While most electrical safety plans make every effort to ensure no one is ever electrocuted, electrocution is an ever-present danger for those in the electrical industry. Despite this reality, proper actions taken in the first few minutes following an electrocution can save lives.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), published an alert 20 years ago this month on the issue of “Preventing Fatalities of Workers Who Contact Electrical Energy.” Two decades later, much of their recommendations surprisingly still hold true.

In this 1986 publication (No. 87-103), NIOSH notes that electrocution victims can be revived if immediate CPR or defibrillation is provided, typically within 4 minutes of an electrocution, followed by advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) measures within 8 minutes. However, there is one big difference between now and then. In 1986, only medical personnel used defibrillators.

Today, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are becoming increasingly affordable for laymen, with an average price of just more than $2,000, according to the American Red Cross. Used to treat cardiac arrest, an AED automatically analyzes the patient's heart rhythm and advises the rescuer whether or not a shock is needed, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which advises that the device should not be used in a patient who has a pulse or cannot be isolated from other people.

A physician's prescription is needed in order to purchase most AEDs. According to the Red Cross, this means that the medical director of a facility or a physician used by such facility must prescribe and oversee the AED program at any workplace or other facility that houses an AED, though some AEDs can be purchased over the counter without a prescription.

Here are some important tips from NIOSH on preventing electrocutions, updated by EC&M, to reflect the new availability of AEDs:

Safe work practices. No one who works with electric energy should work alone. In many instances, a “buddy system” should be established. Every individual who works with or around electrical energy should be familiar with emergency procedures, including knowing how to de-energize the electrical system before rescuing or beginning resuscitation on a worker who remains in contact with an electrical energy source.

Call for help. Of course 911 should be called immediately, and workers should be educated regarding the information to give when the call is made. For large facilities, a prearranged place should be established for company personnel to meet paramedics in an emergency.

CPR and AED training. It may be advisable to have both members of the buddy system trained in CPR and AED treatment. Employers may also want to look into purchasing an AED for their emergency medical supply kits. Employers may contact the local office of the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, or equivalent groups or agencies to set up a CPR and AED training course for employees.

The December 1986 NIOSH Alert, “Preventing Fatalities of Workers Who Contact Electrical Energy,” can be viewed in its entirety at www.cdc.gov/niosh/87-103.html.