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  • Power Line Injuries

    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.

    Understanding Electrical Systems

    Electricity powers communities through a three-part system:

    • High-power transmission lines that run from generating stations to substations.
    • Distribution lines that run through most neighborhoods and jobsites.
    • Service drops that run from poles to utility customers.

    Overhead distribution lines cause the majority of workplace electrocutions, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

    • Over 90 percent of power line contacts involved overhead distribution lines.
    • Service drops and high-power transmission lines accounted for seven percent.
    • Approximately two percent involved buried cables.
    • Younger workers between 20 and 35 years old suffered more than half of all the deaths and serious injuries reported.

    Trades that record-high numbers of power line accidents include:

    • Construction workers of all types.
    • Roofing, siding, and sheet metal contractors.
    • Tree-trimming contractors.
    • Water, sewer, pipeline, and communication contractors.
    • Painting contractors.
    • Linemen
    • Electricians

    causes power line injuriesWhat Are Common Causes of Power Line Injuries?

    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

    Heavy equipment contact with power lines causes approximately 50 percent of all injuries and deaths on construction worksites, including:

    • Cranes: When contact occurs, the crane almost always hits the overhead line with its boom or load line. The resulting injury depends on whether the crane was a mobile crane or boom truck. When a mobile crane is involved, the rigger or ground worker is most frequently injured. When a boom truck is involved, it is most frequently the operator. Equipment design is the reason for the difference. Boom trucks must be insulated
    • Other high-reach equipment: When operated near overhead power lines, drilling rigs, aerial lifts, forklifts, front-end loaders, backhoes, dump trucks, and concrete pumps present similar hazards. Raising and lowering the equipment and adjusting positions while portions of the equipment were aloft accounted for most injuries.
    • Ladders, scaffolding, and other work tools: Ladders and other tools used on the worksite have been shown to cause more than 30 percent of electrocutions. The most common ladder involved in power line electrocutions is the metal extension ladder. When ladder contacts occur, it is usually during raising, lowering, or repositioning the ladder while extended. Scaffolding is also an electrocution hazard. Both built-up and suspended scaffolding can be placed too close to live power lines. Sometimes, it is the position of the workers on ladders and scaffolding that causes the electrocution hazards.

    Additionally, items carried, such as long pieces of building materials or work tools, can also hit power lines and cause electrocution.

    Buried Power Lines

    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.

    Material Handling and Storage

    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.

    What Are Typical Injuries That Are Caused by Power Lines?

    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.

    Broken Bones

    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.

    Scarring and Disfigurement

    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.

    Muscle and Ligament Damage

    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.

    Psychological Trauma

    Patients who have suffered severe burns may endure months of painful treatment, often triggering anxiety and depression.

    Hearing Damage

    Explosions from electrical arcs can create pressure waves that damage the inner ear. Partial or total hearing loss can result.

    Internal Damage

    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.

    Brain Damage

    After electrocution, the person can suffer seizures, shock, and permanent cognitive impairment.

    What Are Other Electrical Hazards at a Construction Jobsite?

    Construction sites often harbor many other hazards that put workers at risk for electrical injury, including the following:

    • Improperly grounded power tools.
    • Contact with equipment that was not de-energized.
    • Gas-powered combustion engines that can spark.
    • Working at heights close to electrical lines.
    • Bad weather that can cause electrical shock.
    • Defective equipment.
    • Worn or broken equipment.
    • Exposed wiring and unfinished electrical systems.
    • Unsafe premises wiring.
    • Lack of ground-fault protection.
    • Path to ground missing or discontinuous.
    • Equipment not used in the prescribed manner.
    • Improper use of extension or flexible cords.
    • Worn extension cords.

    How Do I Avoid Power Line Hazards at Work?

    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:

    • Look for overhead power lines and buried power line indicators. Post warning signs.
    • Contact utilities for buried power line locations; do not dig until marked.
    • Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines, and do not use metal ladders or scaffolding within 10 feet of power lines.
    • Unless you know otherwise, assume that overhead lines are energized.
    • Have the utility company de-energize, move, guard, or insulate lines.
    • Use non-conductive wood or fiberglass ladders when working near power lines.
    • Post barricades around lines that cannot be de-energized.
    • Ensure that even 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.
    • Never operate heavy equipment or lift equipment near power lines.
    • Always have appropriate signage, flags, barriers, and markings near live overhead or underground electrical lines.
    • Follow all OSHA guidelines and state and local laws when working near power lines.
    • Train workers, and make sure contractors and subcontractors are also trained in power line safety.

    What Else Should I Know About Power Lines?

    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:

    • Myth #1: Overhead power lines are not powerful enough to hurt you.

    Reality: Overhead power lines carry voltages ranging from 120 to 750,000 volts, which is way more than needed to cause shock and electrocution.

    • Myth #2: Overhead power lines are insulated.

    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.

    • Myth #3: You must have direct contact with a power line to be injured.

    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.

    power line myths

    Can I Sue My Employer or Someone Else for a Power Line 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:

    • Contractors.
    • Subcontractors.
    • Electricians.
    • Building owner.
    • Power/utility company.
    • Manufacturers or dealers of defective equipment.
    • Manufacturers of defective safety equipment.
    • Wiring and switch manufacturers.

    Consult with a lawyer on your case. They can determine the real cause of your injuries.

    What Should I Do After an Electrical Injury?

    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.

    Philadelphia Construction Accident Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Can Give You Legal Advice if a Power Line Caused Your Injury

    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.