Electrical accidents at work and how to claim compensation

Electrical accidents at work and how to claim compensation

About 1000 cases are reported to the Health and Safety Executive in the UK involving burns or electrical shock. Approximately 30 of these will be fatal. We assess below how electrical accidents at work happen, how to claim compensation for them and how to avoid them.

What are the different types of electrical accidents at work?

Electrical accidents at work can occur in various forms, and they often result from electrical hazards in the workplace. These accidents can lead to serious injuries or fatalities. Here are some different types of electrical accidents that can occur at work:

  • Electric Shock:
  • Contact with live electrical circuits can cause electric shock. This occurs when an individual becomes part of the electrical circuit, allowing electric current to flow through their body. The severity of the shock depends on factors like voltage, current, and the path the current takes through the body.
  • Arc Flash:
  • An arc flash is a sudden release of electrical energy due to a fault in an electrical system. It produces intense heat and light, which can cause severe burns and blast injuries to workers in close proximity to the arc flash.
  • Arc Blast:
  • An arc blast is the explosive release of energy during an electrical fault or arc flash. It can produce a powerful shockwave, debris, and intense heat, leading to severe injuries such as burns, blunt force trauma, and hearing damage.
  • Electrical Burns:
  • Electrical burns occur when the skin or underlying tissues come into contact with electrical current. The severity of the burn depends on factors like the voltage, current, and duration of exposure. Electrical burns can be superficial or deep, and they often require specialized medical treatment.
  • Electrical Fires:
  • Faulty wiring, overloaded circuits, or electrical equipment failures can lead to electrical fires. These fires can cause damage to property, injuries to workers, and pose a significant risk to workplace safety.
  • Electrocution:
  • Electrocution refers to an electric shock. It occurs when an electrical current passes through a person's body, leading to injury. Electrocution can result from direct contact with live conductors or indirect contact through conductive materials.
  • Electrical Explosions:
  • In some cases, electrical equipment or systems can explode due to electrical faults or malfunctions, resulting in injuries to nearby workers. These explosions can release hazardous materials, further increasing the risk to worker safety.
  • Electrical Contact Injuries:
  • Workers can be injured by coming into contact with live electrical components, such as exposed wires, conduits, or equipment. These injuries can range from minor cuts and bruises to more severe injuries like fractures and head trauma.
  • Electrically Induced Falls:
  • Electrical accidents can also lead to falls from heights if a worker is shocked while working on elevated surfaces, ladders, or scaffolding. The shock may cause them to lose balance and fall.
  • Electrical Equipment Malfunctions:
  • Malfunctioning electrical equipment, such as faulty switches, outlets, or machinery, can pose a hazard to workers. Electrical equipment malfunctions can lead to various accidents, including shocks, fires, and explosions.

How to avoid electrical accidents at work

To avoid electrical accidents at work, it's essential to prioritize electrical safety through a combination of preventive measures, training, and best practices. Here are some effective ways to prevent electrical accidents at work, along with examples:

  1. Regular Electrical Inspections and Maintenance:
  1. What to do: Conduct routine inspections of electrical equipment, wiring, and systems to identify and address potential hazards. Repair or replace damaged components promptly. For instance, frayed cords or exposed wires should be replaced immediately.
  • Risk assessment:
  • What to do: Carry out a risk assessment in the workplace and assess and analyse the risks and what steps can be taken to avoid or minimise them.
  1. Electrical Safety Training:
  1. What to do: Provide comprehensive electrical safety training to all employees who work with or around electrical equipment. Ensure they understand the dangers of electricity, safe work practices, and how to use personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly.
  1. Lockout/Tagout Procedures:
  1. What to do: Implement lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures to ensure that equipment is de-energized and locked out before maintenance or repair work begins. Employees must be trained on LOTO procedures and use them consistently.
  1. Proper Equipment Use:
  1. What to do: Instruct employees to use electrical equipment only for its intended purpose and within specified voltage and current limits. Using extension cords and power strips appropriately and avoiding overloading circuits are crucial examples of proper equipment use.
  1. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs):
  1. What to do: Install GFCIs in areas where electrical equipment might come into contact with water, such as kitchens and bathrooms. GFCIs can quickly interrupt the circuit if ground fault is detected, preventing shocks and electrocutions.
  1. Electrical Panel Safety:
  1. What to do: Keep electrical panels accessible and free from obstructions. Proper labeling of circuits and panel boxes helps maintenance personnel identify and de-energize specific circuits safely.
  1. Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
  1. What to do: Require workers to wear appropriate PPE, such as insulated gloves, safety glasses, and arc-rated clothing, when working near electrical hazards. For example, electricians working on live circuits should wear rubber gloves for added protection.
  1. Safe Work Practices:
  1. What to do: Establish and enforce safe work practices, including maintaining a safe distance from energized equipment and avoiding shortcuts that compromise safety. Ensure that workers do not bypass safety measures for the sake of efficiency.
  1. Emergency Response Plan:
  1. What to do: Develop an emergency response plan that includes procedures for handling electrical accidents and incidents. Ensure that all employees know how to respond to electrical emergencies, such as performing CPR or using fire extinguishers.
  1. Reporting and Investigation:
  1. What to do: Encourage employees to report electrical hazards, near misses, and incidents. Investigate reported incidents to identify root causes and implement corrective actions to prevent future occurrences.
  1. Compliance with Regulations:
  1. What to do: Stay up to date with electrical safety regulations and codes and ensure that your workplace complies with these standards.
  1. Qualified Personnel:
  1. What to do: Ensure that only qualified and trained personnel work on electrical systems and equipment. Electricians and maintenance personnel should have the necessary expertise to perform tasks safely.
  1. Warning Signs and Labels:
  1. What to do: Use warning signs and labels to identify electrical hazards, high voltage areas, and emergency shutdown procedures clearly.
  1. Safety Culture:
  1. What to do: Foster a safety-first culture where all employees prioritize safety, share safety concerns, and actively participate in safety programs and initiatives.

