The Dangers of Electric Shock Drowning: A Silent Killer

It happens quickly and without warning. Although relatively rare, Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) causes serious injuries and takes the lives of swimmers each year.  When an improperly installed or maintained electrical system sends an electrical current into the water, that current shocks and paralyzes nearby swimmers, preventing them from being able to swim to safety. If the electric current is high enough, direct electrocution can also occur.

According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association (ESDPA), there have been about 100 reports of ESD since 1986. Since there is no system in place to track ESD-related deaths, many incidents go unreported. The ESDPA says most deaths are labeled “common drowning,” unless the autopsy showed signs of electrical injury, or someone witnessed electric shock in the water. The CDC does track “fatal unintentional drownings” related to boating, of which there is an average of 11 deaths per day.

Although the presence of water and electricity is a deadly combination in any location, ESD-related incidents happen more frequently in freshwater. In freshwater, the body conducts electricity better than the water itself, making it much more dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), as little as 10 mA can be fatal to a swimmer, which is 1/50th the current used by a 60-watt lightbulb.

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How Can I Prevent Electric Shock Drowning?

Safety experts say the key to preventing electric shock drowning is to know the danger signs. If you feel a tingling sensation while in the water, stop swimming in that direction. Exit as soon as possible and avoid using metal ladders or rails. Never enter the water if you see someone who appears to be drowning from electric shock. Instead, shut off the power source, call 911, and throw a life preserver to help. 

Safety Tips for Swimming Pools, Hot Tubs, and Spas 

  • Have a certified electrician regularly inspect, replace, and upgrade electrical equipment. Ask the electrician to show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
  • Check the location of any overhead power lines to make sure they are at the proper distance over a pool or other structures, such as a diving board. Your local utility company or a certified electrician can help you make sure power lines are a safe distance away. 
  • Look for faulty underwater lights.
  • Do not swim before, during, or after thunderstorms.
  • When installing an at-home pool or hot tub/spa, make sure a certified electrician with experience in safety requirements performs the wiring. 
  • If you swim in a neighborhood or community pool, ask the pool manager or Homeowner’s Association to make sure they schedule regular inspections.
  • Report and repair any missing or loose caulking, which is a sign of poor maintenance. Loose caulking can allow water to get behind the walls, which increases the likelihood of coming into contact with a live electrical component. 

Boating and Marina Safety Tips 

  • Don’t swim near docks and marinas. Safety experts recommend swimmers stay at least 50 yards away from marinas and 100 yards away from docks. 
  • Avoid entering the water when launching or loading your boat. Never stand in the water when turning off electrical devices and switches.  
  • Before renting a boat slip, ask if the marina manager schedules annual inspections by a certified electrician. 
  • Look for and follow warning signs.
  • Schedule annual inspections with a certified marine electrician to make sure your boat meets the safety codes and standards in your area.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Know the location of your main breakers so you can respond quickly in case of an emergency. Check for nearby power lines and keep your boat at least 10 feet away from them. 
  • Install ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on your boat and make sure marina owners install them on the dock. Use portable GFCIs when using electricity near the water to reduce the likelihood of electrocution. The NFPA recommends testing GFCIs monthly. 
  • The ESDPA does not support the use of “green light” devices to monitor the presence of electricity in the water because their inability to warn people of impending danger creates a false sense of safety. 

About our Electrical Shock Injury and Drowning Lawyers 

Electrical injuries are devastating and complex. If someone you love was injured or killed by electric shock drowning, the first step is to hire an attorney with extensive knowledge of electrical codes and industry standards. 

At Pritzker Hageman, our lawyers represent electric shock survivors and families who lost a loved one in drowning incidents. Our lawyers have won some of the highest recoveries in the country for pool drowning lawsuits. Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman were named Minnesota “Attorneys of the Year” for their work to bring justice for a family whose son died after drowning in a school swimming pool. 

For a free consultation with one of our lawyers, please fill out the form below, call 1-888-377-8900, or text 612-261-0856.

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