Every year hundreds of workers lose their lives from electrocution caused by overhead and underground power lines at a worksite, particularly construction jobsites. Thousands more workers suffer serious injuries that disable them from ever being able to return to work again.
When a worker suffers an electrical shock or electrocution, their life and that of their family can forever changes. Depending on the extent and severity of injuries, they may face a lengthy rehabilitation and recovery period, including surgeries, physical and occupational therapy, and counseling—and that is just to help with the physical toll.
An electrocuted or electrically shocked worker may suffer cognitive impairments and may also face psychological and financial burdens. They can quickly become depressed, have diminished mental functioning or suffer from PTSD. Financially they may suffer a financial hardship as their insurance or Workers’ Compensation runs out or does not cover needed care. Sometimes, an injured worker can never work again, so there may be a permanent loss of income as well.
Although employers are responsible for providing a safe working atmosphere certain job site conditions that they have no control over may impede that responsibility from being met. All too often, employees are injured because of the actions or inactions of third-party companies or businesses, property conditions or products they use and operate that are a contributing cause of their electrical injuries.
If your injury work related, you may be entitled not only to Workers’ Compensation benefits but may also be able to file a third-party claim against a person or company who is not your employer. These third parties could include a general contractor or sub-contractor, the manufacturer of defective or unsafe construction equipment, or any other entity contributing to the injury because of misconduct or negligence.
It is in your best interest to contact a Philadelphia construction accident lawyer. They can help determine if you are eligible for compensation for your losses. Most lawyers offer free consultations, so it cannot hurt to consult with one.
Electricity powers communities through a three-part system:
Overhead distribution lines cause the majority of workplace electrocutions, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
Trades that record-high numbers of power line accidents include:
Overhead power lines are not insulated and can carry tens of thousands of volts, making them extremely dangerous to employees who work in their vicinity. The OSHA reports that the leading causes of accidental power line contacts involve the following.
Heavy equipment contact with power lines causes approximately 50 percent of all injuries and deaths on construction worksites, including:
Additionally, items carried, such as long pieces of building materials or work tools, can also hit power lines and cause electrocution.
Workers who need to dig into the earth must know precisely where power lines are buried. While the risk of electrocution from buried lines is relatively low, it still exists.
A typical construction site problem is insufficient storage space. This often makes the areas under power lines tempting locations for staging and laydown operations. Unfortunately, these locations pose the most significant risk of electrical injuries.
There are many types of injuries that result from power line contact.
Electrocution causes internal burns. If your body touches a power source, the electricity will attempt to travel through your body, seeking ground or another power source. The path taken by the current heats up and burns internal body tissue. Electricity then leaves the body violently, often leaving an exit wound. Electrocution often is fatal.
Workers can also suffer severe burns if sparks from electrical equipment ignite gas fumes emitted by generators or other combustion engines. Less severe burns can result from getting shocked by power tools that are not adequately grounded.
Arc flash burns can happen on worksites and cause severe injury and death. An arc flash is a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another or the ground, burning employees along the way.
Electrical burns can damage many layers of skin and tissue. They may require extensive and painful treatment, including require removal of dead tissue and skin grafts. In some cases, amputation is required.
Falling is also a byproduct of electrical shock. Even a small shock can knock a worker off balance, leading to 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.
Hands, head, and feet are the most common contact points for arc burns. Workers may require reconstructive surgery and ongoing physical therapy and may suffer from permanent disfigurement.
Electrical shock causes involuntary muscle spasms, which can result in permanent damage. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is one type of muscular disorder that can develop due to 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 persistent feelings of pain and extreme coldness.
Patients who have suffered severe burns may endure months of painful treatment, often triggering anxiety and depression.
Explosions from electrical arcs can create pressure waves that damage the inner ear. Partial or total hearing loss can result.
An electrical current can burn and damage internal organs, especially the heart, central nervous system, and internal organs. Electrocution can also cause a lung to collapse.
After electrocution, the person can suffer seizures, shock, and permanent cognitive impairment.
Construction sites often harbor many other hazards that put workers at risk for electrical injury, including the following:
An employer, contractor, subcontractor, and other parties must ensure that workers are safe from power line contact at work. Employees too should always check for and use safety measures when working near power lines.
The following are recommended actions to take at the jobsite to help prevent serious injury or death from power lines and other electrical hazards:
Contractors, supervisors, and other authorities may not always know the dangers of working near power lines. All staff should be trained on electrical hazards and these myths:
Reality: Overhead power lines carry voltages ranging from 120 to 750,000 volts, which is way more than needed to cause shock and electrocution.
Reality: Overhead power lines are not generally insulated. Any covering you see is usually there for weather protection, not insulation. If you touch a power line, covered or bare, you could die.
Reality: Electricity can arc over to an object. Brushing up against a line with a conductive object or having it within inches of the line and then backing it away can draw an arc out to several feet before it is extinguished. A body does not require sustained contact with a current source to suffer an injury.
Workers’ Compensation is designed to shield employers from liability for work-related injuries. Therefore, it is unlikely that workers can sue their employer except if they violated safety regulations and knowingly exposed you to danger.
Other parties may be held liable for electrical or power line injuries in some instances:
Consult with a lawyer on your case. They can determine the real cause of your injuries.
Always undergo a complete medical evaluation as soon as possible and follow all treatment recommendations. Also, report the electrocution to your employer to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits. Notification can also protect your coworkers, who might get electrocuted if your employer does not eliminate a safety hazard.
If you are trying to help someone who has been electrocuted, your priority should be to avoid getting electrocuted yourself. For that reason, do not rush up to the person since the electrical current could still be flowing through them. The best thing to do is call emergency services to come out to the construction site.
One of our Philadelphia construction accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP can speak with if you have been injured in a power line accident. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. With offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.