Electrocution or Shock Accidents
About 400 people a year die in the U.S. due to exposure to high voltage. Electrocution and electrical shock are, unfortunately, all too common on construction sites, and on other work sites as well. This is because there are a lot of metal machines, equipment and materials around, and also many sources of electrical power. When metal equipment, machinery or materials come close to, or into contact with, power lines, electrical wires, or other power sources, including lighting, a construction worker can become the victim of electrocution or electrical shock.
When electricity flows through a worker’s body, he becomes a conduit of the electricity, and receives dangerous and damaging levels of electrical current. At high voltage, the resulting injuries can include severe burns (internal or external), brain damage, spinal cord injuries, muscle damage, paralysis, heart attacks, and death. If there is significant muscle damage, a limb may swell up, causing the arteries to compress (called “compartment syndrome”), which in turn prevents blood from getting to the limb. Electrical currents that pass near the eyes may cause cataracts or other eye ailments. Cataracts often take days, or even years, to develop. If many muscles are damaged (a condition called rhabdomyolysis), kidney-damaging chemical, myoglobin, is released into the blood.
Severe shocks can also provoke fatal heart arrhythmia and muscle contractions so overpowering that they throw the person to the ground, cause joints to dislocate, and bones to fracture. Brain and nerve injuries from such shocks can lead to seizures, brain bleads, loss of short-term memory, irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and personality changes.
Electrical shock can also cause a worker working on a scaffold or a ladder to fall, which may give the worker a right to sue under New York Labor Law section 240, a special statute designed to protect construction workers from falls from scaffolds, ladders, roofs or other heights.
A worker who has received a high voltage electrical current will, in most cases, never be the same man or woman. Electrical current interferes with the function of internal organs and burns tissue. Often the main visible symptom is a skin burn, but the more serious injuries, described above, are often internal. The severity of the injury will often hinge on several factors, listed below:
Intensity of the Current: The current’s intensity is measured in volts and amperes. For example, household current in the United States is between 110 to 220 volts. Any voltage above 500 is considered “high voltage”. High voltage can “arc” (jump) through the air a distance of between one inch and several feet, depending on the amount of voltage. Thus, a worker may be electrocuted even without touching an electrically charged cable; he need only come into near proximity of it to receive the “arc”.
Type of Current: There are two types of current, AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). DC flows in the one direction only. AC changes direction 50 to 60 times per second. AC is used in most households in the United States and Europe. It is thus more common, but also more dangerous. That’s because DC causes a single brief muscle contraction that usually forces people away from the current's source while AC causes a continuous single muscle contraction that can cause a vise-like grip on the current's source. As a result, exposure to AC is often much more prolonged than exposure to DC. Even at low levels of AC may cause the grip to lock on the source. Stronger AC can also cause chest muscles to contract, impeding breathing. High voltage AC can cause extremely dangerous abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
Pathway of the Current: The path that the electricity travels through the body often determines the tissues that will suffer the bulk of the damage. AC has a “source point” (entry point) and “ground point” (exit point) in the human body. The most common source point is the hand, and the second is the head, because that is where the electrified cable or wire usually strikes the worker. In all cases, the ground point is usually the foot. But an AC that travels from one arm to the other, or from an arm to a leg, may force the current through the heart, which is a very dangerous scenario for obvious reasons. In some cases, the current travels through the head, which may cause brain damage.
Duration of Exposure: Obviously, the longer the worker is exposed to the current, the more likely he or she is to suffer severe electrocution injuries.
The Syracuse, NY electrocution accident lawyers of Michaels & Smolak have recovered millions of dollars for clients injured in construction accidents and for other injuries to cover their medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and more. If you or a loved one has been a victim of a construction accident, contact us for a free consultation with an experienced lawyer who can inform you of your legal rights and maximize your compensation.