When Harry Klausen woke up in the hospital, his first thoughts were "What am I doing here? I've got to get back to work." In 45 years of careful construction work, Klausen had only had minor scrapes before.
But this time, a boom truck he was working with drifted too close to overhead power lines, and thousands of volts surged through his body. "My hand was touching the truck," he said. "The operator got a little bit, but I got the most" of the shock.
Klausen was lucky to be alive. According to the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health (ELCOSH), electrocutions are the fourth leading cause of death among construction workers in the United States. The Center for Construction Research and Training observes construction workers account for nearly half of the overall work-related electrocution deaths in the United States overall.
Such statistics show that electrical mistakes may be easy to make, and construction accidents may be even commonplace on a jobsite. But it is also true that proper safety precautions are known, easy to install, and common-sense solutions which any employers can use to prevent them.
So while workers must make every effort to act safely around electricity, it is even more important for employers to provide workplaces which prevent, and not encourage, such accidents.
What Causes Construction Electrical Injuries?
According to ELCOSH, 143 construction workers are killed each year by electrical contact, and even more are injured in electrical accidents. They note that among electricians, most serious danger is working near or on "live" wires, but for non-electricians, easy to make errors like avoiding live power lines, or lack of electrical safety knowledge, are major dangers.
A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report observes 5 major categories of construction electrical accidents, from a study of 244 fatalities:
- Direct worker contact with an energized powerline (28%) (e.g. Mt. Lebanon 12/12/16)
- Direct worker contact with energized equipment (21%);
- Boomed vehicle contact with an energized powerline (18%); (e.g. Lawrence KS, 7/7/16)
- Improperly installed or damaged equipment (17%);
- Conductive equipment contact with an energized powerline (16%). (e.gBelleville 11/30/16)
As the study's subject (i.e. workplace fatalities) suggests, these incidents can have grave effects for the construction workers who suffer them. Even if not resulting in death, there can be serious lifelong health impacts that result.
Electrical Shock and Electrocution Effects
A result of his ordeal Mr. Klausen suffered third-degree electrical burns, mostly to his extremities. In the hospital, he told reporters. But he remains optimistic. "I can stand the pain, it just takes a long time to heal" Klausen told reporters after three weeks. "They had to cut part of my foot too," in reference to a toe which doctors had to amputate because of severe damage.
Electric current causes injury in three ways: (1) cardiac arrest from electric shock to the heart, (2) muscle, nerve, and tissue destruction from the current, and (3) electrical burns. And even while some electrical burns look minor, there can still be substantial internal damage to the heart, muscles, or brain.
The extent of injuries will vary on type and strength of voltage, the length of contact with the electrical source, how the electricity moved through the body, and victims' overall health.
While Mr. Klausen's case is a remarkable and happy one, in that he survived, it also exemplifies the lifelong damage and effects which such construction accidents can have - even when a victim survives. In addition to high costs for medical treatment, Mr. Klausen will have to live with pain and lost livelihood while he recovers. After, he will still have to live with lifelong damage which his encounter has left him with.
What Should Be Done to Protect Workers from Electrocution?
In a report on Construction Electrocution Hazards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides five recommendations to workers, and eight requirements for employers to ensure proper protection for workers from electric shock injury:
(1) Maintain safe distance from overhead power lines
(2) Use ground-fault circuit interrupters
(3) Inspect portable tools and extension cords
(4) Use power tools and equipment as designed
(5) Follow lockout - tag out (LOTO) procedures.
(1) Ensure safety of overhead power lines,
(2) Isolate electrical parts,
(3) Supply ground-fault circuit interrupters,
(4) Establish and implement an assured equipment grounding conductor program,
(5) Ensure power tools are maintained in safe condition,
(6) Ensure proper guarding,
(7) Provide training,
(8) Enforce lockout - tag out (LOTO) safety-related work practices, and
(9) Ensure proper use of flexible cords.
While it is significant for an employee to maintain these safety standards, it is a duty for employers to do so. Where an employer has not done so, and created a hazard for their employees in abandoning their duty, workers should not suffer.
Electrical Construction Accident Lawsuits
Where management has endangered employee safety in disregarding OSHA requirements, did not supply workers with proper safety equipment, or provided dangerous or defective equipment without proper safety training they must be held accountable for the harms which they have led to.
What Should I Do If I, Or a Co-Worker, Get Injured?
First, ensure your immediate health and safety, and seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you require emergency medical care, call 911. Even if the injuries do not require immediate attention, be sure to inform the onsite foreman or supervisor - who may recommend medical treatment. Take pictures of the scene and the injury. Get contact information of any person who saw the accident. Be sure to keep detailed notes of the event and keep all receipts or invoices for medical care, medical supplies, or even any over-the-counter supplies you purchase for your injuries.
Not Injured, But Concerned About Construction Site Safety?
You can report safety concerns about your jobsite by filing a complaint with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Unless you opt to have your name disclosed, your confidentiality is fully guaranteed when you file a complaint.
Contact Our Team of Construction Accident Lawyers Now
If you feel you have been wrongfully injured, you may need the help of a construction accident lawyer, who can help you in understanding what safety violations to look for. At Cutter Law, our team of construction injury litigation experts ensure victims of electrical accidents get the compensation they deserve for their pain, suffering, disability, medical expenses, and lost wages.
Speak to a member of our workplace injury team today for a free consultation by calling us at 888-285-3333, or reaching out to us online.