Can an Electric Fence Harm a Child?

Sheep behind an electric fence

Maybe you have some livestock and are considering getting an electric fence to keep predators away. But if you also have children – well, electricity and kids don’t go well together. So if you’re concerned whether an electric fence can harm a child, we have answers.

Is it that bad?

In short, it can be. Let’s see what electric fences are about and if they can hurt your child. 

What is an Electric Fence?

An electric fence uses wires to deliver a charge that shocks those who try to cross over. It is widely used as an effective security measure against trespassers or to contain livestock. 

Basically, the purpose of an electric fence is to keep a target out or within a certain area. Electric fences are strongly regulated (see more later).

How Does an Electric Fence Work?

Electric fence on a field
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Electric fences use a controlled electrical shock pulse that travels along single or numerous live wires into the ground. These fence wires are insulated from the earth and break the electrical current’s circuit that would otherwise complete on the ground.

Typically, the system is made up of an energy source, posts, conductor, insulators, and earthing. The energizer is also referred to as the fence charger. This part emits the current pulse that lasts approximately 150 microseconds and is released once every second. 

Electric fences produce a powerful steady voltage that can lock the muscles of your body and may even clamp the person or animal touching it to the wire. Energizers are, however, a modern addition to electric fences and utilize low-impedance circuitry. The low amperage and short current supply are designed to prevent the person from attaching to the fence and to avoid death.

When a person or an animal touches the fence, the circuit is completed and they receive a shock. The power then travels through the animal or person in contact with the fence into the ground and returns to the energizer via the earth rods. 

The voltage delivered can vary depending on the model or type of electric fence. Although these are high-voltage shocks, they aren’t meant to be lethal. But they’re still powerful enough to cause burns, muscle contractions, and even heart issues if there’s an underlying heart condition or if the person has a pacemaker.   

Are Electric Fences Really That Dangerous?

They can be that dangerous. If a child, adult, or animal touched the electrified wire while they were wet or standing on wet grass or in water, even the lowest voltage shocks can cause severe harm. 

Before we get to the technicalities of an electric fence, let’s refresh our knowledge quickly:

Volts are a measure of electricity. It is a unit of electric potential or electromotive force – the size of the force with which electrons go through a circuit. 

Ampere is also a measure of electricity. Amps are used to measure electric current (electrical charge). Electric current is the number of electrons that flow through a circuit. 

Electric fence energizers generate a high voltage, from about 2,000 to 10,000 volts. But, they lower the amperage to a safe level, which is typically around 120 milliamps. A milliamp is 1/1000th of an amp. This amperage can vary depending on the manufacturer. 

To put it into perspective, electricity from a standard electrical outlet is 13 amps, many times more than the amps generated by an electrical fence. 

Do some factors make it more or less dangerous? Yes. The effectiveness, or maybe the danger, of an electrical fence depends on the type of charger used, the voltage of the fence, how well it’s grounded, and the fencing material.

Potential dangers of electric fences also include the risk of electrocution, especially if your fence comes in contact with a power source like a damaged electrical wire. If someone touches the fence, they’ll feel a painful electric shock, which can cause muscle contraction or serious heart trouble. 

Electric fences can also harm wildlife, such as bears, deer, and elk as they try to jump over or navigate around the fence. There’s also a serious risk of fire if vegetation grows too close to the fence or the electric fence charger malfunctions. A single spark from the fence can ignite dry grass or vegetation in dry conditions. 

Can Electric Fences Kill a Child?

Electric fence with a sign on it.
Photo Credit: richard johnson / Canva Pro / License

Depending on the model, electric fence voltage ranges from 2,000 to 10,000 volts. This voltage is enough to cause severe shock to anyone, whether a child or an adult. 

That said, a properly maintained electric fence WILL NOT kill a child, adult, or animal. Electric fences are designed to generate a voltage pulse each second, but with a low amperage to minimize the intensity of the shock. The point is to make the shock uncomfortable but not deadly. 

