Electrocution is an electrical injury that results in death. The severity of a shock largely depends on the amount of current. Small currents (70 mA - 700 mA) can cause potentially lethal fibrillation in the heart, which can be reversed using a defibrillator if help arrives in time. Larger currents (> 1A) will lead to permanent burns and/or cellular damage. Other factors that determine severity include the amount of voltage, the pathway of electricity through the body, the duration of contact with the current, skin resistance, the type of circuit, and the type of current (AC or DC).
There are several common reasons electrocutions occur, which vary by environment.
At Work: Utility workers face the greatest risk of electric shock, but electrocution can occur in any workplace. Common causes include unsafe working conditions and malfunctioning or defective machinery. Also, contact between cranes or handheld tools and powerlines are a common construction hazard.
At Home: Electrocutions at home commonly occur as a result of malfunctioning appliances, power tools, or medical devices. Faulty installations or repairs can also lead to electrocutions, as well as, defective children's products.
Outside: Electrocutions can occur anywhere. Outside of the home, downed or exposed power lines create major fatal shock hazards. Also, faulty swimming pool pumps or lights pose an especially dangerous risk of harm.
Common causes of electrocution include:
• Accidental contact with exposed electrical sources.
• Contact with a powerline or electrical arc flash.
• Faulty electrical wiring.
• Contact with metal or other conductive material exposed to electrical current. For instance, a metal ladder which comes into contact with an exposed wire.
• Lightning from thunderstorms.
• Accidental contact with a downed power line.
• Shock from faulty electrical products such as hair dryers and toasters.
Common injuries related to electrical shock include:
• Severe burns
• Cardiac arrest
• Brain and other nerve damage
• Memory loss
• Numbness or tingling
• Permanent heart damage
• Hearing loss
• Respiratory failure
• Spine injury
• Deformity at point of contact
• Loss of kidney function
• Cardiac arrest
• Secondary injuries from electric shock induced falls
Victims of electric shock should seek and receive medical attention as soon as possible. Treatment for electric shock injuries vary depending on the injury. Minor burns can be treated with topical antibiotic ointment and dressings. More severe burns may require surgery or even skin grafting. Surgery may be required to remove damaged muscle for severe burns on the hands, legs, or arms. Any internal injuries will require observation, likely followed by surgery. Sometimes amputations of appendages or limbs become necessary to save lives.