Electrical injuries

Electrical injuries can be caused by a wide range of voltages but the risk of injury is generally greater with higher voltages and is dependent upon individual circumstances. Torch batteries can ignite flammable substances.

Alternating current (AC) and Direct Current (DC) electrical supplies can cause a range of injuries including:

There are posters that give first aid procedures for Electric Shock and Emergency action, including for burns.

More detailed technical information on electrical injury is given in the standard IEC 60479 "Guide to the effects of current on human beings and livestock - Part 1: General aspects".

Electric shock

A voltage as low as 50 volts applied between two parts of the human body causes a current to flow that can block the electrical signals between the brain and the muscles. This may have a number of effects including:

  • Stopping the heart beating properly
  • Preventing the person from breathing
  • Causing muscle spasms

The exact effect is dependent upon a large number of things including the size of the voltage, which parts of the body are involved, how damp the person is, and the length of time the current flows.

Electric shocks from static electricity such as those experienced when getting out of a car or walking across a man-made carpet can be at more than 10,000 volts, but the current flows for such a short time that there is no dangerous effect on a person. However, static electricity can cause a fire or explosion where there is an explosive atmosphere (such as in a paint spray booth).

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Electrical burns

When an electrical current passes through the human body it heats the tissue along the length of the current flow. This can result in deep burns that often require major surgery and are permanently disabling. Burns are more common with higher voltages but may occur from domestic electricity supplies if the current flows for more than a few fractions of a second.

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Loss of muscle control

People who receive an electric shock often get painful muscle spasms that can be strong enough to break bones or dislocate joints. This loss of muscle control often means the person cannot 'let go' or escape the electric shock. The person may fall if they are working at height or be thrown into nearby machinery and structures.

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Thermal burns

Overloaded, faulty, incorrectly maintained, or shorted electrical equipment can get very hot, and some electrical equipment gets hot in normal operation. Even low voltage batteries (such as those in motor vehicles) can get hot and may explode if they are shorted out.

People can receive thermal burns if they get too near hot surfaces or if they are near an electrical explosion. Other injuries may result if the person pulls quickly away from hot surfaces whilst working at height or if they then accidentally touch nearby machinery.

A single low voltage torch battery can generate a spark powerful enough to cause a fire or explosion in an explosive atmosphere such as in a paint spray booth, near fuel tanks, in sumps, or many places where aerosols, vapours, mists, gases, or dusts exist.

A lot of Information on electrical safety is available from HSE.

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Updated 2024-07-09