When a young electrical engineer received second- and third-degree burns to 90% of his body, employees at a California movie production studio learned firsthand the tragic consequences of being ill prepared to handle a serious accident.

The victim, a 33-year-old male, sustained the burns while attempting to obtain the serial number from an electrical panel. He had arrived at the studio to collect his final paycheck when the receptionist informed him that a faulty electrical panel had caused a power outage and employee injury earlier that day. This had occurred when the employee attempted to hot wire the electrical panel with jumper cables and received second-degree burns to his hands and face. The engineer decided to inspect the panel in question. After phoning a representative of the manufacturer, who asked him to obtain the panel's serial number, the engineer went back to the panel to retrieve the serial number. A short time later, the receptionist and producer heard screams and immediately rushed to the scene. There, they found the engineer on fire, insisting that he hadn't touched anything. However, no one witnessed the actual incident.

The producer doused the flames with a bucket of water because there were no fire extinguishers onsite, and the building had no sprinkler system. According to the Los Angeles Building and Safety office, as well as the owner of a car dealership located downstairs from the studio, the structure had a history of electrical problems.

Initially, the engineer was taken to a local medical center but was later airlifted to a burn center due to the extent of his injuries. He lived for six days after the accident before succumbing to sepsis caused by multi-organ failure, secondary to massive thermal burns and inhalation injury. To avoid similar tragedies, NIOSH recommends the following:

Employers and building owners should have sprinkler systems installed and fire extinguishers onsite. A sprinkler system or fire extinguisher could have prevented this incident from happening.

Employers should conduct an initial jobsite survey to ensure the work site is safe for all employees and subcontractors. This type of survey is particularly necessary when working with electrical systems that have a known history of malfunction.

Develop, implement, and enforce a written safety policy/procedures designed to help workers recognize, understand, and control hazards. Under Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations (CCRs) Section 3203 (a), all companies are required to have a written Illness & Injury Prevention Plan. As also stated under OSHA Standard 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 1926.21 (b) (2): “The employer shall instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his/her work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposures to illness or injury.”

Install lockout/tagout procedures for all electrical panels so that the power can be turned off and locked whenever there is an electrical problem. Under Title 8 or the CCRs Section 3314 (f) (2), the employer must develop energy control procedures for shutting down, isolating, blocking, and securing machines or equipment to control hazardous energy.

Employees should be trained in CPR and First Aid. There should also be an emergency response procedure developed by all companies in case of an emergency. Under Title 8 of the CCRs Section 3400 (b), employers should have employees trained in First Aid and CPR by an organization such as the American Red Cross.

Reprinted with permission from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Division of Safety Research (DSR). All electrical-related FACE reports can be viewed in their entirety at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/face/default.html.