Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dangers of Electric Shock

The severity of injury from electrical shock depends on the amount of electrical current and the length of time the current passes through the body. For example, 1/10 of an ampere (amp) of electricity going through the body for just 2 seconds is enough to cause death. The amount of internal current a person can withstand and still be able to control the muscles of the arm and hand can be less than 10 milliamperes (milliamps or mA). Currents above 10 mA can paralyze or “freeze” muscles. When this “freezing” happens, a person is no longer able to release a tool, wire, or other object. In fact, the electrified object may be held even more tightly, resulting in longer exposure to the shocking current. For this reason, hand-held tools that give a shock can be very dangerous. If you can’t let go of the tool, current continues through your body for a longer time, which can lead to respiratory paralysis (the muscles that control breathing cannot move). You stop breathing for a period of time. People have stopped breathing when shocked with currents from voltages as low as 49 volts. Usually, it takes about 30 mA of current to cause respiratory paralysis.

Currents greater than 75 mA cause ventricular fibrillation (very rapid, ineffective heartbeat). This condition will cause death within a few minutes unless a special device called a defibrillator is used to save the victim. Heart paralysis occurs at 4 amps, which means the heart does not pump at all. Tissue is burned with currents greater than 5 amps.

Longer exposure times increase the danger to the shock victim. For example, a current of 100 mA applied for 3 seconds is as dangerous as a current of 900 mA applied for a fraction of a second (0.03 seconds). The muscle structure of the person also makes a difference. People with less muscle tissue are typically affected at lower current levels. Even low voltages can be extremely dangerous because the degree of injury depends not only on the amount of current but also on the length of time the body is in contact with the circuit.

Sometimes high voltages lead to additional injuries. High voltages can cause violent muscular contractions. You may lose your balance and fall, which can cause injury or even death if you fall into machinery that can crush you. High voltages can also cause severe burns At 600 volts, the current through the body may be as great as 4 amps, causing damage to internal organs such as the heart. High voltages also produce burns. In addition, internal blood vessels may clot. Nerves in the area of the contact point may be damaged. Muscle contractions may cause bone fractures from either the con-tractions themselves or from falls. A domestic socket will produce a maximum lethal current of 13A.

A severe shock can cause much more damage to the body than is visible. A person may suffer internal bleeding and destruction of tissues, nerves, and muscles. Sometimes the hidden injuries caused by electrical shock result in a delayed death. Shock is often only the beginning of a chain of events. Even if the electrical current is too small to cause injury, your reaction to the shock may cause you to fall, resulting in bruises, broken bones, or even death.

The length of time of the shock greatly affects the amount of injury. If the shock is short in duration, it may only be painful. A longer hock (lasting a few seconds) could be fatal if the level of current is high enough to cause the heart to go into ventricular fibrillation. This is not much current when you realize that a small power drill uses 30 times as much current as what will kill. At relatively high currents, death is certain if the shock is long enough. However, if the shock is short and the heart has not been damaged, a normal heartbeat may resume if contact with the electrical current is eliminated. (This type of recovery is rare.)

1 comment:

  1. I was electrocuted from an industrial washing machine run by 3-Phase power. I was wiping it down with a wet cloth, it was an all metal machine. In an instant i was shocked and thrown across the room before i could blink. My heart was beating so fast i thought it would burst, i was around 21 at the time, 90lb female!
    It took some time for my heart to settle, i was in a state of 'weakness' for about an hour.

    I'm researching online for long-term effects of electric shock as since this incident i have experienced sharp chest pains. Sometimes many times a week, and sometimes none for months on end. It's over 10 yrs since this happened and my health has deteriorated. The chest pains have increased over the past 2 yrs and i am now tracing my mind back to what could have caused this, and the only 'heart' incident i had was the electric shock, when the chest pains first began.
    It seems there is very little info out there regarding long term damage from electric shock.
    I was young, fit in every way and had the energy of an athlete. Now i am barely functioning at age 35, with health declining slowly since the electric shock.

    So the moral of this story is, get your heart checked out for damage even if the shock is mild. I was sent to a bed at work to lay down, given a cup of tea, and sent home! This was while working at a private 'Eton' type school where you would have thought electrocution procedures and safety would be high, and certainly should know to get the heart checked out immediately following such an incident.