12 Causes of Electrical Accidents

Electrical accidents are common, if not unavoidable, in the manufacturing environment. They occur for several reasons—whether it concerns the management, equipment, or employees. There’s often no one person to blame; as the old saying goes, accidents just happen.

The problem is that they happen too frequently and have far too many dangerous consequences for us to be complacent about them. In fact, according to the International Electrical Safety Foundation, between 2000-2005 the number of deaths caused by electrical accidents ranged between 150 and 200 a year: in 2000, there were about 253 deaths; in 2005, there were 251. That number is much too high not to investigate some obvious questions: what causes these accidents? And, how can they be prevented?

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an agency which among other responsibilities collects and analyzes data on electrical accidents, there are 12 common causes of electrical accidents that happen while equipment is being maintained:

  1. Unsafe system of work
  2. Inadequate information
  3. No training
  4. Inadequate isolation
  5. Unsafe rules
  6. Poor control of work activities
  7. Live working
  8. Unsuitable test equipment
  9. Poor maintenance
  10. Failure to manage work
  11. Person not competent
  12. Uninsulated electrical wiring

The True Culprit: Lack of Training

Interestingly, nearly half of these causes are directly related to employee training and level of proficiency on the job. More often than not, electrical workers involved in accidents are ill-equipped, ill-prepared, or ill-informed to work safely and confidently at their own jobs.

Let’s take a closer look at five of these causes:

1. No Training. The worker in question has inadequate training to perform the tasks at hand.

Example: In one case, an untrained employee was ordered to work on an electrical control panel. Because the worker had never been trained, he attempted the work while the panel was still live, resulting in an electrical short. The worker sustained severe burns to his face and arms, while the employer was both prosecuted and fined.

With adequate training, this worker would have known to isolate the circuit before beginning work, avoiding the accident altogether.

2. Person not competent. Despite some training, the worker in question does not have enough knowledge to adequately perform the tasks at hand.

Example: Though a worker had received some training, the employer did not realize that he was still not knowledgeable enough to perform the task given. He wired a machine incorrectly and received a severe electrical shock in the process. Although competent people were available to perform the task, the employee was assigned anyway and expected to complete the job, resulting in serious bodily injuries.

All employees should be proven competent at their jobs for their own safety and the safety of others. The Memorandum of Guidance on the Electricity at Work Regulations articulates the minimum standard of worker competency for electrical personnel.

3. Inadequately Isolating Circuits. Worker does not properly isolate electrical circuits, resulting in electrical injuries.

Example: An electrician received a severe electrical shock when working on building refurbishments. The electrical supply had not been properly isolated and locked out, causing the accident. Moreover, no management system was in place to monitor the isolation of said supply. As a result, the company was prosecuted and fined.

Businesses need to have safety systems in place to monitor the isolation of electrical circuits. In addition, workers should have enough training and experience to know how to isolate, lockout, and test for no voltage potential on circuits before beginning work.

4. Unsafe Rules and Training. Workers are unsure of the safety regulations and procedures in their work environment.

Example: One worker received a shock of 33,000 volts when he climbed a live apparatus in a substation. The company did not have adequate demarcations of safe / unsafe working zones, leading the worker to believe the apparatus was dead and therefore safe to climb. Furthermore, the training of the staff concerning safety zones was negligible. The shock resulted in the amputation of both the worker’s arms and the company receiving a fine of about $90,000.

Employers should ensure that working methods, materials, and worker training meet the minimum safety standards. Otherwise, workers move in and out of unsafe environments all day without knowing the difference. For a list of minimum safety standards, view the free HSE leaflet “Controlling the Risks in the Workplace.”

5. Employees, knowingly or unknowingly, working on live electrical equipment.

Example: After receiving a shock, an employee’s heart actually stopped beating while working live on electrical equipment. The equipment should have been isolated and locked out before the work began, but due to the worker’s incomplete training and incompetency, the equipment was left live. Although his heart was resuscitated, the worker suffered severe brain damage from the accident.

Personnel must be trained sufficiently on how to isolate, lockout, and test for no voltage potential before beginning work in order to eliminate risks. If even one worker cannot tell the difference between a live and dead circuit, every worker is in danger.

The TPC Solution

Clearly, employee training and proficiency testing is critical to minimizing accidents at the workplace. Each of the real-life accidents described above could have been mitigated or prevented had the worker in question been properly trained and had the employers been aware of the level of their employee’s proficiency.

That’s why we at TPC offer our Electrical Troubleshooting Simulation Training System. Through our real-life simulations and five step process, users gain hands-on experience troubleshooting electrical problems. By first encountering concepts in online training and then working in our real-life simulations, users solve a variety of electrical faults/problems, from troubleshooting basic electrical circuits to complex industrial controls.

Moreover, users are exposed to a variety of learning tools, such as videos, flowcharts, and wiring diagrams, ensuring that all kinds of learners can learn quickly and effectively. In addition, the TPC Course Manager tracks each user’s progress, providing immediate feedback for mistakes. The Course Manager allows management to see each users’ data so that trainers know exactly which users are ready to troubleshoot in a live environment and which users need more training. This screening process dramatically increases safety in the workplace.

Beginners are always going to make mistakes. TPC’s simulation-based software allows them to make those mistakes (and learn from them) in a safe environment, before they work in live situations, gaining proficiency through practice. By recreating real-time events and allowing users to train virtually, TPC’s electrical troubleshooting curriculum builds workers’ experience and confidence. This way, when staff work on-site with real electrical equipment and circuits, they have the competency and training to troubleshoot effectively, thereby minimizing accidents and maximizing safety.

For more help with troubleshooting, the TPC training platform has everything you need to ensure your maintenance team has the training they need. With our simulations, you can build your own curriculum and give professionals a safe, immersive environment to widen their skillset and reinforce their fundamentals. Schedule a demo for our 2D installed electrical troubleshooting simulations or our 3D cloud-based electrical troubleshooting simulations.


  1. “Electrical Maintenance.” Health and Safety Executive.
  2. “Risk Assessment.” Health and Safety Executive. August 2014.
  3. “The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.” Health and Safety Executive. Updated April 2014.


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