Electrocution: A Serious Threat For New York Construction Workers

The day Benjamin Franklin first launched his kite into a stormy June sky, the awesome power of electricity began working its way into the very fabric of American life. Today, power lines crisscross the countryside and cities are ablaze with constant electric glow; electricity has lost much of its mysterious allure as our understanding of its scientific properties has expanded. But, the raw power of electricity remains undiminished, as deadly as it was when Franklin first looked upward into a lightning-streaked sky.

For the workers who weave technological capabilities into our homes, offices and all other buildings, the threat of electrocution is an ever-present danger. Electrical injuries plague the construction industry, with dozens of workers falling victim to "hot" wires every year.

What Types Of Injuries Can Result From Exposure To Electrical Current?

Electricity flows more easily through some materials than others; substances that offer very little resistance to the flow of electric current, like metals, are called "conductors." Most electrical injuries take place when a person's body mistakenly becomes part of an electric circuit, defined by thefreedictionary.com as "an electrical device that provides a path for electrical current to flow." Electric shock occurs when a person contacts both wires of an electric circuit, one wire of an energized circuit and the ground, or a metal part or some other conductor that has mistakenly become energized.

The degree of injury that results from electric shock can range from a mild tingling sensation to immediate cardiac arrest. The extent of bodily damage is generally greater the longer the exposure and the more powerful the current.

Burns injuries are the most common type of harm associated with electric shock. As a powerful electric current passes through the body, it scorches a path in the flesh, leaving entrance and exit wounds at the points where the body made contact to complete the circuit. Burns can also result from an arc flash, a sudden release of electrical energy through the air that gives off extreme heat (temperatures as high as 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit have been recorded near arc flashes). Finally, an electrical fire or explosion when a current ignites a combustible mixture in the air may also cause burns.

Falls are another danger related to electric shock. When a strong enough current passes through the body, it can cause the individual to lose muscular control. This may manifest as the "freezing" phenomenon that prevents those being shocked from letting go or moving away from the current. However, whether the individual being shocked presses harder against the conductor or jerks away depends on the muscle group being stimulated by the current. For example, if extensor muscles of the forearm are stimulated, the person can be thrown back. While this may cut off contact with the conductor causing the shock, it can also lead to a dangerous fall — for instance, a worker could be thrown from a ladder or scaffolding.

Electric shock can also impact major body systems. A current as weak as 50 to 150 milliamperes can cause respiratory arrest (interrupted ability to breathe). At 1,000 to 4,300 milliamperes, the rhythmic pumping action of the heart ceases and nerve damage occurs. Full cardiac arrest is probable at 10,000 milliamperes. At higher currents, electrocution — death by exposure to a lethal amount of electrical energy — is extremely probable.

Who Is At Risk?

Electrocution is the fourth leading cause of accidental death among construction workers in the United States. Electricity is more likely to cause grave, life-threatening injuries compared to other hazards at construction sites: In 2005, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that electrical injuries accounted for less than 1 percent of reported nonfatal construction accidents, but caused 9 percent of construction worker deaths. Based on government data spanning 12 years, an average of 143 American construction workers are killed every year through contact with electricity.

Most at risk are electrical workers — electricians and their apprentices, electrical power installers and repairers, electrical helpers and the supervisors who oversee these specialists. Electrical workers suffer 34 percent of the electrocution deaths in the construction industry. Next come, in descending order of most electrocutions suffered, construction laborers, carpenters, supervisors of nonelectrical workers and roofers.

Not surprisingly, the type of work being performed has a direct relation to the most serious electrical concerns likely to be encountered. For electricians, working with or near live wires presents the most danger (as opposed to de-energizing, or using lockout or tagout procedures). Among nonelectricians, contact with live overhead power lines and ignorance of basic electrical safety procedures are the biggest threats.

Employers Have A Legal Duty To Provide Safe Worksites, Especially In New York

Although electrical injuries are relatively common, most of them are largely preventable. Adherence to federal rules mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, and to other job site safety standards is one way to prevent accidents. Some areas have region-specific codes; for instance, a new electrical code for New York City recently took full effect on March 1, 2012.

It is up to employers to provide safe work environments. Among other things, this means ensuring worksite buildings themselves meet electrical codes, using proper construction equipment that does not conduct electricity, providing necessary safety gear and, when appropriate, requiring worksite safety training.

According to knowledgeable New York City personal injury lawyer Carl Lustig of Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C., "Compared to other states, New York is keenly focused on keeping construction jobs safe. In addition to workers' compensation claims, state law allows injured construction workers to seek payment for their injuries from responsible parties other than their employer — third-party contractors, property owners or equipment manufacturers, to name a few."

If an electrical injury or some other construction mishap has touched your life, seek to recover the full compensation you deserve. Get in touch with an experienced New York City construction accident attorney today to learn more.