Construction is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. People working around heavy equipment and working at high elevations can sometimes experience falls or other accidents that can lead to death. While construction is a job that can bring about a high percentage of accidents in comparison to other jobs, it is also a profession that tends to bring about more serious accidents when they do occur. While the threat of falling objects or falling people is certainly a valid concern, statistics indicate that electrocutions are also a major cause of serious injury and death. These injuries can be prevented with quality oversight on the job site, but in situations where oversight is not present, dangerous situations fester. The causes are many, and as technology gets better in the future, it may be possible to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries from people being electrocuted.
As one might expect, the statistics indicate that the people most likely to die of electrocution are electricians themselves. They are often contracted to come in and handle the specialty electric work on a construction job site. They are not the only people who are killed in this manner, though. Regular construction workers tend to be killed in this manner on occasion, with their numbers falling just below that of electricians over the last decade. Roofers are also at great risk, especially because they tend to work in areas that are exposed to electricity in high quantities. The statistics from electrocution deaths indicate that the most common reason for these deaths is people being exposed to so-called electrical wiring. When people come into contact with hot wires in either homes or commercial construction sites, they can suffer heart injuries, strokes, and brain injuries from overheating. The second most common reason why these deaths occur is contact with live overhead wires. Construction workers are often working around power lines and other live electricity sources. When they make contact either with their bodies or in their vehicles, they can suffer from electric shock.
Those who have studied the deaths of construction workers have found that these individuals are most often killed because of contact with metal or equipment that has itself been energized by contact with live wires. Generally speaking, construction workers are not simply going up to live wires and grabbing ahold of them without first figuring out the situation. In most cases, the live electrical wires are coming into contact with a sheet of metal or another metal-based piece of equipment, causing that metal to itself become the source of electrocution. Construction workers then have little idea that the piece of equipment they are about to grab or the thing they are about to work on has become so electrocuted that it can cause their death on its own. There are some ways in which this presents a problem for construction workers. Some of their items, including tools and drills, their ladders, and their vehicles, are necessarily made of metal to prevent other dangers. For instance, a metal ladder that comes into contact with a live wire is much more dangerous than a wooden ladder that does the same. However, people choose to work on metal ladders because those ladders are known to be much safer at preventing falls that can, themselves, kill people working on job sites. In this way, there is a trade off currently taking place in the construction industry where workers are required to trade some level of risk with their equipment for another level of risk with electrocution.
There are many ways to potentially mitigate the risks and have fewer deaths by this method in the future. For one, experts note that many contractors are not keeping up with regulations either on equipment or on training. Many who contract out their electric work do not think they need to know about electricity. Because of this, they are not well-trained to work around live wires. Likewise, a simple fix for contractors would be to make contact with property managers and power companies to provide advance notice that they are going to be going in and doing work. This gives the power companies a change to de-energize lines, and it gives property owners and managers an opportunity to de-energize those potentially dangerous parts of a home or commercial property. In addition to that, there are ways that contractors can protect themselves by shifting their equipment. Properly grounding equipment and double insulating it can help to cure a lot of the issues, providing contractors with safe equipment that will be less likely to cause issues over the long run. Beyond that, one of the biggest causes of electrocution is working around water. Contractors and other workers should make sure that they are extremely careful when working around water, and that they have identified any potential source of water that might cause a problem with live wires.
In addition, it is critical that new technologies be developed moving forward. Existing tools and other equipment is often not designed in a way that would protect individuals from the risk of electrocution. For instance, it may be possible to create ladders and other tools that are both effective and unlikely to cause electrocution. While there are some situations—like those where a person comes into contact with a live wire—that cannot be undone, deaths caused by equipment that is not properly insulated can be prevented through better research and development moving forward.
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- Zhao, D., McCoy, A. P., Kleiner, B. M., & Smith-Jackson, T. L. (2015). Control measures of electrical hazards: An analysis of construction industry. Safety Science, 77, 143-151.