What Types of Electrical Injuries Occur on Construction Sites?
February 18, 2021
Every year, nearly 1,000 people in the United States suffer fatal injuries due to electrical injuries. In adults, electrical injuries mostly occur at work. Electrical injuries are the third leading cause of fatalities among construction workers. The types of construction accidents involving electrical injuries include the following:
- Flash burns caused by an arc flash
- Burns from flames that arise when an arc flash ignites a worker’s clothing
- Damage to the heart, central nervous system, and/or other internal organs caused by contact with high voltage
- Injuries due to falls when an electric shock knocks a worker off balance
Electrical injuries on construction sites are preventable. When not fatal, the damage caused by electrical injuries can result in severe damage. Construction workers who suffer electrical injuries may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation for medical expenses and loss of income. If the accident was caused by negligence on the part of someone other than the employer, the worker may also file a third-party personal injury claim to recover additional damages. Victims of these accidents are encouraged to contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer for assistance.
Which Construction Site Hazards Put Workers at Risk for Electrical Injury?
Construction sites often harbor many hazards that put workers at risk for electrical injury, including the following:
- Overhead power lines
- Buried power lines
- Improperly grounded power tools
- Moving trucks and other heavy equipment
- Gas-powered combustion engines
- Working at heights
- Bad weather
- Defective equipment
- Exposed wiring and unfinished electrical systems
- Unsafe premises wiring
Fatalities and serious injury because of electrocution most often occur when construction workers or their equipment comes in contact with high-voltage power lines. Contact with overhead power lines in particular cause more fatal electrocutions on construction sites than any other hazard, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Coming in contact with equipment that was not de-energized is the second leading cause of electrocution fatalities.
Workers may also suffer severe burns if sparks from electrical equipment ignite gas fumes emitted by generators or other combustion engines. Less serious burns may result from getting shocked by power tools that are not properly grounded. However, even a small shock can knock a worker off balance, which can result in serious injuries if the worker falls off a roof, scaffold, or ladder. Workers who get shocked while driving or using tools may also get hurt if they lose control of their vehicle or equipment.
What are the Most Common Types of Electrical Injuries on Construction Sites?
Burns are the most common type of electrical injury on construction sites, according to OSHA. Other types of common electrical injuries include respiratory arrest, heart attack, muscle spasms, and damage to the central nervous system and other internal organs. Electrical burns, in particular, often cause lasting harm that may not be immediately apparent. Examples of long-term or permanent damage requiring ongoing treatment include the following:
- Scarring and disfigurement from burns. Hands, head, and feet are the most common contact points for arc burns. Victims may require reconstructive surgery and ongoing physical therapy.
- Electrical burns may cause tissue damage that is susceptible to infection, potentially leading to the need to amputate limbs.
- Psychological trauma. Patients who have suffered serious burns often endure months of painful treatment, which can trigger anxiety and depression.
- Impaired hearing or lung damage. Explosions from electrical arcs can create pressure waves capable of damaging the inner ear or causing lungs to collapse.
- Damage to muscles and ligaments. Electrical shock causes involuntary muscle contractions, which may result in permanent damage.
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is one type of muscular disorder that can develop as a result of electric shock. Also known as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), RSD occurs when blood vessels contract at an injury site but fail to reopen, causing ongoing feelings of pain and extreme coldness.
In one case handled by Galfand Berger LLP, a journeyman plumber suffered RSD after getting shocked at a job site. The plumber was on a ladder when the incident occurred and fell to the ground when a jolt of electricity from a copper sanitation pipe entered his right hand. After the accident, he was no longer able to work as a journeyman plumber. The plumber applied for Workers’ Compensation; however, on investigating the accident, Galfand Berger LLP filed a third-party claim against the owner of the building premises, who was found to have allowed a dangerous electrical condition to exist. The case settled for more than $500,000 in the plumber’s favor, including a complete waiver of an $83,000 Workers’ Compensation lien.
How can I Prevent Electrical Injuries on Construction Sites?
Employers and employees can prevent electrical injuries on construction sites by doing the following:
- De-energize high-voltage lines or post barricades
- Ensure that low-voltage electrical systems are grounded
- Operate electric power tools away from combustion engines or other areas where there may be dust or flammable gas or liquids.
- Inspect power cords to ensure they are not frayed or worn.
- Provide and learn adequate lockout/tagout systems
Employees must take special precautions regarding power lines, which can act like a magnet and move toward metal objects nearby. Equipment such as cranes, front loaders, and backhoes should never be operated near power lines; neither should workers use metal ladders or scaffolds within 10 feet of power lines. OSHA also requires the use of ground fault circuit (GFC) interrupters at construction sites. Workers must be trained in proper use of lockout/tagout procedures to make sure equipment is de-energized when it is undergoing maintenance and not in use. However, this is not always practiced on construction sites, as lockout/tagout regulations are among the most frequently cited OSHA violations.
What Other Parties May Be Held Liable for Electrical Injuries?
Workers’ Compensation is designed to shield employers from liability for work-related injuries. However, in some instances, other parties may be held liable for electrical injuries, including contractors, subcontractors, building premises owners, and manufacturers or dealers of defective equipment. If power tools or equipment lack adequate insulation or safety features, manufacturers or dealers may be held accountable for accidents that happen to workers using those tools or equipment.
In one of the largest pre-trial settlements involving a wrongful death in Pennsylvania, Galfand Berger LLP was able to demonstrate that defective equipment caused an electrician’s death. The electrician was employed by a contractor who had been hired to install electrical switchgear in a newly constructed building. The equipment had been supplied by one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electrical switches. After performing the appropriate lockout/tagout procedures on the switchgear, the electrician was fatally electrocuted when his hand came in contact with the gear’s metal cabinet.
Galfand Berger LLP was able to prove that the switchboard was improperly manufactured. Furthermore, their investigation also revealed that the switchboard equipment was not what the property owner ordered. Therefore, it was unsafe for its intended use. Because the property owner had not reviewed the shipping documents before the equipment was installed, both the property owner and the equipment manufacturer were held liable for damages, which were paid to the electrician’s widow and two children.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Advocate on Behalf of Construction Workers Injured in Electrical Accidents
The Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have developed a deep understanding of Workers’ Compensation law and the ability to recognize situations in which workers have the right to file a third-party claim. If you or someone you know suffered electrical injuries at work, contact us today. We will answer your questions and help you chart a sound course of action. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.