Electric Shock Investigations – Part 1

Electric shock and arc flash incidents continue to pose a grave concern in the electrical industry, despite the prohibition of ‘live’ electrical work by legislation. Disturbingly, Australia records approximately one electrocution-related fatality per month, and one in every three of these victims belongs to the electrical community.

In this article (Part 1) looking at electrical incident investigations, we embark on a comprehensive exploration of the crucial preplanning phase and the vital first response in the management and prevention of these life-threatening incidents.
Preparations for an electrical incident will depend on the organisation. A safety regulator will have totally different objectives to poles and wires business and to a mining company, etc.
Being prepared for an electrical incident, regardless of the type of organisation, will help ensure proper corrective and preventative actions are implemented to prevent recurrences. Recurrences will be frowned upon by safety regulators and the courts, especially if no actions were taken after the first incident. Prosecutions from safety regulators serve as a deterrent and incentive for businesses to prevent incidents initially and to prevent recurrences should an incident occur.
Preparations include having detailed procedures to be followed in the event of an incident and forms and/or checklists to help ensure adequate evidence is collected. Procedures will need to detail how
the investigation team is selected and appointed, evidence is to be collected, recorded and stored, how evidence is to be analysed and examined, and test equipment calibration and accuracy requirements, etc.
Additionally, a written report template will help ensure consistency with reporting whilst realising the safety regulator is likely to have their own reporting form that must be completed.
Undoubtedly, investigators will need equipment to conduct the investigation. One of our clients has a barrel bag ready at hand that is well stocked for an investigation. The contents of the bag include such this as multimeters, oscilloscopes, insulation resistance testers, electric shock investigation kit, insulated gloves, witches hats, barrier tape, torch, rain gear, cameras, video camera, spare batteries, etc.

An Electric Shock Investigation Kit is important for investigations

Evidence storage facilities also need to be established including chainof-custody security arrangements that will need to be detailed in the
investigation procedure. A locked storage cupboard will be needed for physical items of evidence and an electronic medium for electronic items such as photos and videos, this could be a secure corporate drive.
Lastly, and most importantly, is having skilled and trained investigators and this is where PowerLogic comes into play. We have trained thousands in the art of investigation electrical incidents. Our 3-day Electric Shock Investigation Training Course surpasses the standards of competence. Recent training for a safety regulator has received accolades and positive feedback.

Chris Halliday has trained thousands in Electric Shock Investigations

Getting to the root causes of an electrical incident requires the investigators to have electrical skills above that of a normal electrician or electrical engineer. I quickly realised that lack of electrical technical skills was the largest impediment to a successful investigation and hence much of our training focuses on increasing technical skills.
Some of testimonials include:
“PowerLogic’s Electric Shock Investigation Course is the best course I have ever done” Thomas Rigby, Contracts Compliance/Electrical Engineering Manager – BMC, Poitrel Mine.
“Probably the best post trade training I have attended. Practical demo’s and exercises. Excellent real-world scenarios.” Michael Weeks Angloamerican, Moranabah North Mine.
The ‘first response’ to an incident is very important in preventing further loss of life immediately following the incident.
Just like a car crash, the immediate risks need to be controlled for an electrical incident or further loss of life can ensue. The electrical hazard could be managed by the use of an insulated crook from a
rescue kit to remove the ‘shock victim’ from the ‘live’ equipment or by isolation of the electricity supply. Either way, a mental risk assessment
should be the first step and following the first aid guidance of the ‘D’, from DRSABCD, for DANGER.

An electrical inspector on the sunshine coast, some years back, was called to an electric shock incident by a building firm after one construction worker received an electric shock from the roof of a building to surrounding scaffolding. The electrical inspector failed to manage the electrical hazard and paid the ultimate price when he got between the roof and scaffolding and was subsequently electrocuted. What an unnecessary waste of life!
Once the rescue has been completed and the ambulance has left the incident scene, either on the way to the hospital or the morgue, the scene needed to be secured to prevent loss of evidence and/or evidence contamination. Keep in mind that electrical incident scenes may not be what they seem, and vandalism, manslaughter or murder could be the cause of the incident and not just an
unfortunate accident.

Securing the incident scene is important until investigators have completed their investigation – this might include using barricades, or even using a security guard

We were quite surprised when we investigated a possible electrocution some years back and found that no-one, including the safety regulator, had secured the scene. Investigation procedures, mentioned earlier, also need to include requirements around securing the incident scene.
Investigators will also need to know what occurred with the rescue as rescuers might have affected the evidence. A scene log willbe needed to record those at the site and the role they play in the incident or in the rescue.
A part of the ‘first response’ will be notifying the relevant authorities. This is to occur as soon as reasonably practicable under most state and territory legislation. From this the safety regulator
may decide to investigate.
Regardless, the organisation involved, will need to carry out their own detailed investigation and so an investigation team will need to be established ASAP. The integrity of the evidence may be compromised the longer the delay in getting the investigation team to the site.
I have been asked to provide guidance on an incident where on the day of the incident, it had been raining but was very hot and fairly dry on the day I investigated. Conditions for an electric shock in such cases had changed considerably.
I also investigated an incident some 12 months after the incident where a man was allegedly electrocuted. The purpose was to ensure electrical safety at the site as this had never been proven due to inexperience of those involved and to gather any available evidence. The latter was far too late as you could imagine.
Witness statements need to be taken as soon as possible to prevent collusion and memories do change over time.

Notifying the relevant authorities of workplace incidents as soon as reasonably practical is a legal requirement

Another part of the ‘first response’ is to ensure all ‘shock victims’ seek medical attention ASAP. Heart rhythms can be affected that can lead to death sometime after the incident. I remember in one class, many years ago now, one trainee spoke of an electrical worker mate who had received a rather nasty electric shock during the day. He never sought medical assistance but did complete his shift. He arrived home and was seated at the kitchen table awaiting dinner. All of a sudden, he said to his wife that he wasn’t feeling well, and he slumped forward
on the table and died there and then.
Electrical incidents do occur in workplaces across Australia at a rate that can be regarded as far too often.
When an electrical incident occurs, it pays to be prepared. Being prepared will help ensure that the required corrective and preventative actions are implemented.
Being prepared means having the required procedures in place, adequate forms and checklists to ensure a successful investigation.
Having the required investigation equipment will also help to ensure success.
Training for investigators is most important and this is where PowerLogic can help. We have the following courses to assist with an electrical incident investigation:

  • Arc Flash Awareness
  • Arc Flash for Engineers
  • Electric Shock Investigation Introduction/Refresher
  • Electric Shock Investigation Kit
  • Electric Shock Investigation – 3-day course
  • Electrical Incident Report Writing
  • Lightning Awareness and Management for various industry
  • Etc.

We can come to site, or we have an online version of those courses that are self-paced and able to be completed day or night.
Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss any training needs or issues involving electrical incident investigations.

Chris Halliday
Electrical Safety Advocate and Specialist Trainer

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