a Person or Equipment Touches a Powerline


Treating Electrical Shocks and Burns

In most situations, there are safeguards to keep us isolated from the dangers of electricity, like high-voltage power lines high on poles or buried underground, insulated wires on tools and appliances, and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on outlets in locations where water and electricity might come together. However, sometimes through accidents, equipment failure, or poor decision making, our bodies come into contact with electricity with tragic results.

If someone has received an electric shock, there are not always obvious injuries. Some of the symptoms to look for include:

  • changes in alertness
  • headache
  • problems with vision
  • swallowing or hearing
  • irregular heartbeat
  • muscle spasm and pain
  • numbness or tingling
  • and breathing problems

Electrical burns are different than burns from heat or fire. Unlike typical burns, electrical current passing through a body can cause serious damage below the surface of the skin. Anyone who is involved in an electrical accident should be seen by a doctor to make sure there are not internal injuries.

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Equipment and Power Line Accidents

Electricity can be an unforeseen hazard, particularly when overhead power lines have fallen and made contact with vehicles, the ground, or anything that conducts electricity. The wire does not have to be sparking or arcing to be live. Therefore, always assume the power line is energized, and never touch or approach it.

If you come upon an accident scene involving a vehicle and downed lines, stay back and warn others to stay away. Make sure the occupants of the car stay inside the vehicle until the utility has de-energized the lines.

In a rare circumstance, the vehicle may catch fire. The only way the occupants can safely exit is to jump free and clear without touching the vehicle and ground at the same time. Advise them to jump and land with feet together, and then hop away to safety.

Helping Others Means Safety First

Good Samaritans are characterized as people who have the desire to help those in need. Knowing how best to help in an emergency situation can make the difference between life and death — for the victim and the Good Samaritan as well.

If you encounter an accident situation in which you believe someone is in contact with electricity or has just suffered an electrical shock, here are some additional tips:

  • Look first. Do NOT touch. The person may still be in contact with the electrical source and be energized. If there are others nearby, make sure they do not touch the person either.
  • Call, or have someone nearby call, 911 and the electric utility.
  • Turn off the source of electricity — if known and if safely possible (i.e., circuit breaker or box). If you are not sure, wait for help from the emergency responders.
  • Only once the source of electricity is OFF, check for signs of circulation (breathing, coughing, or movement). Provide any necessary first aid.
  • Prevent shock. Lay the person down and, if possible, position the head slightly lower than the trunk of the body with the legs elevated.
  • Do not move a person with an electrical injury unless the person is in immediate danger.

Anyone who has come into contact with electricity should see a doctor to check for internal injuries, even if he or she has no obvious signs or symptoms.