Electrical injuries at work are a regular danger for any employee who works with power tools, near power lines, and anywhere where exposure to wires or cables is possible. While fairly rare, when electrical accidents happen, they can be fatal. Survivors may suffer injuries to their organs, tissues, heart, and other parts of their anatomy. Employers should understand what safety steps and quality products can help prevent electrical accidents.
If an employee dies due to an electrical accident, the spouse and children may have a right to workers’ compensation death benefits. Employees who survive an electrical accident should seek compensation for their medical bills, temporary disability benefits, and permanent disability benefits if they can’t return to work full-time. There is no requirement to show the employer was negligent, failed to follow OSHA safety regulations, or failed to follow industry standards.
What are the different types of electrical injuries?
Electric injuries generally include the following:
- Electrocution. Here, electrical current passes through the body. Most electrocution accidents are fatal.
- Electric shock. Here, the worker’s body responds to any electrical current. The response may cause heart damage, internal trauma, and cause a lack of consciousness.
- Burn injuries. Electrical burns may occur when an employee comes into contact with equipment or wiring that is charged. Electrical burn injuries usually affect the hands and feet.
- Falls. Exposure to electric currents can cause the worker to lose balance. Some electrical accidents cause explosions. Falls from high heights can cause deaths or catastrophic injuries. Even falls from level ground can cause a lifetime of chronic pain.
Some of the factors that determine how severe the injury will be include the path of the current, the amount of current, how the contact is, moisture, and the employee’s mass. Exposure to high milliampere levels is often fatal.
Why do electrical accidents happen in North Carolina or Virginia?
Some of the reasons workers may be exposed to electricity include contact with:
- Wiring and transformers
- Power lines – above ground or lines that are buried underground
- Tools, equipment, and machines
- Light fixtures
- Electric components that the worker incorrectly thought were de-energized
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) compiles electrical workplace data. Some of the data for 2020 showed the following:
- More than 2,200 workers who suffered nonfatal injuries lost time for work due to their injuries
- The age that suffered the most fatal electrical injures was the 25-34 age group
- Machine tools and electric parts were the leading cause of fatal electric accidents
- Some of the leading industry sectors where were workers suffer electrical injuries include:
- Trade, transportation, and utilities
- Wholesale trade
- Retail trade
About 40 percent of the workers who suffered fatal electrical accidents were Hispanic.
Watch out for the Defense of a Safety Rule Violation.
If the injured worker is employed by a company that engages in frequent work in and around high-voltage electrical equipment and/or lines, there are likely numerous safety rules that require the use of proper equipment and procedures to protect workers from these hazards.
In Virginia, if it is found by the Commission that you willfully violated a safety rule and this violation caused your injury, your claim would be dismissed. In North Carolina, any safety rule violation, other than intoxication that caused your injuries, would not completely bar your claim, but reduce your weekly checks by 10%.
A good example of a safety rule violation in this context might be failure to don your rubber gloves before handling a live wire. If it were found that you willfully failed to adhere to the rules requiring that you wear rubber gloves, and this caused your electrical injuries, your claim could be dismissed in Virginia, or reduced by 10% if pending in North Carolina.
Treatment for electrical injuries
Injured electrical accident workers will likely need to be treated by emergency care specialists, neurologists, cardiologists, and psychiatrists.
According to the Mayo Clinic, helpers should not touch anyone who suffers electrical injury if that accident victim is still in contact with an electric current. Helpers should call 911 immediately or the local emergency number – “if the source of the burn is a high-voltage wire or lightning.”
“Don’t get near high-voltage wires until the power is turned off. Overhead power lines usually aren’t insulated. Stay at least 20 feet (about 6 meters) away — farther if wires are jumping and sparking.”
“Don’t move a person with an electrical injury unless there is immediate danger.”
Some of the signs that immediate help is required for an electrical injury include difficulty breathing, heart rhythm problems, cardiac arrest, seizures, confusion, severe burns, loss of consciousness, and muscle pain and contractions.
Workers and other helpers should take the following steps while they’re waiting for the emergency help to arrive:
- “Turn off the source of electricity, if possible. If not, use a dry, nonconducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood to move the source away from you and the injured person.”
- If there aren’t any signs of circulation (breathing, movement, or coughing) – use CPR
- Help prevent the accident victim from becoming chilled
- Cover any burned parts of the body with a sterile gauze bandage, if available, or a clean cloth. “Don’t use a blanket or towel, because loose fibers can stick to the burns.”
What benefits can injured employees and the families of deceased employees claim in North Carolina in Virginia?
Injured employees in North Carolina and Virginia who suffer electrical injuries during the scope of their employment can claim the following benefits:
- All their medical expenses. From the date of the accident for as long as they need medical care
- Temporary total disability benefits. Generally 2/3rds of the employee’s average weekly wage for as long as they cannot work for up to 500 weeks. If you are able to get under an Award, you can also continue to receive this pay so long as your doctors say you are physically unable to return to your pre-injury employment or you engage in other work for the same pay as that employment.
- Temporary Partial Disability Benefits–If you engage in work while under physical restrictions that pays less than your pre-injury average weekly wage , you would be entitled to up to 500 combined weeks of benefits at 2/3rds of the difference between your wage in the restricted or light duty job, and your pre-injury average weekly wage.
- Permanent partial disability or impairment benefits. Employees with electrical injuries may qualify for permanent disability benefits if their injuries once they reach maximum medical improvement if their doctors can show permanent impairment in a ratable body part.
- Permanent and Total Disability Benefits. In the most severe cases with specific types of electrical injuries, such as with severe burns or brain injuries, if there is permanent and complete disability from all forms of work due to those injuries, lifetime compensation (not just 500 weeks) at the standard compensation rate of 2/3’rds of the worker’s average weekly wage is potentially available. That being said, this type of compensation is not always easy to prove and any claim for it will likely have to be heard as the severely injured worker nears the end of his or her 500 weeks of ongoing compensation.
- North Carolina Extended Compensation Benefits. Only in North Carolina, (not Virginia) for the most severe injuries that do not fit into certain “permanent and total” categories (such as severe burns, brain injury, or paralysis) where 425 weeks have passed since the date of first disability and the injured worker can show he or she has sustained a “total loss of wage-earning capacity,” the Industrial Commission may Award extended compensation beyond the 500 week limit; however, this does not mean the compensation is automatically lifetime. It can be challenged repeatedly if the defense can show that there is no longer a total loss of wage-earning capacity.
If an employee dies due to electrocution or another type of electrical injury, North Carolina and Virginia authorize death benefits as follows:
- North Carolina.
- Burial expenses up to $10,000.
- 2/3rds of the employee’s average weekly wage before the accident. The beneficiaries are the people wholly dependent on the worker such as minor children and other relatives. Minors can receive benefits until they’re 18. Most benefits are paid for up to 500 weeks. Spouses are presumed to be wholly dependent.
- Burial expenses up to $10,000.
- Reasonable transportation expenses up to $1,000
- Compensation to dependents, as defined by law. Virginia Code §65.2-512. Generally, spouses and minors are eligible to wage benefits. Children may be entitled to benefits beyond 18 if they are enrolled in an accredited educational institution.
North Carolina and Virginia lawyer Joe Miller understands what steps employees must take to file a workers’ compensation claim after an electrical accident, what medical treatments are usually required, what benefits the worker or the family members can claim, and what defenses the insurance companies are likely to assert. At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer has helped thousands of injured and ill employees obtain just recoveries including temporary and permanent disability benefits. To assert your rights to compensation if an employee is injured or a loved one dies while working, call attorney Joe Miller Law Ltd., at 888-667-8295 or use my online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
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