Electrical injuries are caused by current touching or passing through the body. They can range from mild to severe, causing only mild, temporary burns or lasting complications and disability, even death. Electrical injuries require immediate medical care. Without immediate treatment, these injuries can cause serious damage to the body and can be fatal or lead to lasting disabilities.
In the maritime work environment, electrical injuries may be caused by a variety of factors. The presence of water makes electrical accidents potentially more harmful because water conducts electricity and reduces the resistance protection of the skin. If you suffer an electrical injury on the job, make sure you know your rights and seek the guidance of a professional experienced with maritime law to ensure you get the compensation you are owed.
What is an Electrical Injury?
An electrical injury occurs when you come in contact with an electrical current. Direct contact with electricity causes damage because the body is good at conducting electricity. The current passes through the body, leading to damage ranging from skin burns to organ damage, to abnormal rhythms in the heart, to seizures, and even a heart attack. The severity of the injuries depend on several factors, including the amount of current and voltage, where it passes through the body, how long you are exposed to the current, and how quickly you can be treated.
Types of Electrical Injuries
There are many different types of electrical injuries that are categorized by factors that include the current and voltage, the pathway through the body, the duration of exposure, and the resistance in the current:
- High and low voltage injuries. Voltage is a way of describing the intensity of electrical current and accidents with electricity can be divided into high and low voltage incidents. A typical electrical outlet is 110 Volts. Any injury caused by current over 500 Volts is considered a high voltage injury.
- Current type. Current can be alternating or direct. Batteries produce direct current while most circuits produce alternating current. The latter causes more harm because it can cause continuous muscle contractions that make it difficult to separate the victim from the source of electricity.
- Current pathway. The path through the body that the current takes during an electrical accident determines the injuries and severity. Most commonly the source of the current during an injury is a hand or the head, while the ground is more often the foot. If the current takes a path through the brain or heart it can cause much more serious damage.
- Duration. The longer you are exposed to a current, the greater the damage will be.
- Resistance. Resistance is the ability to slow or stop the flow of electricity. In the human body, skin has the greatest resistance and thicker skin resists electricity more. This resistance is decreased when the skin is wet, as may often be the case in a maritime setting.
Damage, Symptoms, and Complications Caused by Electrical Accidents
The type of damage, the symptoms, and the lasting complications of an electrical accident vary depending on the above factors and on the health of the victim and how quickly medical attention can be given. The most common type of injury from an electrical accident is a burn on the skin. Burns may occur from direct contact, which causes heat burns on the surface of the skin. Electrical arcs can also cause burns, when a spark jumps from an object to the body.
High voltage electrical injuries are more likely to result in internal burns. This can cause serious damage to muscle tissue, which can then swell and cause compartments syndrome in which blood supply is cut off to a part of the body. This can then lead to cell death and the loss of tissue or a limb if not treated right away. Extensive muscle damage can also cause a condition called rhabdomyolyisis, which leads to kidney failure if untreated.
A severe electrical shock may impact the heart causing an abnormal rhythm or even triggering cardiac arrest, which can be fatal. A severe shock may also cause major muscle contractions and spasms that cause a person to fall and suffer further injuries, like broken bones or dislocated joints. Current through the brain can cause seizures, hemorrhaging, memory loss, and changes in personality. Nerve damage from a shock may cause a spinal cord injury, paralysis, or chronic pain.
Treating Electrical Injuries
The first thing that must be done in the event of an electrical accident is to separate the victim from the source of current. The way that alternating current affects muscles makes it difficult for the person to let go, so it is important to shut off the source of current. Only then is it safe to touch and try to remove the victim. The next step is to resuscitate the victim and administer CPR if he or she has stopped breathing. It is crucial to call for emergency medical help immediately if possible.
Immediate treatment for electrical injuries may involve administering fluids, treating burns, and giving pain killers. Long-term treatment varies depending on the type and extent of the injuries. For example, the victim may need surgery for treating the burns, antibiotics for infections, or heat or brain treatment for seizures or cardiac arrest. If the victim does not lose consciousness or have heart problems, the prognosis is good and recovery is usually possible. More serious injuries can result in longer recovery times and long-term disability.
Electrical Injuries in the Maritime Setting
Electrical accidents always have the potential to be serious, but in a maritime setting the presence of water, which conducts electricity well, makes the risk even greater. Ships, shipyards, ports, and offshore rigs run on electricity, which means the potential for an accident is always there. Faulty wiring, poorly maintained electrical systems, careless handling of electrical systems, and poor or limited training in using electricity can all lead to accidents. The presence of salt water can cause systems to corrode more quickly, making accident more possible.
Working with electrical systems should be safe if all precautions are taken. When an electrical injury occurs, it is likely that negligence can be determined. An employer is usually the one negligent because of a responsibility for creating a safe work environment. Your employer may be negligent if you or coworkers were not trained properly, if you weren’t provided with safety gear, or if your electrical equipment was not maintained.
Legal Rights after an Electrical Injury
If you have been hurt in an electrical accident on a ship or in another maritime setting you may be facing months of recovery, pain, and being unable to work and earn an income. You may have thousands of dollars in medical bills related to immediate care, subsequent surgeries, prescriptions, and therapy for rehabilitation. You may also be unable to provide for dependents after this kind of accident. As a maritime worker you are likely to be protected under one of several laws, such as the Jones Act, which can help you get the compensation you need to cover costs related to the accident. Work with a maritime lawyer and advocate you can guide you through the process of getting back on your feet.