What Kind of Electrical Injury Can Human Body Withstand?
You would probably think that an electrical injury would be rare, as professional electricians have relevant electrician training and education, and knowledge we have today about the dangers and potential hazards of electricity. On the contrary, number of incidents is actually on the rise. One one hand, this could be simply due to increasing population, but most likely it is the in carelessness. People take electricity for granted and forget that it is a powerful, dangerous force that can kill.
Many people have taken steps to conserve energy by always turning off appliances when not in use, turning off lights that are not needed, and various other energy saving steps the commercials are constantly reminding us about, but that is not enough to prevent an electrical injury. Although leaving the light on in an unused room is not a good idea, most likely it will not have a harmful effect on Your health. However, coming in contact with a live wire while standing on a wet floor can kill You.
People, especially scientists, have always been fascinated by electricity and possibilities it provide. However, the widespread use of electricity in homes and workplaces has led to an increase in the electrical injury count. To fully understand how these injuries happen, it is necessary to understand basic electrical injury principles. Direct current gets its name from the way it flows – in one direction from point A to point B.
Batteries are a good example of direct current. High voltage direct current carries huge amounts of electrical power from the plant to smaller distribution centers. Alternating current gets its name from the way it flows, as well. It does not flow in one constant way, but alternates – flowing back and forth within the circuit. Every time the current changes direction is called a cycle. An alternating current power circuit is a more efficient method of transmitting energy, but it is much more dangerous as well. The electromotive force needed to push a current through the circuit is called a volt. Buildings in North America are wired with 120 volts between the hot and the ground.
Types of Electrical Injuries
An electrical injury can be both – harmless like a small zap and lethal. About 40% of electrical injuries result in death. It is usually not the electricity itself that kills a person, it is the effects the electricity has on the body, like severe burns, heart stopping etc. Children usually suffer from electrical injuries due to touching frayed electrical cords or inserting metal items in wall outlets – incidents that can easily be prevented by strict supervision and more care. Adults, in contrary, generally experiences electrical injuries more at work than at home. The nature and seriousness of the injury depends on different factors – the duration of exposure, the voltage and amplitude of the electric current and the type of body tissue involved. The muscles and nerves are generally the most vulnerable.
Electric Shock Injuries
As little as 50 volts coming in contact with 2 parts of the body has enough power to interfere with the electrical signals flowing from the brain to the nerves and muscles.
This could lead to different consequences, like:
- Irregular heartbeat, or stopping the heart altogether
- Serious muscle spasms
- Loss of breath, troubled breathing
Exactly which of the above mentioned effects an individual experiences depends on number of factors, including:
- The age, size and shape of the person – fat and bodily fluids make excellent conductors, while bone is more difficult for the current to pass through
- The amount of voltage – higher voltages cause more severe damage
- the parts of the body that came in contact with the electricity – some body parts are more sensitive than others, and the more sensitive the area, the more severe the injury
- The level of moisture on the person’s body – water is an excellent conductor
- Length of the contact – the longer a person is exposed to the current, the more severe the injury will be
- Electric shocks experienced from static electricity, like the type you would get from walking across a carpeted floor, can have more than 10,000 volts
However, the flow of current is so rapid and low that it does not cause a dangerous effect. Bear in mind though, static electricity can spark a fire or explosion when in an explosive environment, such as a an industrial oil field site. Any industrial electrician that works in the oil field will understand how dangerous their job is in these hazardous locations. Even the simple use of a power drill could cause a major explosion.
An electric shock will often cause an extremely painful muscle spasm. In few cases, these have been powerful enough to dislocate joints or break bones. In some cases, the loss of muscle control prevents a person from “letting go” or breaking free of the electric current. This shock can cause a person to fall when working at elevated levels, or to be thrown into a wall, machinery or other nearby objects.
Electrical burns are caused when a current passes through the body and heats the tissue. The skin is damaged the full length of the path of the current flow. The current can cause really deep burns, severe enough that major surgery is often required, and in some cases, the result is permanent disability. Electrical burns are more common when in contact with high voltage, but normal household electricity levels can cause serious harm if You are in contact with the current for more than a split second.
Thermal Electric Burns
Thermal burns most of the time occur when electrical equipment overheats. Overloaded, not properly maintained, faulty, or shorted out electrical equipment can get very hot, and may cause serious burns. Some power electrician tools will even get hot in normal operation. It is not uncommon for low voltage batteries (like a car battery) to get excessively hot and explode when shorted out. Electrical injuries are a daily occurrence, but they don not have to be. Most accidents are caused by carelessness or faulty equipment, and could be avoided if every user would pay closer attention and understand how dangerous electricity can be.