Electrical injuries refers to damage to the skin, internal organs or other parts of the body when a person comes in contact with an electric current. Electric current can cause injury by causing cardiac arrest, destruction of muscle, nerve and tissue and thermal burns. Electrical injuries are now becoming a more common form of injuries. Electrical injuries have a unique pathophysiology and are associated with high morbidity and mortality. There are several types of electrical injuries. The commonest types of electrical injuries include lightning injury,(1) high-voltage injury, and low-voltage injury.(2, 3) The clinical presentations of electrical injuries ranges from transient unpleasant sensations without obvious injuries to massive tissue damage.(4) Some electrical injuries are instantly fatal.
Magnitude of electrical injuries in workplaces:
Electrical injuries cause approximated 300-1000 deaths per year and result in about 3000 hospitalizations in specialized burn centers per year in the United States. Lightning injury causes 50-300 deaths per year in the United States. About 40% of serious electrical injuries are fatal.(2, 3,5) Deaths related to exposure to electric current consistently make up around 4% of all occupations fatalities. Injuries, if not fatal, are often severe. An epidemiological study of 383 cases of electrical injuries in China showed that there is a need to provide stronger preventive measures against electrical injuries.(6)
Trends in electrical injuries in workplaces:
The latest report/data on trends in electrical injuries in the workplace is from the U.S. labor department's Bureau of Labor Statistics census of fatal occupational injuries (CFOI), survey of occupational illnesses and injuries, and current population survey. The latest data provides information on electrical injuries trends between 1992 and 2010. Between 1992 and 2002, about 3378 workers died from work-related electrical injuries and 46,598 workers were injured by electricity at the workplace.(7)
Electricity is the sixth leading cause of injury-related occupational death. From 1992-1998, 5.2% of all occupational deaths were caused by electricity compared to 4.7% in the 1999 to 2002 time period. The cause of death in 99.1% of all fatal cases was due to electrocution; 42% of all work-related electrical deaths were associated with contact with overhead power. Between 1992 and 2002, 47% of all electrical deaths were in the construction industry. The electrical fatality rate varies from 1.5 to 2.2 per 100,000 workers. However, this rate has been decreasing since 1995.(7)
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