However, small children aren’t as strong as adults, and an accidental touch can harm them more than it could an adult. They won’t just feel an unpleasant shock or a stinging sensation, but rather a more traumatic experience

Again, it won’t be fatal if the electric fence is well-maintained. 

Can it ever be fatal? Yes, it can be fatal if the fence is defective. A fault in your electric fence charger can affect the circuit. This may result in dangerously high amperage or create a steady, rather than pulsating, power supply to the fence that could be fatal. 

Depending on the length of contact and voltage, such shocks result in anything from minor discomfort to serious internal and external injuries (even death). So, an electric fence definitely can harm your child in this case. 

What to Do If Your Child Accidentally Touches an Electric Fence?

Typically, electric shocks from a low-voltage fence release current in pulses. Which means there’s less chance of your child getting stuck to the fence. If this is the case, your kid might fall on the ground from the shock and experience a jerk. 

  • Get them away from the fence and check them for bruises or other injuries. 
  • Calm them down and talk to them and ask some basic questions like what day it is or the name of their pet to check for cognitive function. 
  • Let them rest for a bit because shocks can cause muscle twitching or convulsions. Lying down and resting will prevent further damage. 
  • If you find an injury or burn on the body, seek medical attention immediately. 
  • In case of prolonged touch, you need to remove your child from the fence immediately. Don’t touch the child with bare hands as the current will travel through you. Insulate yourself with rubber or other non-conductive material first. 
  • Once you remove them, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency right away. 

We’ve established that electrical fences are hazardous, but if they can be a threat to human life shouldn’t they be banned?

Generally, you don’t have to obtain special permission to install an electric fence, but it’s wise to check with your local municipality if you’re planning to get one. Electric fences are permitted in most areas, provided they meet certain requirements and are installed by a licensed electrician. 

Common regulations include:

  • You are required to display clear and prominent warning signs, at eye level, on the fence at regular intervals. 
  • Some local laws prohibit the sale, installation, use, and connection of an electric fence to a main electricity supply unless the electrical current is regulated and limited by an electrical controller that meets certain standards. 
  • Regulations about the proper height, placement, voltage limits, grounding, animal welfare, permits, and liability. 

Electric Fence Safety Precautions

Electrical injuries are more common than you think. On average, there are about 30,000 electric shock injuries reported in the U.S. every year. While this number majorly reflects injuries at workplaces using electricity, electric fences pose the same safety risk. 

Here are some tips that will reduce the chances of electric fence injuries for you and your family.

  • When setting the fence up, make sure it’s installed away from busy areas. 
  • Use only one energizer per fence. Connecting two energizers to a single fence is extremely dangerous because it interrupts the natural pulse cycle. 
  • Don’t combine electrified and barbed wire fencing since it can create continuous pulses, and a harmless zap from an electric fence can turn into a deadly situation.
  • Don’t install electrified fences near high-voltage lines. 
  • Stay away from your electric fence during a lightning storm. 
  • Use obstacles to block small children from the fence.
  • Inspect the fence regularly to ensure it’s working properly.
  • Don’t leave your children outdoors unsupervised. Or, you can turn off the fence when the kids are playing. 

FAQs

What happens if a child gets shocked?

Children can go into cardiac arrest and internal damage including injury to kidneys, brain, spine, muscles, tissues, nervous system, and bones. 

How can you tell if a fence is electrified?

By law, electric fences need to have “DANGER” warning signs placed all around their perimeter. You can also do a quick test. 

Make Your Electric Fence Safer

Call in one of our FenceGnome pros to help you enhance security around your home and keep your children safe from electrical shocks. We come prepared according to the fencing laws and regulations and equipped with the expertise and skill you need.

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Farah Nauman

Farah Nauman is a freelance writer and an accountant based in Pakistan. She spends most of her time combating the South Asian heat and being a mom to her three fluffy cats and a dozen little Aloe Veras in her house.