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The Physical Effects of Electricity

Electrocution or electrical shock occurs when an electric current I passes through the body. The amount of current passing through the body is determined by Ohm's Law:

I = E/R

I = Current Through the Body
E = Voltage across the body
R = Resistance of the Body

Body resistance is an important variable when considering electrocution. There is a wide variation in body resistance between people therefore the same voltage level may result in different effects.  The typical human body has a hand to hand resistance (R) somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 ohms. Babies, Children and some other people have less resistance.

The current is the controlling factor for Electrocution and Electrical Shock. The threshold for perception is about 100 microamps (0.0001 Amps). Also See Microshock Electrocution Hazards for currents less than 100 microamps. The National Electrical Code (NEC) considers 5 milliamps (0.005 Amps) to be a safe upper limit for children and adults hence the 5 milliamps GFI circuit breaker requirement for wet locations. The normal nervous system reaction to any perceptible electrical shock may cause a person to injure themselves or others, therefore the so called safe limit does not assure freedom from injury.

The more serious electrocution and shock hazards occur above the let go limits. 99% of the female population have an let go limit above 6 milliamps, with an average of 10.5 milliamps. 99% of the male population have an let go limit above 9 milliamps, with an average of 15.5 milliamps. Prolonged exposure to 60 Hz. currents greater than 18 milliamps, across the chest causes the diaphragm to contract which prevents breathing and causes the victim to suffocate.  No data is available for females or children but suffocation is presumed to occur at a lower current level.

The frequency of the electrical current is as important as magnitude when evaluating electrocution and electrical shock injuries.    Humans and animals are most susceptible to frequencies at 50 to 60 hertz. The internal frequency of the nerve signals controlling the heart is approximately 60 hertz. Ventricular fibrillation occurs when 60 hertz current from the electric shock interferes with the natural rhythm of the heart. The heart loses its ability to pump and death quickly follows. Ventricular fibrillation can occur at current levels as low as 30 milliamps for a two year old child and 60 milliamps for adults. Most adults will go into ventricular fibrillation at hand to hand currents below 100 milliamps (0.1 Amp).

Humans are able to withstand 10 times more current at DC and at 1000 hertz than at 50 or 60 Hz.. Electro-Surgical equipment operating above 100,000 Hertz pass high currents through the body with no effect on the heart or breathing of a patient. Do you think that Murphy's Law had anything to do with the American power line frequency being set at 60 Hertz and the frequency for the rest of the world being 50 hertz? All of the current limits referred to in this article are based on power line frequencies of 50 or 60 hertz.

Electrocution may or may not leave physical evidence of the injury. The occurrence of burns or other skin damage is dependent upon the current density at the point where the current enters or leaves the body. Electrocutions occurring at 110 VAC seldom cause skin damage unless the point of contact is small or the victim has delicate skin. When higher voltages are involved, high currents pass through the body and there is greater likelihood that skin damage will occur. At higher voltages there are often, but not always entrance and exit wounds.

I am not a medical doctor, however, there are conflicting claims about electrocution causing a change in enzyme levels or other measurable physical changes in the victim.

See the following pages for more about electrocution:

Click Here! for more about Electrocution.

Check Here ! for more about Electrical Safety.

Click Here! for more about Industrial Electrocutions.

Click Here! for more Forensic Engineering.

 

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Bass Associates Inc.
13533 Larkin Drive, Minnetonka, MN 55305
Phone: 952/544-6079


Copyright 1998 Bass Associates Inc. Last modified: March 31, 2010