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3.6. Emergency response

Despite lock-out/tag-out procedures and multiple repetitions of electrical safety rules in industry, accidents still do occur. The vast majority of the time, these accidents are the result of not following proper safety procedures. But however they may occur, they still do happen, and anyone working around electrical systems should be aware of what needs to be done for a victim of electrical shock.

If you see someone lying unconscious or "froze on the circuit," the very first thing to do is shut off the power by opening the appropriate disconnect switch or circuit breaker. If someone touches another person being shocked, there may be enough voltage dropped across the body of the victim to shock the would-be rescuer, thereby "freezing" two people instead of one. Don't be a hero. Electrons don't respect heroism. Make sure the situation is safe for you to step into, or else you will be the next victim, and nobody will benefit from your efforts.

One problem with this rule is that the source of power may not be known, or easily found in time to save the victim of shock. If a shock victim's breathing and heartbeat are paralyzed by electric current, their survival time is very limited. If the shock current is of sufficient magnitude, their flesh and internal organs may be quickly roasted by the power the current dissipates as it runs through their body.

If the power disconnect switch cannot be located quickly enough, it may be possible to dislodge the victim from the circuit they're frozen on to by prying them or hitting them away with a dry wooden board or piece of nonmetallic conduit, common items to be found in industrial construction scenes. Another item that could be used to safely drag a "frozen" victim away from contact with power is an extension cord. By looping a cord around their torso and using it as a rope to pull them away from the circuit, their grip on the conductor(s) may be broken. Bear in mind that the victim will be holding on to the conductor with all their strength, so pulling them away probably won't be easy!

Once the victim has been safely disconnected from the source of electric power, the immediate medical concerns for the victim should be respiration and circulation (breathing and pulse). If the rescuer is trained in CPR, they should follow the appropriate steps of checking for breathing and pulse, then applying CPR as necessary to keep the victim's body from deoxygenating. The cardinal rule of CPR is to keep going until you have been relieved by qualified personnel.

If the victim is conscious, it is best to have them lie still until qualified emergency response personnel arrive on the scene. There is the possibility of the victim going into a state of physiological shock -- a condition of insufficient blood circulation different from electrical shock -- and so they should be kept as warm and comfortable as possible. An electrical shock insufficient to cause immediate interruption of the heartbeat may be strong enough to cause heart irregularities or a heart attack up to several hours later, so the victim should pay close attention to their own condition after the incident, ideally under supervision.

  • A person being shocked needs to be disconnected from the source of electrical power. Locate the disconnecting switch/breaker and turn it off. Alternatively, if the disconnecting device cannot be located, the victim can be pried or pulled from the circuit by an insulated object such as a dry wood board, piece of nonmetallic conduit, or rubber electrical cord.
  • Victims need immediate medical response: check for breathing and pulse, then apply CPR as necessary to maintain oxygenation.
  • If a victim is still conscious after having been shocked, they need to be closely monitored and cared for until trained emergency response personnel arrive. There is danger of physiological shock, so keep the victim warm and comfortable.
  • Shock victims may suffer heart trouble up to several hours after being shocked. The danger of electric shock does not end after the immediate medical attention.