Electricity is a necessity that makes our lives easier. We use electricity for our utilities and even for our entertainment, making it something that modern society can’t live without. However, though useful, it also comes with danger. It is a powerful force and could be unpredictable. One of the dangers it poses is through electrical shocks.
Our body, like metal and water, is a very good conductor of electricity, so it is no wonder that electric shocks could happen. Cartoons funnily depict electrical shocks — blackened face and frazzled hair while being zapped with electricity, but the reality is, electric shock is not something that you could laugh about. It could lead to life-altering injuries, like burns, seizures, loss of memory and consciousness, cardiac arrest, and even death.
Electric shock vs Electrocution
We have to differentiate the two because it is often used interchangeably. Electric shock is not synonymous with electrocution. Both are serious, but one term is fatal. The difference between the two concepts is literally a matter of life and death.
Electrocution is when a victim dies as a result of electrical shock, while an electric shock, though should not be taken lightly or considered as a minor event, does not end with death.
Electric shock happens when a person comes in contact with any source of electricity, whether man-made or natural (lightning strike). As the electric current flows through the body, electrical shock happens.
Several factors affect the severity of electric shock or when it turns to electrocution. Some of which are:
- How high or low the voltage is
- The amperage of the electric current present
- The period that the victim was in contact with electricity
- The pathway of electrical charge (is it through the heart, hand-to-hand, etc.)
- How healthy the victim is
- Is the electric current direct or alternating?
Here are some of the common causes of electric shocks in homes:
1. Outdated outlets – if you have an outdated outlet at home, then the possibility of electric shock is lurking in the corner. Outlets with two-prong instead of the recommended three-prongs have no ground wire. The ground wire in a three-prong outlet serves as a safety barrier or shield when there is an unstable electric current. So instead of the current traveling to other wires or users, it will go into the ground instead.
2. Faulty switch or outlet – have you experienced being mildly shocked as you flip on the light switch? Most likely you have a malfunctioning switch that needs to be repaired or replaced. This means that the wiring may be loose, resulting in unstable electricity. For electrical outlets with broken or missing covers, electric shock could also happen because there is no safety barrier anymore between the user and exposed wire. Aside from the mild shock, you can also observe burn marks, warm outlets, and sparks coming from your outlet. As soon as you observe any of these,call a licensed electrician immediately.
3. Electricity + water – we all know, water and electricity are a bad mix, with water being highly conductive. Note that shocks involving water are often more serious. For any outlets near any water source, like kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room, make sure that you have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) to ensure that the power is automatically shut off in the presence of a ground fault, thus preventing electrical shock.
4. Faulty appliances – though we want to make our electrical appliances last longer, there will come a time that they will reach their limit. If you want to be safe from electric shock, make sure you don’t have any faulty appliances in your home. This is especially true
if your appliance has broken wiring and cords. With the electric current being unstable, you may receive an electrical shock as soon as you plugged in.
5. No electrical safety practices in the house – many homeowners do not actually have electrical safety practices around the house, like:
- No tamper-resistant receptacles or even just simple plug covers on houses with young kids.
- Not turning off devices or appliances before unplugging. Or just yanking on the chords when unplugging. Did you know that large appliances can create arcs when disconnected improperly?
- Not turning off the power during electrical work (yes, even tightening of bulbs).
- Not calling an electrician during repairs and installations
- Touching switches with wet hands
- Touching hot or live wires
- Overloading extension cords
Injuries from Electric Shocks:
1. Muscle spasms – this is caused by muscles being stimulated by electricity. If the current is low, one will feel a tingling sensation but if the current is high, the victim may be unable to let go of the electric source due to sustained contractions. The longer the duration of contact means a higher probability of a more severe electric shock. Some shocks especially when traveling in extensor muscles could cause violent spasms, causing the victim to be propelled.
2. Cardiac arrest– if the current of 50 mA passes through the heart of the victim, it will lead to cardiac arrest. The electricity could disturb the heart’s rhythm.
3. Burns – this is not only on the skin but electrical burns often affect the internal organs. High currents could lead to serious burns, which could lead to amputation, scarring, loss of function, and death.
Other possible injuries are:
- Nerve damage
- Memory loss
- Brain damage
- Respiratory failure
- Secondary injuries cause by falling after being shocked
- Compartment syndrome
- Speech, hearing, and vision problems
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of kidney functions
- Chest pain
Here are some reminders from Mayo Clinic in case of electric shocks:
1. Do not touch the person if s/he is still in contact with the electrical source.
2. Call your local emergency number if the source is from a high voltage wire or lightning. Stay more than 20 feet if wires are jumping or sparking.
3. Don’t move a person with electrical injuries unless s/he is in immediate danger.
4. Call your local emergency number if you see the following: severe burns, cardiac arrest, confusion, difficulty in breathing, seizures, loss of consciousness, muscle pain, and contractions.
After an electric shock and even without visible injuries, it is best if the affected individual will seek medical attention. When it comes to electric shock, the after-effects could be observed after days or even years.
In addition, health providers will be able to pinpoint if there are internal injuries that need to be attended to immediately. And of course, for visible injuries, surgeries such as skin grafting may also be required, and delaying medical attention could lead to a more severe symptom.
As always, Same Day Pros stresses that safety should be the utmost priority for all. If you notice any possible electrical shock hazard in your home, don’t hesitate and call-in a licensed electrician near you. Click here for a quotation.