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Safety Story

Electric Shock

What causes electric shock? According to our research, poor work practices or complacency, relying on others to ensure equipment is de-energized, and inadequate training in electrical safety and risk were among the key contributing factors. 
Electric Shock Risk Factors


This information was revealed by those working in the electrical industry in a research project we undertook in Fall 2018 to help better understand the sociocultural and behavioural conditions that could create the risk of electric shock.

The topic of electric shock came about through research and analysis into our as-found hazard and incident reports, where we identified electrical shock as one of four key areas of risk in our 2017-18 business plan.

To understand why people in the electrical industry were getting shocked and how to prevent people from working on live equipment, we conducted field research. From September to October 2018, we conducted five focus groups with 40 people. We received 1,196 survey responses from electrical contractors, Field Safety Representatives, apprentices and other industry members.

Of the survey responses we received, 95% reported they had worked on live or energized equipment and most had experienced electric shock.

In terms of influencing factors, most participants reported they had enough knowledge, skills, and training. The results showed their choice to work “live” was heavily influenced by economic, time, and social pressures (i.e., a desire to keep the boss happy and not risk losing out on future work), which mostly fell outside of their personal control. In fact, 42% reported working energized at least once a year even though they didn’t want to. That said, many participants felt confident in declining unsafe work and negotiating their safety with respect to electric shock. Approximately 63% reported they had refused or declined work due to concerns around electrical shock.


Electric Shock Stats

“You want to keep the boss happy. Being safe is generally slower and bosses don’t want that…. It may not be your employer’s intention but if you have two [workers] and one is safer and slower, the boss will go with the faster worker.” 

- Workshop Participant


In Conclusion:

Our research suggests electric shock doesn’t happen simply due to lack of knowledge or awareness. Many of the contributing factors occur at the organizational or sociocultural level.

In 2019, Technical Safety BC will be connecting with key stakeholder groups to share research findings. It’s our goal to work collaboratively with other safety leaders in the electrical industry to promote change in industry practices and reduce occurrences of electric shock.

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