Objectives: To delineate the clinicopathological features of fatal childhood electrocutions and to identify specific risk factors.
Methods: Coronial files in Adelaide (Australia) were searched from 1967 to 2001 and Medical Examiners' files in San Diego (USA) were searched from 1988 to 2001, for cases of deaths of children and adolescents younger than 16 years attributed to electrocution.
Results: Sixteen cases were identified aged between 10 months and 15 years (mean 8.0 years) with a male : female ratio of 5 : 3. Deaths were due to accidents occurring while playing with or near faulty electrical equipment at home or at school (n = 8), electrical equipment while in the bath (n = 2), damaged outdoor electrical equipment (n = 1), overhead wires (n = 1), and a high voltage electricity substation (n = 1). In addition, one death was due to suicide involving an electrical appliance placed in a bath, and two other deaths occurred in older children who were moving equipment under overhead wires. No homicides were identified.
Conclusions: Childhood deaths due to electrocution are rare and are more likely to occur when children are playing around electrical wires or equipment, and often result from either faulty apparatus, or a lack of understanding of the potential dangers involved. The majority of deaths (11/16; 69%) occur in the home environment. In contrast to adult electrical deaths, high-voltage electrocutions, suicides and workplace deaths are uncommon. Strategies for eliminating childhood electrocution should concentrate on ensuring safe domestic environments with properly maintained electrical devices.