Electric Shock Drowning: A Bigger Problem Than Statistics Show

Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) — or “Dock Shock” — deaths have made the news several times in recent years, but the ESD deaths that you’ve seen in the news may only represent a small number of the actual ESD deaths in Missouri.

ESD gained public attention in Missouri in 2012 after our state endured three tragic deaths in two separate incidents at the Lake of the Ozarks over Fourth of July Weekend. Since then, families have undertaken advocacy efforts, area dock owners have increased their vigilance, new legislation has been introduced in the Missouri House, and existing national safety codes have been updated.

Electric Shock Drowning: Only Recently Recognized
One of the reasons why there’s been a recent increase in ESD prevention and advocacy work is that ESD has only become a recognized problem over the last few years. Missouri has seen drowning deaths in fresh water lakes and rivers that we’ve attributed to intoxication, wearing the wrong clothing, or overestimating swimming ability for generations. Now, though, many experts and wondering how many of those deaths may have been related to ESD.

The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Associations (ESDPA) says that, “Since experts recently began tracking this silent killer, there have been over 60 incidents of Electric Shock Drowning [in the U.S.], several near misses, and likely hundreds of deaths that have gone unreported (source).”

Why Electric Shock Drowning Goes Unreported
ESD occurs when even a small amount of electricity passes through a person’s body while they’re in the water. The electricity paralyzes the victim, causing them to drown. The reason so many ESD deaths go unreported is that ESD deaths aren’t easy to recognize.

An ESD death looks just like any other drowning, and the victim’s postmortem examination doesn’t show signs of electric shock. The only way emergency crews or morticians know that a drowning was caused by electricity is when witnesses provide firsthand accounts that tie the drowning to electric shock (source).

How Many People Have Died from Electric Shock Drowning?
Quality Marine Services, LLC wrote a report that lists all known ESD deaths and what the authors call “near misses” in the United States. In total, there are more than sixty deaths and several near misses. The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association (ESDPA) says that the actual number of ESD deaths is probably much higher.

“The number of verifiable in-water deaths due to Electric Shock Drowning is, in all likelihood, just the tip of the iceberg,” says the ESDPA (source).

Electric Shock Drowning in Missouri
According to the Quality Marine Services report, there have been at least seven ESD deaths and several near misses in Missouri since 2004. Six of those ESD deaths occurred at the Lake of the Ozarks:

  • On June 21, 2015, a 21 year-old man was killed at the Lake of the Ozarks.
  • On July 7, 2012, a 26 year-old woman was killed at the Lake of the Ozarks.
  • On July 4, 2012, a 13 year-old girl and her 8 year-old brother were killed at the Lake of the Ozarks.
  • On July 28, 2007, a 24 year-old woman was killed at the Lake of the Ozarks.
  • On March 18, 2006, a teenage boy (age not given) was killed swimming near Desoto, Missouri.
  • On September, 2004, a 22 year-old man was killed at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Missouri Drowning Statistics
There are dozens of accidental drownings in Missouri every year. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, there were 29 accidental drowning deaths in Missouri in 2014, 38 in 2013, 21 in 2012, 41 in 2011, and 50 in 2010. That’s 179 accidental drownings in five years.

Could some of those 179 drowning victims have suffered paralyzing electric shock before drowning? It’s possible, but because ESD is so difficult to identify without witnesses, we’ll probably never know.

Protect Yourself and Your Family from Electric Shock Drowning
Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives want you to be able to cool off safely this summer in Missouri’s lakes, rivers, and streams. The best way to ensure that you and your family stay safe from electric shock drowning is to prohibit all swimming near docks, marinas, and boatyards, but you can learn more ways to stay “Safe at the Lake” here.

Find out more about preventing ESD by reading this post or by visiting the ESDPA’s website.

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