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Written by
on 25 September 2012


Electricity has brought unbelievable advancements to human society. Whether it’s the ability to use time saving gadgets, connect with the world through the Internet or simply have light in the evening, our modern society would be unrecognisable in its absence.

However this modern capability does present a serious health and safety risk. In fact, the Health and Safety Executive estimate that each year, around 20 people will die at work following an electric shock or burn. (Source:

What are the dangers of an electric shock?

“If a person comes into contact with a voltage above about 50 volts they can receive a range of injuries”. (Source:

Injuries can include:

  • Pain or a tingling sensation
  • Thermal and electrical burns
  • Damage to the body’s Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord)
  • Breathing and heart rate disruption due to the impact on the body’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems

What’s more, the outcome of an electric shock is unpredictable because the severity depends on numerous factors.

Although the voltage, amperage and the type of current (whether it’s direct or alternating) will affect the degree of the shock, it’s the interaction with the human body that can make the difference between an accident and a fatality. For example, there is a higher risk of death if the electricity travels through a person’s head or chest. In addition, the duration of the shock is also a factor and if a person experiences muscle spasm, they will be unable to let go of the electrical source.

Clearly prevention is better than cure. So to minimise the risk of an electric shock, explore these five tips:

1.    Stay aware:

Three common reasons for an accidental electric shock are:

  • Where an electrical appliance is mistakenly perceived as not live
  • An inexperienced or unqualified person gets involved
  • Failure to take adequate precautions

Never underestimate the dangers involved around electricity.

 2.    Inspect electrical appliances:

Visually inspect wiring, cables and plugs and stop using any appliances that look hazardous. In addition meet your legal requirements with regular PAT testing and ensure someone qualified to do so carries out any checks or repairs.

3.    Avoid working on live conductors:

Wherever possible, turn off the electricity at the mains supply before working on machinery or appliances. If this is not an option always take appropriate safety precautions such as wearing insulated gloves and using insulated tools.

4.    Provide electrical safety mats:

Provide non-slip electrical matting to staff working with open switchboards or high voltage equipment.  Often made with rubber, these safety mats are non-conductive and can insulate and protect staff against electric shocks.

5.    Ensure staff are properly trained:

Ensure your staff understand the risks involved with electricity and only allow qualified professionals to troubleshoot and repair problems with any electrical appliances or equipment. In addition, carry out regular risk assessments to ensure dangers are identified and resolved before they result in an accident or injury.

Identifying and minimising the risk of electric shocks is a legal requirement supported by various pieces of legislation including the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974.

So if you have any doubts about the safety of electrical equipment or installations in your workplace, or if you’re unsure about the risks your staff face, it’s worth seeking professional advice.

Georgina El Morshdy writes articles for Electrical Mats Direct

About the author

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.