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Workplace hazards: Questions about electrocution

Coming into direct contact with an electrified wire can result in catastrophic injuries and death. For this reason, it's vital that all Illinois workers understand a few things about the basics of electricity -- especially if they work in the construction industry or in some other job where electrocution risks are high.

Here are a few common questions about electricity and electrocution with which workers should familiarize themselves:

What affects the strength of an electric shock?

Sometimes contact with electricity only results in a mild shock. Other times, it results in death. Electricity passes through certain materials more readily than others. Metals, for example, are easy conductors of electricity.

Meanwhile, glass, clay, dry wood, pottery, porcelain, rubber and plastic usually stop the flow of electricity. Interestingly, the surface of the earth -- i.e., the ground -- will conduct electric current. The air can also conduct electricity if the flow of electricity is strong enough to jump through the air and make contact with another conductive object.

Does water conduct electricity?

Water is not the best conductor of electricity, but if the water is salty or has other impurities in it, the water can become a much better conductor. Wet wood can conduct electricity, for example, while dry wood usually is a very poor conductor.

The same is the case when human skin is wet versus dry. Wet skin surfaces act as tremendous conductors of electricity. Therefore, if it's raining and a worker is around electricity, it's important to be extremely careful.

Why do people get shocked?

Shocks happen when a person's body becomes a part of an electric circuit, usually by touching a live wire. Shocks happen when the body completes the circuit between:

  • Two wires that belong to the same electric circuit;
  • An electrified wire and the ground;
  • A piece of metal that has become electrified and another conductive object.

When a shock like this happens, the electricity flows through the body to another conductive object or wire. Depending on how well the body conducts between these objects, the conductive capacity of the objects, the length of time the body serves as a conductor and the amount of electricity being conducted, serious injuries can result.

Were you electrocuted at work?

If you were seriously electrocuted at work, you might be covered by workers' compensation insurance. Make sure to learn about the various types of benefits you could be able to receive -- such as compensation for medical care and wage replacement benefits -- through the Illinois workers' compensation system.

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