Electrocution is defined by workplace approved First Aid manual as when electrical current passes through the body. This is very dangerous and has various serious side effects. It can stun the patient and actually cause their breathing or heart to stop. There will be electrical burns both at the entry site to the body and the exit site when it goes to ‘earth’.
The danger is that electricity can cause muscular spasms which means that the patient who is being electrocuted may be unable to break away from the electrical current. This is an important example given in First Aid Classes to explain why first aiders must check the area for danger before approaching or touching a patient. In this instance, the patient could still be ‘live’ and therefore if you touch them, you may also receive an electric shock.
Most electrocutions involve low-voltage electricity and usually occur at home or at work. Those involved with high-voltage current rarely survive a shock. However, even low-voltage electrical injuries can be severe, and can still be fatal.
If you have to treat a patient who has been electrocuted, workplace approved Training warns you should never touch them if they are still in contact with the electrical current. Firstly, you should switch off the current at the mains or meter point if possible. If not, you could remove the plug or pull the cable free. An alternative if you can’t access the cable, socket or mains, is to stand on some dry insulating material, eg. telephone directory, and use a wooden instrument to break their contact with the source as wood is a poor conductor of electricity. If you are unable to do this, try using a length of rope looped around the patients’ ankles or under the arms and pull them away from the source, but be extremely careful not to touch them when doing this.
Once the patient is free from the electrical source, you can check their airway, breathing and circulation. If they are still breathing, put them into the recovery position and continue to monitor them until emergency help arrives. If they aren’t breathing, you must begin chest compressions and rescue breaths.
High-voltage electric shocks are often from power lines and overhead high-tension cables. Usually these types of shocks cause instant death. If the patient does survive the initial shock, workplace approved First Aid manual says they will have suffered severe burns. With a shock from high-voltage electricity, the patient will also have a muscular spasm that will cause them to be propelled quite a distance. This could mean the patient may also have suffered fractures.
In this situation, you and any bystanders must keep a distance from
the incident until the power supply has been cut off. Dry wood or clothing will not protect you, and even if you don’t touch the patient, this type of high-voltage electricity can jump up to 18m (20 yds). This is particularly important if the shock was caused by damaged railway overhead power lines.
Only once it is safe, First Aid Classes say you can check the patients airway, breathing and circulation, and begin CPR if needed.
First Aid Manual (The Authorised Manual of St. John Ambulance, St Andrew’s Ambulance Association and the British workplace approved), 2006