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Occupational Electrocution -- Texas, 1981-1985

A recent review of 1982 death certificates in Texas identified electrocution as the fifth leading cause of fatal occupational injuries among men (1). To help understand the circumstances leading to these fatal events, the Texas Department of Health has reviewed all occupational electrocutions noted on Texas death certificates from 1981 through 1985.

The study included only civilian decedents who were 16 years of age or older and who were electrocuted while at work in Texas.* Death certificates for decedents meeting this definition were reviewed for information on the decedent's occupation and the industry involved and for any notation regarding the circumstances surrounding the event. Information on the occupation and industry was coded according to the classification index of the Bureau of the Census (2).

A total of 337 workers were electrocuted at Texas worksites during the 5-year study period. All but one of the decedents were male. Age at death ranged from 17 to 77 years, with a mean of 31.5 years; 238 (71%) of the decedents were less than 35 years old. These work-related electrocutions were responsible for an estimated 11,337 years of potential life lost before age 65. White, non-Hispanic males accounted for 77% of the fatalities; Hispanic males, for 16%; and black males, for 6%.

Electrocution most frequently involved construction laborers, oilfield workers, electricians working for utility companies, other electricians, and truck drivers (Table 1). Of the 174 fatalities occurring in these five occupational groups, 51 (29%) occurred when workers came in direct contact with energized lines or power sources; 21 (12%) occurred when transport vehicles (trucks, forklifts, booms, etc.) came in contact with energized lines; 13 (7%) resulted from contact with equipment the worker was operating (power saws, drilling rigs, electric motors, etc.); 10 (6%) occurred when materials or equipment (ladders, grain augers, scaffolds, pipes, etc.) that the worker was using contacted energized wires or power sources; and 12 (7%) resulted from other circumstances. Data from the remaining 67 (39%) death certificates for workers in these occupational groups were insufficient to categorize the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

Nearly half (47%) of the electrocutions occurred in the construction industry. Another quarter of the fatalities occurred in the oil and gas extraction industries (13%) and the transportation, communications, and utilities industries (11%). Based on estimates of industry-specific employment over the 5-year study period, the average annual mortality rate for occupational electrocutions was 7.5/100,000 persons at risk in the construction industry; 4.0/100,000 in the oil and gas industry; and 2.0/100,000 in the transportation, communications, and utilities industries. In contrast, the average annual mortality rate for occupational electrocutions in all other industries combined was 0.3/100,000. From 1981 through 1985, the annual number of occupational electrocutions declined steadily (Figure 1). Examination of the yearly industry- specific totals indicated that only the construction industry had a significant decline in the number of deaths over the 5-year study period. The decrease in construction activity in Texas during this time could account for this change. Reported by: DM Perrotta, PhD, J Brender, RN, PhD, L Suarez, MS, MJ Preece, L Carmichael, TG Betz, MD, MPH, State Epidemiologist, Texas Dept of Health. Office of the Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: From previous on-site investigations of 121 occupational electrocutions, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified five primary causes of such fatalities: 1) direct physical contact between the worker and energized lines; 2) contact of a vehicular boom with energized powerlines; 3) contact of other equipment with energized powerlines; 4) direct contact of the worker with energized equipment or conductors; and 5) improperly installed or broken equipment (3-8). Comprehensive on-site reviews of the electrocutions in Texas had not been conducted; however, conclusions regarding the primary causes of worksite electrocutions from the Texas death certificate-based study were similar to those from the NIOSH investigations. Data routinely available from death certificates are useful for directing preventive efforts because they document the frequency of work-related electrocutions and identify the occupations and industries in which these fatalities are occurring most frequently.

Texas workers who died from electrocutions were younger (32 years of age) than the average worker dying from an occupational fatality (37 years of age) in Texas. This difference underscores the need for training new or younger workers to be aware of the risk of electrocution. Employers engaged in construction and other high-risk activities should ensure that all workers, particularly those in occupations at greatest risk (Table 1), are familiar with appropriate safety precautions for working near energized lines. Electrical equipment should be kept in sound working condition, inspected regularly, and used appropriately.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control. Fatal occupational injuries--Texas, 1982. MMWR 1985; 34:130-4,139.

  2. Bureau of the Census. 1980 census of population: classified index of industries and occupations. Washington, DC: US Department of Commerce, 1980.

  3. Mills GR. Preventing electrocutions through engineering controls and public awareness. Presentation at the Society for Occupational and Environmental Health Conference, April 8, 1987, Bethesda, Maryland.

  4. Centers for Disease Control. Request for assistance in preventing electrocutions from contact between cranes and power lines. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1985. DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)85-111.

  5. Centers for Disease Control. Request for assistance in preventing grain auger electrocutions. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1986; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)86-119.

  6. Centers for Disease Control. Request for assistance in preventing electrocutions of workers in fast food restaurants. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1984; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)85-104.

  7. Centers for Disease Control. Request for assistance in preventing electrocutions due to damaged receptacles and connectors. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1986; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)87-100.

  8. Centers for Disease Control. Request for assistance in preventing fatalities of workers who contact electrical energy. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1986; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)87-103. *Death classified as category E925 according to the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, and positive response to the "Injury at work?" question.



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