By implementing these measures and promoting a culture of safety, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of electrical accidents at work and create a safer environment for employees.

What type of injuries are sustained in electrical accidents at work?

Electrical accidents at work can result in a range of injuries, some of which can be severe or even fatal. The type and severity of injuries sustained in electrical accidents depend on various factors, including the voltage of the electrical current, the duration of exposure, the path the current takes through the body, and the individual's overall health. Here are some common types of injuries that can occur in electrical accidents at work:

  • Electric shock: When a person comes into contact with an electrical current, they may experience an electric shock. The severity of the shock can range from minor to life-threatening. Symptoms can include muscle contractions, burns, and sometimes loss of consciousness.
  • Burns: Electrical burns can result from the heat generated by the electrical current passing through the body. These burns can be both external and internal, depending on the nature of the contact. Electrical burns can cause tissue damage and may require extensive medical treatment, including skin grafts.
  • Thermal burns: In addition to electrical burns, there can be thermal burns if electrical equipment or wires become hot due to overheating or short circuits. Contact with hot surfaces can lead to burns.
  • Cardiac injuries: Severe electrical shocks can disrupt the normal electrical activity of the heart, leading to cardiac arrhythmias or even cardiac arrest. In some cases, this can be fatal.
  • Respiratory injuries: Electrical accidents can cause muscle contractions, including those of the chest muscles. These contractions can make it difficult for the person to breathe, potentially leading to respiratory distress or failure.
  • Neurological injuries: Electrical shocks can affect the nervous system, causing neurological symptoms such as tingling, numbness, weakness, or even paralysis.
  • Fractures and falls: An electric shock can cause a person to lose control of their muscles, leading to falls and the risk of fractures or other traumatic injuries.
  • Secondary injuries: Sometimes, individuals involved in electrical accidents may sustain secondary injuries as a result of falls, fires, explosions, or other related hazards.
  • Psychological trauma: Witnessing or experiencing an electrical accident at work can result in psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is the law in Northern Ireland about electrical safety at work?

The primary legislation governing electrical safety at work in Northern Ireland is the Electricity at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1991, which are made under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978.

The Electricity at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1991 require employers to take measures to prevent the risk of injury or death from electrical hazards in the workplace. Some key provisions under these regulations typically include:

  • Maintenance: Employers are typically required to ensure that electrical systems and equipment are maintained in a safe condition.
  • Inspection and Testing: Electrical installations should be periodically inspected and tested to identify any faults or potential hazards.
  • Competency: Employers must ensure that individuals working on or near electrical systems are competent and adequately trained to do so safely.
  • Risk Assessment: Employers should conduct risk assessments to identify potential electrical hazards in the workplace and take appropriate measures to control and mitigate these risks.
  • Record Keeping: Records of electrical safety inspections, tests, and maintenance activities should be kept and made available for inspection by relevant authorities.
  • Reporting: Any electrical incidents, accidents, or near misses should be reported, investigated, and measures should be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.

What are my employer’s legal responsibilities?

All employers have a duty of care to their employees to ensure that that they have a safe working environment. If employees are exposed to potential risks to their safety at work, then the employer must ensure that they take whatever steps are necessary to remove them from such dangers (for example by supplying personal protective equipment).

If employers fail to recognise the risks employees face or fail to take steps to prevent employees being harmed, then employees will have a claim for compensation against such employers.

If an employee commits a wrongful act or causes harm to another person while carrying out their job duties or acting on behalf of their employer, the employer may be held legally liable for the employee's actions, even if the employer did not directly participate in or endorse the wrongful conduct. This is called vicarious liability.

The primary legal framework for employer obligations in Northern Ireland is the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which has been amended and updated over the years.

What should I do if I have an electrical accident at work?

