Recognising Electrical Shocks, Their Causes & How to Prevent Them

Electricity is dangerous and invisible.  

What is an Electric Shock?

Electric shocks occur when a person comes into contact with a live electrical current which passes through the body. Electrical shock effects can vary from mild discomfort or tingling sensations, through to burns, unconsciousness, severe internal injuries including heart damage, and death from electrocution.

Common Causes of Electrical Shocks

The potential for electric shocks can be due to several reasons. Common causes of electrical shocks include:

  • Faulty or defective electrical appliances
  • Electrical equipment coming into contact with water
  • Incorrect or deteriorated household wiring
  • Cutting through a live cable
  • Exposed electrical wiring – including damaged cords and leads
  • Faulty (high-resistance) or failed (open-circuit) neutral connections
  • Fallen power lines

How Can Electrical Shocks Be Prevented?

Taking simple precautionary steps can aid in preventing electrical shocks, at both home and work.

Keep Appliances Away from Areas with Water

It is recommended that you do not use electrical appliances, such as hair dryers or mobile phone chargers, in areas of the home where water may be present. Due to tap water being a highly conductive substance, the risk of electrical shock is increased. Should an electric appliance become submerged, it has the potential to turn the body of water into an electrical hazard.

Never Connect or Disconnect Under Load

When an appliance is plugged into a circuit and running, it is said to be under load. This involves the device drawing power and electricity flowing from the circuit, into the appliance and returning through the wiring of the circuit. Should you try and unplug the appliance while it is switched on, the electrical flow has potential to create an arc, which can be highly dangerous and expose you to an electric shock.

Install and Maintain Residual Current Devices (RCDs)

Compulsory safety switches called Residual Current Devices (RCDs) are required in all homes in Western Australia. RCDs offer protection against some – but not all – electrical hazards. When operating correctly, an RCD should instantly cut the electricity supply when an earth fault is detected in certain parts of the circuit, such as where appliances are in operation. It should be noted however that RCDs will not protect against electrical problems in other parts of the circuit, such as faults upstream of the RCD and issues with incoming neutral connection.

Gorey Electrical is licensed and qualified for the installation, inspection & servicing of RCD Units.

Ensure Power is Turned Off

When working on a circuit or device, it is imperative to turn off the power prior to commencing the labour. The appropriate circuit breaker should be switched off in the meter box and if working on a corded appliance, power can be cut by unplugging the device.

Purchase Electrical Goods from Reputable Suppliers

You should be cautious when purchasing electrical goods, particularly from overseas as they may not comply with Australian safety standards. A Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM) should be displayed on the appliance if it conforms to Australian standards, indicating that you are purchasing from a responsible supplier. 

Indicators to Be Aware Of

Some electrical shock incidents occur without notice, but immediate action should be taken if you become aware of problems with connections or equipment. Acting on these signs can mitigate the severity of potential shocks or stop them before they occur altogether. Some indicators to be aware of include:

  • Tingling or electric shocks from pipes, taps or equipment. These should not be ignored regardless of how minor they may seem.
  • Unexplained brightening or dimming of lighting
  • Electrical appliances performing unusually (e.g. unusual noises from air-conditioning units or fans)

What Do I Do if Someone Experiences an Electrical Shock?

If you or someone around you experiences an electrical shock, the following protocol should be followed:

  1. Seek medical attention and call triple zero (000) in emergencies. Regardless of the severity of the shock, medical examination should be undertaken as the affects may not be evident straight away.
  2. Report all electric shocks to your network operator (such as Western Power, Horizon Power)
  3. Avoid touching metallic appliances, gas fittings, water taps or conductive surfaces until the network operator determines the cause of the fault.

What Are Some Common Symptoms of Electrical Shock?

Someone who has experienced an electric shock may seem unharmed, but they should still seek medical attention. Potential complications or injuries may not be initially obvious, but common symptoms include:

  • Difficulties breathing or no breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • A weak, erratic pulse or no pulse at all
  • Burns – particularly entrance and exit burns, where the electricity entered and exited the body
  • Cardiac arrest

Regardless of severity, a medical examination is crucial after experiencing any electrical shock.

Electrical Shock First Aid Procedure

If someone around you experiences an electrical shock, the following outlines a recommended first aid process to conduct:

  • Check for danger – ensure that the injured person, as well as you and the people around you are safe
  • Switch off or disconnect the power supply if possible. It is important not to touch or move the injured person until you are certain that the electricity supply is off.
  • In the case that there is fallen power lines, or you are in a building, it may be easier to disconnect the whole electricity supply. If there are live wires, you should wait for an authorised electrical professional to do this for you.
  • If you are unable to cut the power supply, you should try to move the injured person without touching them directly. Utilise something that is dry and non-conductive, such as a wooden broom handle.
  • You should follow the DRSABCD first aid method – checking the injured persons response, airway and breathing. You may be required to administer CPR to the injured person.
  • An ambulance should be called by dialling triple zero (000). The operator will arrange assistance for you and can talk you through first aid instructions if required.

Who Can Help Me If Required?

Electrical shocks can be frightening and unexpected, however precautionary steps can be taken to mitigate the risk of electrical injury in the home or workplace. Ensure that all extension cords and appliances are in good working order and that electrical outlets have child safety covers. For new device installations in your home or business, contact a qualified and licensed electrician. Go with the team powering Perth’s southern homes and businesses for over 50 years. Go with Gorey Electrical.

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