Make no mistake about it: electricity can kill. It takes as little as 60 milliamps (a milliamp is one thousandth of an amp) passing through the heart to make it fibrillate and stop, causing death within a few minutes. And that’s not the only way it can kill you.
There have been far more fatal rigging accidents and pyro accidents in live event production over the past 20 years than there have been fatal electrical accidents. This might be attributed to awareness, education, the constant concern for safety, and perhaps some degree of luck. Never let your guard down.
Even if the current doesn’t pass directly through your heart, it can contract the muscles in your chest and asphyxiate you; it can burn you internally; it can damage your brain so much that you can stop breathing.
Fortunately, our skin, which happens to be the largest human organ, provides a relatively high amount of resistance when it is dry. It helps protect us as long as we use common sense, like wearing rubber soled boots, wearing gloves, and standing on an insulating carpet or rug. On the other hand, risky behavior like standing barefoot on a concrete floor in a puddle of water is asking for trouble.
But the vast majority of fatal accidents involving electricity are not caused by electric shock. They are instead a result of the intense heat and the blast caused by an electrical fault. If you have ever seen video of an arc flash then you understand the potential danger involving high voltage.
When switchgear malfunctions or another problem causes a dead short it can create a huge ball of fire with intense heat that engulfs the immediate surroundings and then dissipates in a fraction of a second. In a closed room like a substation or electrical room it can be a deadly situation.
If you understand how electricity behaves and respect its potential for danger, then you can minimize the dangers and work in relative safety.
I always wear a pair of gloves and rubber-soled, steel-toe boots when I’m working, not only to protect my hands and feet but also for their insulation value. Most venues do not carpet the areas in which the electrical switchgear is located, so some electricians carry their own rubber matt or carpet to stand on when they are working around live gear or high voltage.
These are just a few steps you can take to protect yourself and keep yourself out of harm’s way. But you first have to understand the dangers before you can take steps to protect yourself and others from them.