This report presents an analysis of hospitalisations and deaths in Australia involving an electrical injury for the 2-year period, 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2016.
The last Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report on electrical injuries and deaths was published more than a decade ago (Pointer & Harrison 2007).
That report found that over a 2-year period (2002–03 to 2003–04), 1,493 electrical injury cases required hospitalisation. Of those, 77 were due to a lightning strike. That report also looked at the National Mortality Database (NMD) and the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) for deaths due to electrical injury between 2001 and 2004. For that 4-year period, 162 deaths were identified, 7 of which were due to lightning strike.
Electrical injuries can occur anywhere, inside or outside of homes and other buildings. They might occur following contact with electrical switches or wiring, domestic appliances, and electric transmission lines, or as the result of a lightning strike.
Electrical injuries can affect the person’s cardiovascular and neurological systems, resulting in rhythm disturbances of the heart, respiratory arrest, or a traumatic brain injury. They might also result in burns to the body, ocular damage, and blunt trauma (from being thrown by the passage of the electrical surge) (Jensen & Vincent 2017).
High voltage electrical exposure and the ‘no-let-go’ phenomenon (muscle contraction causing the victim to grab the source of electrical current) tend to result in more serious and sustained symptoms, including pain, muscle weakness, and loss of sensation (Foris & Huecker 2017; Rådman et al. 2015).
Medical care for electrical injuries is usually only sought in more serious cases, where severe burns or loss of consciousness is involved. As a result, the figures presented in this report and elsewhere are likely to underestimate electrical injury in Australia.
The incidence of injury and death due to electrical causes is relatively small compared with other causes of injury, but given the preventable nature of these incidents, further reductions should be possible.