We all know that electricity is incredibly dangerous so if you’re considering a career as an electrician it’s understandable to want to know what your chances are of getting an electric shock. Of course, we have lots of safety measures and procedures in place to prevent this from happening but are these systems 100% safe? If you’re wondering, do electricians get shocked? this article will answer in frank and honest detail from my experience as an electrician with many years on the tools.
There are different levels of electric shock depending on the voltage and amps present. Many people may have experienced the shock from getting too close to an electric fence or perhaps the static shock when getting out of a car. However the shock comes, it is thoroughly unpleasant. For electricians working with electricity every day, the risk factor is multiplied as well as the consequences when things go wrong.
Do Electricians Get Shocked?
Many electricians will get shocked at some point in their careers. Although there are many safety procedures and standards put in place, accidents do still happen. Some electricians are lucky and get away with only a minor shock whereas others pay for the mistake with their life.
Procedures such as permit to work systems, locking off circuits and proving dead before work are all there to protect electricians from getting shocked. However, sometimes these procedures are not correctly followed. For example, not locking off a circuit correctly can result in someone else coming along and re-energising it whilst the electrician is still working on the system resulting in a shock.
Other times accidents can happen that are very hard to predict. When re-energising a circuit breaker, if the breaker is faulty it can cause an arc flash resulting in a huge explosion that is very difficult to predict prior to it happening. In these (thankfully rare) situations the electrician is counting on the PPE they are wearing to save their life and lessen the impact.
How Often Do Electricians Get Shocked?
If an electrician is working as they should and following all procedures they should never get shocked. However, the majority of electricians will suffer one or two minor shocks throughout their careers. Usually, it is by luck more than anything else that the electrician gets away with the mistake.
We’ve mentioned procedures several times because these are the golden rules for preventing us from getting shocked. Although with have great tools such as VDE screwdriver sets (linked to my favourite set on Amazon here) which can withstand up to 1000 volts and PPE such as rubber gloves and visor sets, these are considered the last line of defence items.
If we are relying on our PPE (personal protective equipment) or VDE tools to prevent us from getting shocked then something has gone seriously wrong with our planning of the job. It only takes a small lapse in concentration for shocks to occur so these tools and PPE items are always required, even if PPE is not always the most comfortable thing to wear.
How Many Electricians Die Each Year?
In the UK between April 2020 and April 2021, 11 construction workers died from electrocution, out of a total of 39 construction worker deaths in the same year period. The exact number for how many electricians died each year is difficult to extract as other trades, such as mechanical teams will work on electrical equipment to some level.
I’ll link to the health and safety executive website as it is an interesting read. I was surprised to learn that the majority of construction worker deaths are from falls from heights. Although the numbers are on a downward trend the data shows that being a construction worker, including being an electrician is still a dangerous career to have.
The type of electrical work we do as electricians has an impact on the risk factor we are taking on each day. The voltage in a normal domestic setting (230 volts) is easy enough to cause a fatality. Now picture the fact that high voltage electricians such as overhead linemen regularly work with systems around the 33,000-volt range and we can quickly work out that mistakes at these levels are never minor mistakes.
What Happens If I Touch a Live Electric Wire?
If we touch a live electric wire, the electrical energy within that wire is looking for the easiest path back to earth to complete its electrical circuit. As humans are made up of 60% water, and water is a great conductor of electricity, the easiest path back to earth is unfortunately through us, resulting in an electric shock.
If we are not in contact with the earth, ie are feet are not touching the ground and our hands and arms aren’t touching any surfaces, the electrical energy has some options. It can jump between our feet and the earth (if it has enough potential) or it can find an easier way to complete its circuit (perhaps down the earth wire we add to circuits for safety)
This is the very basics of how we get an electric shock and I am definitely not a scientist so some of the lingo I just used is probably not correct. As an electrician with a basic understanding of physics, I just know that if I am the easiest path back to earth the electricity is going to pass through me and then I’m in big trouble.
Can You Get Shocked Touching One Wire?
You can absolutely get shocked touching one wire. By touching one wire we are effectively becoming part of the electrical circuit. Instead of the electricity flowing back down the neutral to complete its circuit it will take the quicker and easier path through us.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it matters which wire you touch either. If we touch the neutral cable we are still becoming part of the circuit and the electricity will flow through us. We could see from the earlier statistics that double-digit numbers of people still die each year from electric shocks so taking our chances with something so dangerous is a really bad idea.
How Do Electricians Not Get Shocked?
Electricians do not get shocked as they follow industry-standard procedures such as locking off circuits and proving dead before carrying out any work. Electricians rely on their skill and experience to identify potential hazards which other people will often miss, this is why an electrician apprenticeship takes four years and many hours in the classroom to complete.
As mentioned earlier, electricians do have certain tools which help them not get shocked. Items such as voltage testers (I’ll link to my favourite one here on Amazon) alongside proper training are vital for proving a circuit is safe to work on.
Equipment such as fibreglass step ladders (Amazon linked here) are also commonly used as an additional layer of protection in case mistakes happen and we come into contact with a live circuit. Fibreglass is not a good conductor of electricity so hopefully, the electricity doesn’t flow through us back to earth, it looks for an easier route.
Despite the tools and equipment mentioned above, the biggest reason why electricians don’t get shocked is their training level and ongoing assessments. Before someone can qualify as an electrician they must prove they can work in a safe manner. Working safely is heavily instilled in new recruits at college and anyone with a lax attitude to safety has no chance of passing the course in today’s modern world.
Is Being an Electrician Scary?
Being an electrician is not scary, despite all the dangers associated with the career. Throughout our training, we learn to have a very healthy respect for the dangers of electricity but we are also taught the procedures for working safely which helps ease any fears.
Having said that, even though I have been an electrician for many years I still wince a little when a large circuit breaker is re-energised or a SAP (senior authorised person) is turning a transformer back on. We are shown enough training videos and all know stories of people who have gotten hurt to have a high-level understanding of what could go wrong.
I’ve tried to be as frank as possible in this post when answering the question, do electricians get shocked? I would be lying if I said I didn’t know of anyone who had been shocked and gotten away with it. However, I also personally know other electricians who have received electric shocks and suffered very serious injuries as a result.
I’m finding that the longer I’m spending working as an electrician, the greater my respect becomes for the amazing energy source that provides light to our homes, power to our tellies but also took 11 people’s lives last year.
A disclaimer: Any information provided in this post is my opinion only and a qualified electrician in your area should always be sought when in any doubt. Electricity is incredibly dangerous and electrical circuits should only be worked on by trained professionals.