Electric fences are commonly used for the purpose of securing property, keeping intruders out of unwanted areas, and keeping various types of animals and livestock in designated areas. They are most often made of smooth steel wire, ranging from a fine thin wire used as a single line to thicker, high-tensile wire.
Less often, woven wire or barbed wire fences can be electrified, though such practices create a more hazardous fence. Synthetic webbing and rope-like fencing materials woven with fine conducting wires became available in the late 1990s and are particularly useful for areas requiring additional visibility or as temporary fencing.
Most electric fences are used for agricultural fencing and other forms of non-human animal control, although they are also used to protect high-security areas such as military installations or prisons, where potentially-lethal voltages may be used. Virtual electric fences for livestock using GPS technology have also been developed.
Buried electric fences (also called “invisible fences” or “electronic fences”) are sometimes used to contain animals, particularly dogs. The buried wire radiates a weak radio signal, which is detected by a collar worn by the animal. If the dog gets too near the buried wire’s range, it will receive a mild shock.
An electric fence uses electric shocks to deter people or animals from crossing the fence boundary. They are designed to complete an electrical circuit when touched by a person or an animal. The voltage of the shock may have effects ranging from discomfort to death. The effects of the shock depend upon the voltage, the energy of the pulse, the degree of contact between the recipient and the fence and ground, and the route of the current through the body. The effect can range from barely noticeable to uncomfortable, painful or even lethal.
Electric fences, particularly those used to protect livestock, are generally safe when you follow correct installation and connection procedures. However, electric fences can trigger shocks that can have dangerous outcomes, especially to people with preexisting health conditions. Due to their nature, electric fences can be associated with various types of injuries and accidents. These can include:
- Electrocution injuries to humans, including:
- Cardiac arrest and cardiac fibrillation. There’s a slim chance that a person in contact with an electric fence could suffer from cardiac arrest (unexpected loss of heart function) or cardiac fibrillation (twitching of the heart muscle fibers).
- Loss of muscle control. Improperly installed electric fences with high amperage can cause electric shocks that result in loss of muscle control. Electric shock can cause painful muscle spasms that can break bones and dislocate joints.
- Head Injury. This occurs when a person or animal falls and their head touches the electrified wire. Also, trying to pass underneath an electric fence can cause shock to the head upon contact with the fence. A person with a heart condition, especially someone who wears a pacemaker, has a higher risk of becoming unconscious than a healthy person would.
- Electrocution of livestock and other animals. In addition to the foreseeable injuries if an animal touches a standard electric fence, there are risks associated with buried pet fencing. Some dogs become aggressive when this type of fencing is used. The frustration of seeing prey objects such as rabbits and squirrels, or stimuli such as kids on bikes — not to mention other dogs walking past — can lead the dog to charge the fence line and get a shock, and the dog may become aggressive if shocked too often.
- Property damage. Fires and similar incidents can sometimes be associated with electric fences. Most often this occurs when the electric fence is hit by lightning.
Electric fence injuries can be serious and can result in medical complications and other similar issues. Electric fence accidents and injuries can occur in various settings, including commercial settings as well as employment/work-related settings.