Electricity can cause two types of burns: electrical burns from direct contact with current and thermal burns from arc flashes and blasts. An arc flash occurs when powerful, high-amperage currents travel, or arc, through the air. This can occur when high voltage differences exist across a gap between conductors. Arc flash incidents can be very serious. There are five primary factors that determine the severity of an injury from an electrical arc:
• Distance from the arc
• Absorption coefficient of the clothing worn
• Arc temperature
• Arc duration
• Arc length
Many serious injuries can occur from an arc flash incident.
Serious burns are the first thing that most people think of when it comes to the fallout of an arc flash event. It is not uncommon for individuals to receive 2nd or 3rd degree burns over much of their body.
The flash of light that occurs during an arc flash event is intense. The arc created is like lightning and you don’t want to be looking directly at it when it happens. Doing so unprotected can result in temporary blindness and permanent vision problems.
The destroyed equipment and molten metal caused by an arc flash event can hit the body at 700 miles per hour.
An arc flash explosion is like a bomb going off and many times the worker is standing at ground zero. The explosion results in noise that can bust eardrums and even cause permanent hearing damage and deafness. It can cause immediate and permanent damage.
Pressure Wave Injuries
The concussive force of an arc flash incident can create 2000 lbs/ft2 of pressure on the body. That’s a lot of pressure. It can easily throw a worker off of a ladder and into nearby walls and equipment. Again, it’s like a bomb. This kind of force can also lead to concussions, collapsed lungs, blunt chest and internal injuries.
Blast Lung Injuries (BLI)
One of the more gruesome injuries that can occur from an arc flash explosion is called a Blast Lung Injury. Blast lung injuries are far more serious than collapsed lungs. Blast Lung Injuries are very serious and not always realized until it’s too late.
Why do they occur? Our natural reaction to a startling event such as an explosion is to inhale deeply. When an individual does this during an arc flash explosion, he exposes his lungs to this heated and toxic air. It can almost instantly cause serious burns to the lungs and result in permanent lung damage, severe internal infections and even death.
What’s even worse is that the victims don’t always realize that they have this internal damage. Once the event is over most people are checking their exterior. They are checking their body for what they can see: burns, bruises, lacerations, etc. The adrenaline of the moment prevents them from realizing that they have serious issues going on inside their body. It can be hours before they realize that they have burned their lungs. They often think they have escaped serious problems only to end up dying later from an injury that they didn’t know they had.
First Aid Treatment
• If an injured worker is in contact with an energized circuit, do not touch the victim, shut off the power and call 911! If you can’t de-energize the circuit, dislodge the victim from the circuit with non-conductive material. Rescue should only be performed by knowledgeable persons trained in electrical hazards and rescue techniques. If the victim is on fire, smother or douse the flames. Remove smoldering clothing, but not clothing that is melted to the skin.
• Tell a conscious victim not to move. There may be other associated injuries besides the burns, such as a neck or spine injury. Moving an injured person can make injuries worse.
• Check Airway, Breathing & Circulation (ABC’s). If the victim is not breathing, begin CPR immediately.
• Always see a doctor following an electrical shock or burn. Even a victim who feels OK may have suffered internal injuries that won’t become apparent until later.
Flash burn Treatment
Treatment for flash burns may include:
1. Apply a cool wet dressing – eyes should be covered with a padded wet dressing to coo and rest them.
2. Dilating drops – these are sometimes used to relax the eye muscles, which in turn eases pain and allows the eyes to rest and heal. The pupils will look bigger than normal. This effect lasts several hours to a few days. ONLY APPLY DILATING DROPS AFTER CONSULTING A DOCTOR.
Thermal Burn Treatment
Treatment for thermal burns may include:
1. Stop the burn from worsening by cooling the affected area with clean running or standing water for at least 10 minutes. A clean, cool or cold (but not freezing) compress can be used as a substitute.
2. Remove jewellery and clothing from the burn site, but do not attempt to move anything that is stuck to the skin.
3. Once it is cool, cover the burn loosely with a dry, sterile dressing, preferably non-stick gauze.
4. Have the person lie down until EMS personnel arrive.
Blunt Chest/Blast Treatment
Treatment for thermal burns may include:
1. Keep the person as still as possible, as a blow to the chest may have caused head, neck, and/or spinal injuries.
2. Give the person something bulky (such as a towel) to hold against the chest, as this can make it easier to breathe.
3. Treat any obvious external injuries.
4. Constantly monitor the person’s condition as it may change rapidly.
Shrapnel Wound/Impaled Object Treatment
Treatment for impaled objects may include:
1. Keep the person still and leave the object in place.
2. Expose the object by carefully removing any clothing around it.
3. Check the circulation below the site of the injury.
4. Stabilize the object by using bulky dressings.
5. Use bandages to hold the dressings in place. Wrap the bandages snugly, but not so tightly as to cut off circulation.
6. Once the dressings are secure, recheck circulation below the site of the injury.
7. Make sure the person gets medical attention.