If you experience an electrical accident at work, it's essential to take immediate steps to protect yourself and others and to ensure proper medical attention and reporting. Here's what you should do:

  1. Prioritize Safety:
  1. If you are in immediate danger, move to a safe location away from the electrical hazard. You should not attempt to rescue someone directly if they are in contact with live electrical equipment. Turn off the power source or use a non-conductive object (e.g., a dry wooden broom) to move the person away from the source of electricity if it's safe to do so.
  1. Alert Others:
  1. If there are other workers nearby, alert them to the danger and instruct them to stay away from the area until it's safe.
  1. Cut the Power:
  1. If you can do so safely and without further risk to yourself, switch off the electrical power source that caused the accident. If you're unsure, it's generally better to leave this to qualified personnel.
  1. Seek Medical Attention:
  1. If you or anyone else has suffered an electrical shock or injury, seek immediate medical attention, even if the injuries seem minor. Electrical shock can cause internal injuries that may not be immediately visible.
  1. Report the Accident:
  1. Report the electrical accident to your supervisor or employer as soon as possible, following your workplace's procedures for reporting accidents. Be sure to provide all relevant details about the incident.
  1. Preserve Evidence:
  1. If it's safe to do so, preserve any evidence related to the accident. This might include damaged electrical equipment, photographs of the scene, and any other relevant documentation.
  1. Cooperate with Authorities:
  1. If there is an investigation into the incident, cooperate fully with any authorities, such as inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSE NI) or other relevant agencies.
  1. Seek Legal Advice:
  1. If the electrical accident results in injury, seek legal advice from a personal injury lawyer. They will help you understand your rights and options, particularly if the accident was due to negligence or unsafe working conditions.
  1. Review and Improve Safety Protocols:
  1. After the incident, your workplace should conduct a thorough investigation to determine the cause and identify ways to prevent similar accidents in the future. Be part of this process and share your insights to improve safety measures.

Remember that electrical accidents can be extremely dangerous, and immediate action is crucial to minimize harm. Always prioritize safety and seek professional medical care for any injuries resulting from an electrical accident. Additionally, follow your workplace's safety procedures and guidelines to prevent such incidents in the first place.

How long do I have to take a claim for personal injury for electrical accidents at work in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, the limitation period for personal injury claims is typically three years from the date of the accident or the date when the injury occurred. This means that you generally have three years from the incident's date to issue proceedings a personal injury claim.

However, there are some exceptions and nuances to consider:

Date of Knowledge: In cases where the injury or its cause was not immediately apparent at the time of the accident, the limitation period may start from the date when you first became aware of your injury and its connection to the accident. This is known as the "date of knowledge."

Under age of 18: if an injured party is a minor (under 18 years old) at the time of the accident, the three-year limitation period typically begins on their 18th birthday. So, they have until their 21st birthday to file a claim.

Mental Capacity: If the injured party lacked the mental capacity to make legal decisions at the time of the accident, the limitation period may not start until they regain capacity.

Death Claims: In cases where a personal injury results in death, the limitation period for the deceased's estate to make a claim is typically three years from the date of death.

Extension of Time: In exceptional circumstances, the court may have the discretion to extend the limitation period, but such extensions are not common and are granted sparingly.

It's crucial to consult with a solicitor as soon as possible after an accident. They can provide you with accurate advice on the limitation period that applies to your specific case and help you take the necessary steps to pursue a claim if it is within the statutory time frame. Waiting too long to file a claim can result in the loss of your right to seek compensation for your injuries and losses.

Do not delay – seek legal advice as soon as possible after an accident.

How is my compensation assessed?

We divide compensation into a number of headings:

  • Compensation for pain, suffering and the effect the injury has had on a client’s life (what lawyers call “general damages”). The exact amount depends on the severity and extent of the injury and its impact. This will include physical and emotional loss, suffering and pain and compensation for loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Any loss of earnings, past and into the future, including all job related benefits and pension loss (what lawyers call “special damages”). If your injuries have reduced your ability to work you will be entitled to the difference between what you would have earned but for the accident and what you can now earn.
  • If someone has had to stop or reduce their work because it was necessary to look after you then the claim will include their loss of earnings, past and into the future, including all job related benefits and pension loss.
  • Cost of all medical expenses, past and future. This will include hospital bills and medication costs.
  • Cost of all therapy and rehabilitative treatment (including occupational therapy), past and future.
  • Cost of any nursing and domestic assistance, past and future.
  • Cost of any adaptions to property or the cost of new housing.
  • Cost of any adaptions to a vehicle or the cost of a vehicle or travel or other costs.
  • Any other expenses.

Will my case go to Court?

Few cases go to a full court hearing. Most cases are dealt with or settled by us without the necessity of a full hearing.

Why choose the Kearney Law Group?

We, at the Kearney Law Group, have the knowledge and expertise you need to make a successful claim for compensation. We have an expert team ready to deal with your claim for personal injury arising from your electrical workplace accident. We will ensure you recover compensation for your injuries and loss, swiftly and professionally.

We only do personal injury law and are experts at it.

For further assistance and a free consultation to discuss your accident please ring us at 02890 912 938 or email us on [email protected] or fill in our contact form

The content of this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice. No solicitor/client relationship or duty of care or liability of any nature shall exist or arise between the Kearney Law Group and you and we refer you to our disclaimer on our website.

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