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Electrocution in the workplace is one of the most common forms of industrial injury, but it can be avoided in most cases by taking simple steps to ensure safe practise is used. It is your responsibility and the responsibility of your employer to make sure electricity is used safely.

What is electrocution?

Electrocution is when electricity is passed through the human body causing an adverse reaction. Contact with electricity can cause injuries ranging from a small ‘shock’ right up to death. When electricity passes through the human body it interrupts nerve signals between the brain and the area in touch with the electricity, causing the body to react according to the amount of electric current. This can range from a small ‘shock’ from a small amount of current, up to a muscle spasm – which can be relatively small, but can in some cases be strong enough to break bones or cause bones to pop out of their joint. Electric shocks can also cause burns; from a small contact burn, to serious burning of the skin and internal organs. Electrocution can also cause the heart to change its rhythm, in some cases leading to death.

Who’s most at risk?

Anyone who comes into contact with any electrical appliance can be at risk of electrocution. Naturally, people who work with high-voltage equipment are more at risk of severe injury if they come into contact with it, but anyone who uses any electrical product can be at risk if the appliance is not properly maintained, if additional factors are added (ie water – which is a very strong conductor of electricity), or if appliances are not used in the proper manner.

What should my employer do to keep me safe?

Everyone has the right to work in a safe environment, and the Government have produced guidelines to define the rights of employees to work in premises where employers have implemented an electrical health and safety policy. These include the Health and Safety at Work regulations (1999), the Personal Protective Equipment at Work regulations (1992) and the Electricity at Work regulations (1998). All of the above involve the employers carrying out risk assessments to identify any areas or procedures that may involve danger to their employees, and implementing procedures and using equipment to minimise the risk of injury.

What to do if a colleague has been electrocuted.

If you find that a colleague has suffered from an electric shock, firstly make sure that they are no longer in contact with the source of the shock, otherwise you too could be electrocuted while trying to help them. If they are still in contact, try to separate them using a non-conductive item such as a broom handle. Ideally have someone nearby isolate the electricity supply. Once the victim is separated from the supply, check that they are breathing and if needs be perform resuscitation. If they are breathing but not conscious, put them into the recovery position and call 999 – electric shocks can be very serious and it is worth being checked over by a medical professional.