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Recent Survey: Is Prevention Through Design the Answer to Decreasing Electric Shock Accidents?

Written by Ankin Law Office

Electric shock accidents in the workplace can be prevented by designing safer equipment, guarding high-voltage equipment, checking proper grounding systems, and installing circuit protective devices.

Preventing Electric Shock Injuries and Deaths

Work-related accidents involving electric shock are common. Between 2012 and 2016, 1,952 workers were injured by electric shock and 739 workers died from exposure each year. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an average of 411 workers are electrocuted every year from on-the-job electric shock accidents.

Electrical hazards are a potential source of injury to workers in a variety of work settings. Exposure to electricity can occur through “direct exposure” or “indirect exposure” and the type of exposure plays a significant role in the severity of injuries and deaths.

  • Direct Exposure — “Direct exposure” occurs when touching a live power source like a power line, electrical wire, or electrical arc.  
  • Indirect Exposure — “Indirect exposure” occurs when touching objects or liquids that can conduct electricity.

Work injury lawyers see high fatality rates caused by both types of exposure to construction workers; electricians; building and grounds workers; farming, fishing, and forestry workers; and repair and maintenance workers.

Most workplace electric shock accidents result from unsafe equipment or installation, an unsafe work environment, or unsafe work practices and guidelines. To prevent electric shock injuries and deaths, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) focuses on the design, use, servicing, and maintenance of workplace electrical equipment and systems with safe equipment, guarding, grounding, and circuit protective devices.

Safe Equipment

All electrical equipment must be tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM). To prevent electrical fires, explosions, and arcing, equipment must not exceed its specified load limit.


Guarding involves properly enclosing electrical equipment so workers don’t accidentally come into contact with live electric wires and parts. Guarding is recommended on all workplace equipment with exposed parts operating at 50 volts or more.


Grounding prevents the buildup of voltages by creating a low-resistance path to the ground. When designed correctly, a grounding system significantly reduces the risk of electrical shock for workers who work daily around electrical equipment.

Circuit Protection Devices

These devices automatically limit or stop the flow of electrical current in the event of a ground fault, overload, or short circuit in a wiring system. Common examples include circuit breakers, fuses, and GFCIs, typically used in wet locations.