First Aid after an Electric Shock

14 September 2016 | Rachel England

First aid after electric shock

Electric shocks can cause serious injury and even result in fatality. Much of the risk can be avoided by maintaining good electrical safety habits and taking action against faulty switches, frayed wires and defective appliances, but accidents can still happen. Here’s what to do if you witness someone having an electric shock.

Consider your own safety
Before you do anything else, remember that your top priority needs to be your own safety, so before you touch the casualty you need to check if they are still in contact with the source of the shock. If they are, they’ll still be ‘live’ and touching them means you might end up being shocked yourself.

Dealing with the electricity
Safely turn off the source of electricity if possible. If not, try to break the connection between the casualty and the object (the live wire or appliance) using a non-conducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood, such as a broom or a mop. Don’t touch the object with your bare hands.

Check the casualty’s status
Once it’s safe to do so, check whether the casualty is conscious. Ask them if they can hear you and to open their eyes. Don’t move them unless the situation is critical.

If the casualty is conscious…
Even if the person is awake and seems well it’s important to monitor their condition for several hours after the shock. If they experience any of the following, take them to A&E immediately:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle pain and/or contractions
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

If the casualty is unconscious…
Call 999 immediately and ask for the emergency medical services. Stay calm. The operator will tell you what you need to do. Check the casualty’s breathing. If they’re breathing normally, put them in the recovery position and stay with them until help arrives. If the person shows no sign of circulation, such as breathing or movement, you should begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation):

  • Make sure the casualty is lying flat on a firm surface
  • Place your hands on top of one another in the centre of the casualty’s chest
  • Compress their chest (by no more than 5 cm) 30 times swiftly
  • After 30 compressions, tilt their head back and lift their chin, seal their nostrils with your thumb and forefinger and blow steadily into their mouth until you see their chest rise. 
  • Remove your mouth and wait until their chest falls, then repeat until you’ve given two rescue breaths in total
  • If the casualty remains unresponsive, begin the process again

Burn from electric shocks
Electric shocks can cause burns to the skin and in some cases, internal organs. In this instance, electricity is likely to enter and leave the body in different places, causing ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ burns. If the casualty is conscious, run cold water over the burn for at least 10 minutes and call for emergency medical help if necessary. If the casualty is unconscious, put them in the recovery position and cool their burns with wet dressings (such as sterile gauze or a clean cloth) while waiting for the emergency services.

What NOT to do following a burn from electric shock

  • Burst blisters
  • Apply sticky dressings
  • Remove damaged skin
  • Apply any ointments, creams, butter or margarine. 
  • Cover with fluffy dressings, such as towels, which have loose fibres that can become stuck to the burn, causing complications
  • Remove any damaged clothing
  • Apply ice to the affected area.

After the incident
It’s very important that you determine the cause of the electric shock and take action straight away. This may mean replacing appliances, changing wiring or updating your electrical system. Make sure everyone in your home or workplace knows basic first aid, and that small children know how to call 999 for help in an emergency. It could save a life.

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