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The Third Leading Cause of Construction Worker Injuries

May 05, 2021By Niko Pothitakis

Electrical injuries are the third-leading cause of fatal construction worker injuries. Understanding the nature of these injuries can help workers avoid them on construction sites.

Types of Electrical Injuries in Construction Accidents

There are several types of electrical injuries that workers may sustain in a construction accident. These may include:

  • Injuries resulting from falls after a worker loses balance from an electric shock
  • Flash burns due to arc flash
  • Mild to severe burns caused by flames when arc flash sets clothing on fire
  • Heart damage or damage to other internal organs or the central nervous system as a result of high voltage electric shock

Certain types of workplace hazards can cause these injuries. These hazards could include buried or overhead power lines, improperly grounded power tools, and heavy equipment such as moving trucks. Additionally, inclement weather, working at elevated heights, defective equipment, exposed and unsafe wiring, unfinished electrical systems, and working with gas-powered combustion engines can cause electrical injuries.

Even if these injuries aren’t fatal, they can be serious and cause debilitating disabilities. Fortunately, these types of hazards and injuries are avoidable on construction sites with proper safety measures.

The Risk of Electrical Burns on Construction Sites

The most common type of non-fatal electrical injury that occurs on construction sites is burns, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA). These injuries are often responsible for causing long-term damage that may not be noticeable until long after the initial accident.

Some of the types of damage resulting from electrical burns are disfigurement and scarring, which typically affect the head, hands, and feet and may require both physical therapy and reconstructive surgery. Electrical burns may also cause damage to muscles and ligaments, tissue damage that’s prone to infection, impaired hearing, lung damage, and psychological distress caused by the trauma of the experience.

Another disorder that may develop as a result of electric shock is reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), which is also referred to as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This disorder entails the contraction of blood vessels at injury sites without the ability to reopen. The condition causes persistent pain and the sensation of being cold.

Preventing Electrical Injuries in the Workplace

There are certain steps that both companies and employees can take to prevent electrical injuries.

For instance, employers and employees should make sure that low-voltage electrical systems are sufficiently grounded, while de-energizing high-voltage power lines. It’s also important to regularly inspect power cords and wiring to ensure they’re in good condition. To further provide a safe environment for construction workers, employers should provide and employees should learn reliable tagout or lockout systems.

Finally, employees should avoid operating electric power tools near gas-powered combustion engines or other locations where they may be exposed to flammable or combustible substances, including gas, liquids, or dust.

Power lines are especially dangerous, functioning as magnets that are drawn toward nearby metal. As such, all front loaders, cranes, and backhoes need to be at a great enough distance from power lines to avoid contact with them.

What to Do After Suffering Electrical Injuries on a Construction Site

Without proper measures in place to create a safe environment, construction workers are often at risk of mild to severe injury from electrical shock and other hazards. However, there are certain steps that injured workers can take to recover compensation if another party’s negligence was responsible for the accident and subsequent injuries.

If construction workers sustain electrical injuries on the job, they may qualify for workers’ compensation to recover damages such as medical bills and lost wages due to time taken off from work to recover. Additionally, if a negligent party caused the accident and injuries, workers may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the liable party to recover greater compensation.

Although workers’ comp may help protect employers from liability for electrical injuries or other work-related accidents, some other parties may be deemed liable for these accidents and resulting damages. Some of the liable parties may include contractors and subcontractors, manufacturers of defective construction equipment, or the owners of the building undergoing construction. For example, certain equipment may be found to have caused electrical shock due to defective design and safety features, in which case the manufacturer of this equipment could be required to cover the damages if the equipment causes injuries.

Employers and employees should try to maintain a safe work environment on construction sites, where hazards are often present more frequently than in other workplaces. If electrical injuries occur, employees may be able to recover compensation through workers’ comp or personal injury claims.