Electrocution & Electric Shock First Aid

Tingles in the tap – why we should be cautious and what to do if things go wrong

Hi folks, welcome back to the blog. Apologies for not posting anything up for some time, we were very busy in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games and subsequent events at home have held me back from blogging. But an article I read in the news last month, as well as our own little scare at home, has prompted me to hit the keyboard again.

The article in question is this one here – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-06/denishar-woods-suffered-brain-damage-from-tap-electric-shock/9520014 . A young girl was helping in the yard doing some chores, went to turn the garden tap off and was electrocuted. Her injuries ended up being quite severe and although she didn’t die, her life has been changed significantly. Whilst not as severe as what happened in WA, we had a similar experience at home. Our en-suite shower began giving us some tingles in the hands, arms and head, some quite painful. This gave my wife and I a bit of a scare, particularly knowing we sometimes shower our two small kids.

So first up, tingles in the tap. What does that mean exactly? Well, I’m not an electrician, nor will I claim to have a whole lot of knowledge when it comes to electrickery. All credit to the sparkies out there, but this is a form of Jedi magic that kind of escapes me. Even consulting with the all-knowing Google, terms such as Multiple Earth Neutral, potential in the neutral system and balance voltages aren’t really all that helpful to me. So, if there are any electricians who read this who can provide a very simple explanation, I’ll happily edit the blog to incorporate the wisdom. All I know is, that tingles in the tap are not good, so get in touch with your electrical supply company ASAP and they will urgently send a crew out to investigate.

It’s pretty interesting to know what happens when we’re electrocuted though. Whilst people talk about the amount of volt’s that can hurt us, it’s actually the current, measured in Amperes that does the damage. And it actually doesn’t take much current at all. 1mA will give us a mild sensation where it’s noticeable – the tingling sensation. Anything greater than 10mA causes the muscles to spasm, preventing us from letting go of what is zapping us. Above 50mA, we’ll get extreme breathing difficulty and pain. When the current jacks up to 100mA and higher, ventricular fibrillation is likely to occur (that funky rhythm that causes us to go into cardiac arrest).

So what happens when that current flows through your body? Well, the best path for the electricity to flow through is that of the least resistance – namely the nerve pathways (our own internal ‘electrical pathway’) and the cardiovascular system (as this is made up largely of water). So current can cause quite a few problems in these areas.

Signs and symptoms of electrocution can include:

  • Burns – the electricity generates heat as it goes through the skin. Burns will be characterised by a smaller entry burn and a larger exit burn, ranging in severity from superficial (first degree) to full thickness (third degree). As the current flows through the body, severe internal burning may also occur.
  • Cardiac – several heart arrythmias may occur because of electrocution. The most severe is Ventricular Fibrillation causing cardiac arrest. Your patient will therefore be unresponsive and not breathing adequately.
  • Nervous system – complications following electric shock can include respiratory arrest, seizures, altered mental state, amnesia, coma, loss of motor function.
  • Musculoskeletal – as Alternating Current causes the muscles to contract severely, severe muscle damage and even dislocations and fractures can occur. Injuries secondary to falls may also occur, rather than direct injury from electrocution.

Our first aid management for an electrocution is the same as with any burns. In addition, we must look closely at the dangers associated with the type of injury, namely that the patient is still not connected to the power source causing the electrocution.

First aid for electrocution, therefore, is as follows:

  • DANGER – always check to make sure the patient is not attached to the power supply. If they are, isolate the power by turning it off at the source or by turning off the mains power at the switchboard. If there is no way of turning off the power, disconnect the patient from the power source using a non-conductive material. Also, water and electricity don’t mix, so be very careful if your patient is lying in water and you suspect electrocution.
  • Continue to follow remaining DRSABCD steps as taught in our provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation course.
  • Manage burns by holding the burnt area under cool running water for 20 minutes.
  • Remove any constricting clothing and jewellery, so long as it is not stuck to the skin.
  • Apply a non-stick dressing – cling wrap or a wet absorbent dressing is best.
  • Manage for potential shock (medical shock – pale, cool, clammy, nauseous/vomiting, thirsty, feeling cold, disoriented, dizzy, altered level of consciousness, collapse).
  • Manage any musculoskeletal injuries that may have occurred.

To wrap it all up folks, the best thing to remember is prevention. If you experience any kind of tingles or strange sensations when turning on taps or handling metal shower heads/spouts, is to immediately stop using it and contact your electrical supply company. They should have an emergency phone number for these exact problems. Secondly, don’t be shy about completing or updating your first aid training with us. We hold courses at our training facilities in Helensvale or Mermaid Beach daily, as well as offering courses at your work location. All electricians who need to update their LV Rescue competencies, we run these courses every week. Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Craig Middleton

Craig Middleton

Craig has been training with Paradise First Aid since late 2016. He was heavily involved with the volunteer State Emergency Service, undertaking vertical rescues, flood boat operations and assisting the community following natural disasters. He also has extensive fire and rescue experience in both state and private sectors. Craig recently graduated with distinction with a Bachelor of Paramedic Science. As a passionate trainer, he likes to impart the skills and knowledge he has gained from his years of operational experience.
Craig Middleton
Craig Middleton

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