyes.
- Resistance: The lower the resistance, the more severe the injury. Gloved or calloused hands are more resistant than soft, wet, cut or broken skin.
- Exposure Duration: The longer the period of exposure, the higher the risks for severe injuries (which is in part why AC is more dangerous than DC).
2. Electrical Burns
While electricity can cause injuries that we may not be able to see, it can also cause severe burn injuries, including:
- Flash burns, which are typically caused by an arc flash and cause superficial injuries, as no current travels through the body;
- Flame burns, which occur when arc flashes ignite or cause fires;
- Low-voltage burns, caused by contact with power sources of 500 volts or less, and which typically affect the body only at the site of contact;
- High-voltage burns from direct contact with high voltage supply, which can cause severe damage beneath the skin and throughout the body.
Electrocution is a term used to describe fatal electrocution; it always means death.
As one of OSHA’s “Fatal Four” workplace hazards, electrocution is a common fatal work injury and is a significant risk in certain occupations, including those related to construction and electrical work. Roughly half of all fatal electrical injuries occur in the construction industry.
4. Other Electrical Safety Risks
There are many cases in which the electrical injury itself is not the primary cause of a severe injury or death. There are many other risks that can lead to further injury following electrical accidents, including:
- Falls from heights, scaffolding, and ladders;
- Falls on flat surfaces, especially with the loss of muscle control or unconsciousness;
- Falling objects, injuries which result from workers who were shocked and dropped tools or heavy, bulky items;
- Fires and explosions
- Faulty machinery or defective products
- COVID-19 contraction if electrical supplies, equipment, or worksites are not properly or regularly cleaned or disinfected.
Best Practices & Tips to Avoid Injuries on the Job
With many electricians, tradespeople, and construction workers still working essential jobs, and many more to join them when New York’s ban on non-essential construction is lifted, it’s important for all trades to take precautions and employ best practices for avoiding injuries on the job, including electrical injuries and occupational diseases like COVID-19.
1. Electrical Safety
Both employers and workers should take steps to ensure they’re taking precautions to keep themselves and others on worksites safe and to comply with regulations concerning potential electrical hazards (NY Code § 23-1.13) and other New York codes for construction worker safety. Some helpful tips:
- Walk sites to identify any potential hazards and determine voltage levels;
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers and issue warnings of electric power circuits, line, and hazards;
- Guarding of open switches or circuit-interrupting devices;
- Enforce proper lockout / tagout procedures;
- Inspect tools and equipment, including extension cords and portable cord-and-plug equipment, to ensure they do not pose hazards;
- Use the appropriate fuses, cords, and equipment for the circumstances (i.e., rated for the level of amperage or wattage);
- Ensure electrical work is performed by qualified electricians, and that workers know when to stop if they are not trained or familiar with projects or tasks;
- Always test circuits before you touch. Thousands of workers are injured each year by circuits they believed were safely turned off, and routinely inspect testing devices;
- Always look up to identify any potential electrical hazards such as overhead power lines and know what is below before performing any excavation or digging project.
- Establish and ensure everyone on a worksite knows proper emergency protocol if an electrical issue or injury occurs.
As electrical injuries are a significant cause of falls, all workers should also employ best practices for fall prevention. Examples include:
- Ensuring compliance with relevant height-related Labor Law, including Labor Law Section 240;
- Inspecting scaffolding and ladders prior to use, and not using the top rung of ladders;
- Installation of safety nets, personal fall-arrest systems, and proper harnesses;
- Using proper guardrails, toe-boards, and other equipment to prevent falls into dangerous areas;
- Using appropriate PPE and regularly inspecting them for potential damage;
- Planning ahead to determine what tasks should be performed, and what safety equipment and procedures will be needed to do them safely
- Training and educating all workers about fall prevention;
During these unprecedented times, skilled laborers, electricians and construction workers may find themselves in contact with numerous people, especially when working in densely populated cities like New York.
In addition to protecting against all the other hazards which exist on job sites, workers and employers should also take steps to comply with current guidance regarding COVID-19 and keep themselves and those around them safe. A few tips to be mindful of:
- Stay up to date with current guidelines from OSHA, the CDC, and local regulators;
- Practice good hygiene, including frequent handwashing;
- Keep your face and mouth covered (the CDC recommends every individual should wear face coverings, especially in areas where social distancing may be hard to maintain);
- Avoid touching the nose, mouth, and face, and cover coughs and sneezes with tissue;
- Avoid close contact, avoid shaking hands, and comply with social distancing directives;
- Disinfect all contact surfaces before working, regularly throughout the workday, and at the end of each day (i.e., equipment, tools, tables, doorknobs, etc.);
- Do not share PPE, if possible, especially PPE that comes into contact with the mouth or nose, and properly disinfect PPE regularly.
What to Do After a Work Accident
- Call 911 or local emergency services, alert supervisors and others on-site;
- Turn off the source of electricity, or move the source away from you and the person using non-conducting objects (i.e., wood, plastic, cardboard);
- If a person is still in contact with electrical current, do not touch them, and do not move them unless they are in immediate danger. If the accident involves high voltage lines or wiring, keep your distance;
- Seek immediate medical attention and continue to follow up with doctors and specialists;
- Gather information, witnesses, and documentation (i.e., medical records, photos, etc.) if you intend to file a claim.
- Explore your rights to a personal injury or workers’ compensation claim by speaking with an experienced attorney.
Proven Attorneys Available to Help
At The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., our legal team is available to help workers and families looking to explore their options for paying medical bills and recovering needed compensation following work-related accidents, including those involving electrical and construction-related injuries.
Though much remains uncertain about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation in New York, our legal team is staying apprised of the latest changes and is on the forefront of this issue. You can learn more about worker safety and benefits amid COVID-19 on our blog.
While complying with social distancing directives, our team remains available to new and potential clients remotely. You can still request a free and confidential consultation with an attorney via phone, e-mail, or video conference. Call or contact us online.