Electric fence effects on people

Written by natasha parks
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Electric fence effects on people
Knowing the effects of electric fences can help save lives. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Electric fences are barriers made from wood posts and connecting, high-tensile wires that pass an electric current through them. They have been used as a deterrent in agriculture, prison systems and security since their introduction in the 1930s, but their effects on people have not always been a widely discussed topic. Electric fences do have an effect, which can be painful, long lasting and even lethal.

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Electric Shock

One of the most obvious effects of touching an electrical component, such as the wires of an electric fence, is that a person may feel a painful jolt. This is an electric shock and can be described as an uncomfortable sensation. The severity of the shock depends on the voltage experienced, and this is set during the construction of the electrical circuit. Most fences used today in farming and security employ non-lethal voltages that are intended only to deter animals from escaping or to warn off potential security threats. However, it is a sad fact that lethal fences have been used during events in history to kill prisoners of war instantly to provide a visual deterrent to others.


Burns to external and internal body tissue can occur on contact with a working electric fence. Only the wires which are live -- and have a black rubber attachment connecting them to the wooden posts -- can cause injury. If the burns caused are severe, they can be life threatening as with any other serious burn. An external burn usually occurs at the point on the body where contact with the fence was made, such as the fingers, hands, legs or arms. An internal burn occurs at the sites corresponding to the passage of current through the body. Hospital treatment is required immediately in both cases.

Ventricular Fibrillation

A serious, silent killer, ventricular fibrillation is the process by which an electrical current causes the heart to change pace and results in impaired function. Because the heart is such an important, life-supporting organ, any change to its fine balance can cause death. Thousands of people die from the condition each year due to faulty electrical supplies in the home and in the outside environment, according to ADH Fencing. Fainting, heart arrhythmia, palpitations, heart attack and muscular movement irregularities are direct symptoms and require urgent medical attention. Chest pain, difficulty breathing and feeling nauseous are signs the heart is struggling to cope, as described by Pub Med Health. If you, a friend or a family member receives even a small shock from a fence and then experiences any of these symptoms, go to your local emergency department or call for an ambulance.

Other Effects

Psychologically speaking, a person who has received a shock from touching an electric fence by accident can suffer for a period of time afterward, particularly if the pain was severe or he was left with lasting damage. There are also practical implications of using badly installed, insufficiently grounded electric fences including detrimental effects on people's communication systems and leisure activities (radio interference, television signal disturbance, telephone connection problems and broadband delivery services).

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