Handling Electrical Emergencies
Electrical injury occurs when electricity passes through the body and generates heat. Explains M W, M.D., Medical Director of OccNet, “Damage can occur either by burning tissue or interfering with the function of internal organs. Even cardiac arrest can result from a big jolt of electricity that involves the heart.”
Electrical injury comes in a variety of forms — lightning, downed power lines, and faulty household or occupational wiring. The of exposure and the body’s resistance to it, and the path the current takes through the body severity of injury is determined by the type and strength of the current, the duration. “For example, alternating current (AC) is generally more dangerous than direct current (DC), and low-frequency currents of 50 – 60 hertz are more dangerous than high-frequency currents,” Dr. W explains. AC at 60 hertz, for example, causes muscles to freeze in position so exposure to the current can be prolonged. Generally, the higher the voltage and amperage, the greater the damage from either AC or DC. Moisture on the body facilitates electrical current, and current that travels from head to toe (versus across the body) is especially dangerous, because it can pass through the heart. Current entering through the head can cause brain damage.
The person sustaining an electrical injury should immediately be separated from the current’s source. The safest way is to shut off the current quickly. If the injury is from electrical lines that could be high voltage, the victim should not be touched until the current has been cut off – otherwise there is a risk of electrical injury to the rescuer as well. When the victim can be handled, breathing and pulse should be checked and CPR administered, if necessary. Victims from lightning strikes who appear to be dead have been known to recover when aggressive resuscitation is given.
It is possible to prevent most electrical injuries. Respect for electricity is the first commandment of safety. Make sure equipment is well-maintained and properly grounded, with circuit-breakers as needed. To prevent lightning strikes, take sensible precautions and seek shelter in protected areas.
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