SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- The human body conducts electricity.
- Disconnect the power supply before trying to help someone suffering from an electric shock.
- Be especially careful in wet environments and around fallen powerlines, they may still be conducting electricity even if they are broken or not moving.
- Always hire a licensed electrician for all electrical work around the home.
On this page
What is electric shock?
Our bodies conduct electricity. If any part of your body meets live electricity an electric current flows through the tissues, which causes an electric shock. People sometimes call it electrocution.
Depending on the length and severity the electric shock, injuries can include:
- burns to the skin
- burns to internal tissues
- electrical interference or damage (or both) to the heart, which could cause the heart to stop or beat erratically.
It is important to seek medical attention for mild electric shock to assess whether the heart has been affected.
What causes electric shock?
Some causes of electric shock include:
- faulty appliances
- damaged or frayed cords or extension leads
- electrical appliances in contact with water
- incorrect, damaged or deteriorated household wiring
- downed powerlines
- lightning strike.
If it is safe to do so, disconnect the power supply before trying to help someone with electric shock.
Symptoms of electric shock
Typical symptoms of an electric shock include:
- difficulties in breathing or no breathing at all
- a weak, erratic pulse or no pulse at all
- burns, particularly at the place where the electricity entered and left the body (entrance and exit burns)
- cardiac arrest.
Although someone who has had an electric shock may appear unharmed, they should still receive medical attention. Some injuries and complications may not be obvious initially. A medical examination is important after any electric shock.
First aid for electric shock
First-aid steps for electric shock:
- Check for danger – make sure you, the injured person and others around you are safe.
- Try to switch off or disconnect the power supply. Do not touch the person until you are sure power is turned off. Be careful in wet environments, such as bathrooms, as water conducts electricity.
- If you are in a building or the power lines have come down, it may be safer to disconnect the whole electricity supply. You may need to wait for authorised electricity personnel to do this especially if there are live wires.
- If you cannot switch off the power supply, try to remove the person without touching them directly. Use something that is dry and does not conduct electricity (such as a wooden broom handle)
- Follow the DRSABCD method for first aid which includes checking the injured person’s response, airway and breathing. It may be necessary to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
- Send for help – Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. The operator will organise assistance for you while you continue talking on the phone. They may give you first aid instructions over the phone. If you can, put your phone on loudspeaker.
If the person is breathing steadily and they are responsive, attend to their injuries:
- Talk calmly and reassure the person.
- Cool the burn area with cool running water for 20 minutes.
- Cover burns with dressings that won’t stick to the skin. If you don’t have dressings available, loosely applied cling wrap can be used. Do not apply cling wrap tightly or wrap around a body part, as this will cause complications if the injured area swells.
- Never put ointments or oils onto burns.
- Try not to move anyone who has fallen from a height as they may have spinal injuries. Only move them if there is a chance of further danger from the environment, such as falling objects.
Powerlines can come down for many reasons:
- extreme weather conditions such as floods and bushfires
- motor vehicle accidents
- fallen trees
- workplace accidents.
Standing near fallen powerlines can be dangerous. Always stay more than 8-10 metres away. Do not go near anything that may be touching them such as vehicles, water or metal fences or other metal objects.
Powerlines and vehicle accidents
Sometimes, powerlines are downed in vehicle accidents and may drape over your vehicle.
If this happens, your tyres act as insulation. It is important to stay inside the vehicle so you will be safe from electric shock.
If you arrive on the scene of an accident where the powerlines have come down, do not approach until it has been declared safe by the proper authorities. Stand well back and encourage any bystanders to keep a distance of more than 8-10 metres.
Even if the lines or wires are broken or not moving, they may still be live. All fallen powerlines should be treated as live.
If someone needs to get out of the vehicle because of a hazard (such as fire) instruct them to keep their feet close together and to jump away, not walk. This can reduce the chance of an electric shock if wires are on the ground. Only advise this action if the person is unable to remain in the vehicle due to an immediate safety concern.
Safety tips around the home to reduce the risk of electric shock
You can reduce the risk of electric shock in your home by taking a few precautions:
- Don’t be tempted to do your own electrical work. Although you may think it looks easy to do jobs yourself, such as changing power points or switches, always hire a licensed electrician. Check Energy Safe Victoria for a list of registered tradespeople.
- Do not use extension leads or appliances if the cords are damaged or frayed. Throw them away if they are damaged in any way.
- Do not remove a plug from a power point by pulling on the cord – pull the plug instead.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet areas. Electricity and water don’t mix.
- Wear rubber or plastic soled shoes when using electrical appliances, especially in wet areas, on concrete or outdoors.
- Have safety switches installed by an electrician.
- Buy portable power boards with built-in safety switches.
- Insert safety plugs into unused power points to stop children from inserting objects into them.
- If you have children, turn off and unplug electric appliances and keep them out of reach (this includes electrical cords).
- Get household wiring checked by a registered electrician, especially if your house is more than 30 years old.
- When buying electrical appliances, check they meet Australian safety standards. Be extra cautious when shopping online.
- If you plan to buy second-hand appliances, check they meet Australian standards and are not damaged. It is a good idea to have them checked by someone who is qualified in electrical repairs such as a licensed electrician.
- If you use a metal ladder, make sure it has rubber feet. When metal contacts the ground it can increase the risk of electric shock.
Image courtesy of Energy Safe Victoria
A safety switch (or residual current device) is a safety device used with circuit breakers and fuses in your home to minimise the risk of injury and fires. It monitors electricity flow through a circuit by making sure the flow is even.
Safety switches quickly trip out the power when an electrical problem is detected. They can protect from harmful electric shocks when someone makes contact with a live electrical circuit (such as from faulty electrical leads and appliances) and provides a path to earth. Switches operate within 0.03 seconds.
A safety switch is different to a circuit breaker, which is designed to protect household wiring from power surges.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, call triple zero (000)
- Your GP (doctor)
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 60 60 24 – for expert health advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Energy Safe Victoria
- Your local council
- Your electricity supply company
- Australian Certification Database – to check approved electrical appliances
- Dial Before You Dig – free online referral service for anyone who is undertaking works to find out where underground pipes, cables and utilities are located
- St John Ambulance Australia (first aid courses)Victoria Tel. 1300 360 455
- Australian Red Cross (first aid and mental health training) Tel. 1800 733 276
- Electric shock – first aid fact sheet, St John Ambulance, Australia.
- Buying safe electrical appliances, Energy Safe Victoria.
- Using electricity safely, Energy Safe Victoria.