Straight, No Chaser: Do's and Don'ts of Treating Electrical Injuries
In a previous Straight, No Chaser, we discussed the “what” of electrical injuries. In this post, we discuss the “what-to-do” and “what-not-to-do” if and when you find yourself shocked or caring for someone else who was.
Let’s begin with prevention. It is easier for you to avoid a hazardous situation than to have to deal with it while injured. Let’s start with the children.
- Talk to your children about electricity. Review hazardous and safe behaviors.
- Use child safety plugs in all electrical outlets. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone anymore.
- Take the next step and keep all electrical cords out of children’s reach.
- Keep children away from electrical devices, especially those plugged in.
- Intermittently check electrical cords, and make sure they aren’t cut or split with loose, exposed wiring visible and accessible.
- Take the extra step of reading and following manufacturer’s safety instructions when using electrical appliances. Learning the right places to plug live wires on the fly is not the best idea.
- Stay away from electrical devices while wet. This includes touching faucets or pipes while using them. Take the time to take the extra step.
- Learn where the power boxes are in your house. If you ever need to turn them off, the first step is knowing the correct location for them.
Now, let’s review steps NOT to take if you’re electrocuted or near someone who was.
- Don’t touch someone still in contact with the source of the electricity. The body is an excellent conductor of electrical current, and you’ll become part of the link.
- Not only should you not touch, you shouldn’t even get close. Stay at least 20 feet (about three to four body lengths) away from someone being electrocuted until the power is turned off. The high-voltage current of power lines can dance their way onto you if given the opportunity.
- Regardless of the distance, don’t try to rescue someone near an active high-voltage power line.
- Don’t play doctor. If the power does get shut off, don’t move the victim. You’re likely to cause more harm than good. The force associated with electrical injuries often cause injuries, including to the head or spine. The exception to this would be the presence of a fire or the risk of an explosion.
- Don’t play doctor, part two: Forget what you’ve heard. Please don’t slather the burns with butter or apply ice, ointment or any other medications. In fact, avoid placing any type of adhesive dressing or big bulky dressings. Your best move is to spend that time on the phone with emergency medical services.
- You’re still not a doctor! Avoid the urge to break open burn blisters or peel off dead skin. Sometimes don’t-do-something-just-stand-there is the best course of action.
Ok, you really want to do something to help? Here are safe, reasonable steps to take.
- First things first: Ensure your own safety, whether from the electricity, any fire or possibility of an explosion. If there’s any water on the floor while this is occurring get out while you can.
- Take advantage of your being smart enough to have learned how to cut off the power and do so. I’d recommend working backwards in this order: turn off the circuit breakers, remove the fuse from the fuse box, and unplug the cord. Remember, appliances can still allow for electrical current flow even in the off position. Simply cutting it off might neither be safe nor effective.
- Call your local emergency medical service number (e.g., 911) at the first safe opportunity.
- If the current can’t be turned off, and you determine it is safe to do so, find something made of rubber or another non-conducting material, such as a broom, chair or rug to push the person away from the source of the current. Don’t even think about using metal or something wet. Whenever you’re doing whatever you’re doing, stand on something rubber.
- Do you know CPR? You may need it here. If the victim is no longer near the source of electricity, take needed steps. One very simple yet effective step is to raise the legs about the level of the heart. Again, avoid movement of the head, neck or lower spine.
- If the person has a burn, remove any clothing that comes off easily without disturbing the rest of the body. Rinse any burns in cool running water until the pain subsides, and if possible give first aid. Do not go to great lengths here. The ambulance is likely to arrive before you get to do much here.
- Stay with the victim until medical assistance arrives, unless the situation demands a quit exit.
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