Electrical injuries are some of the most dangerous kinds of construction accidents. Electrocutions are one of the leading causes of death in construction, accounting for 5.3% of all fatalities in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Understanding common electrical injuries and how to prevent them is critical for keeping construction workers safe on the job.
Common Electrical Injuries
There are a variety of electrical injuries that can occur on construction sites, including burns, falls, and shocks. According to OSHA, some of the most common injuries are:
- Electric shock – An electric shock can occur when a person comes into contact with an electrically charged object. Construction workers are especially vulnerable to electric shocks, as they often work with live wires and are exposed to potential hazards such as power line strikes. Electric shock can cause burns, muscle damage, paralysis, and even death.
- Arc flash – An arc flash occurs when there is a sudden release of energy from an electrical conductor. This can happen when a conductor comes into contact with a live wire or when there is a build-up of static electricity. Arc flash can cause severe burns, blindness, and respiratory problems.
- Falls – While falls can happen due to defective equipment, like ladders or scaffolding, falls can also occur due to electrical contact. Falls can cause broken bones, spinal cord injuries, head injuries and death.
- Electrocution – Construction workers often work with heavy machinery and power tools near live electrical wires. In addition, construction sites are often full of metal pipes and other conductive materials that can easily conduct electricity. When energized electrical equipment or cables come into contact with water or other conductive materials, they can generate a deadly current.
Preventing Electric Injuries
Even though electrical injuries are preventable, they make up some of the most common workplace injuries and remain a leading cause of death among construction workers. Some standard safety measures that can help prevent these types of accidents include:
- Wearing Proper PPE
- Ground or Double Insulate Equipment
- Utilize Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)
- Use Lockout/Tagout Devices
- Watch Out For Overhead or Buried Power Lines
- Disconnect Equipment Before Repairing or Inspecting
Who Can Be Held Liable?
Different parties could potentially be held liable for a construction site electrical accident. Liability may fall on a site owner.
The site owner has a duty to ensure that the property is safe for workers, including ensuring that there are no electrical hazards. If the worksite owner knew or should have known about an electrical hazard and did not take steps to fix it or warn workers about it, then they could be held liable for any injuries that occur as a result.
General and/or Subcontractor
Another party who could potentially be held liable is the general contractor. The general contractor is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the construction project, and that includes safety. If the general contractor failed to create a safe environment or perhaps hired an unqualified subcontractor whose negligence resulted in an electrical injury, then the general contractor (and subcontractor) could be held liable for any damages sustained.
Manufacturers of any defective equipment could also be held liable. For example, if a worker suffers electric shock because of a defective power tool, then the manufacturer of that power tool could be held responsible. Manufacturers have a duty to make sure that their products are safe, and if they fail to do so, then they can be held accountable for any injuries or damages that occur as a result.