Are Electric Fences a Serious Safety risk to Humans?

Touching an electric fence leaves a vivid and painful memory and the voltages are also high in comparison with standard mains electricity, because of this most will assume that the risk to life and limb must also be high. In fact, the opposite is true. Consider that hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world are “exposed” to the millions of electric fences every day—yet electric fences account for (but are not always the cause of) less than one serious injury per year worldwide. Compare that to thenumber of annual injuries and deaths that occur from human exposure to tractors, skid loaders, ladders, PTO shafts, balers, mowers, combines, bulls,stallions, shotguns, knives, etc. This is not to suggest that there is no risk. There is, indeed, a small level of risk. And with risk, there is also liability to the fence’s owner.

The voltage being sent throughthe wires is high, but the current or amplification (amps) is very low. A220-volt shock will hurt just as much as a 10,000-volt shock, as long as the current or amps are the same. Amps are what kills. Electric fence energisers put out high voltage (around 8,000 volts), but very low amperage or current (around 120 milliamps). This is 120 Thousands of an Amp ( normal mains electricity is 13 Amps). It should not even kill a squirrel.

This output is made safe in two ways, firstly by releasing the flow of electrons from the capacitor in regular pulses of about 1/300th of a second approximately a second apart. The amperage component of the electrical charge is greatly reduced to figures in the range of 15 - 500milliamps. (The majority of units operate in the 100-150milliamp range)*. Compare this with two other scenarios.

  1. Static Electricity when you touch a door, about 30000 volts at 5 milliamps for 1/1000th. of a second, unpleasant but not lasting.
  2. Mains Electricity. 220volts at 13 Amps and constant, unpleasant and regularly causes death.

The energy pulses through the wires or conductors. This means once every second for 1/300th of a second it sends a pulse of electricity down the line. The reason for the pulsating current is that when the wires are touched and deliver a shock - whatever touches it has a chance to remove itself. When an animal touches the electrical wire, it causes a muscle contraction in the animal that is similar to what humans feel as a muscle cramp. With a continuous supply of current as you get with mains electricity this results in the grabbing effect that is so dangerous and the victim is unable to release the source of the current. With the pulsing of an electric fence this cramping is transitory and the victim is able to retreat from the source of energy. The animal will associate this unpleasant feeling with touching the fence and will be discouraged from touching it again in the future.

If the current did not pulse (like most electrical appliances -  hair dryer, radio, toaster, etc.), then whatever touched it would continue to be shocked until the power went out or something pried them off.

With low amps and a pulsating current, electrical fencing is a safe product. It is the amperage within the electrical charge and the constant connection that makes electricity dangerous.

The one issue may occur if an animal gets trapped in the fence for a period of time and is unable to extricate itself. This could be as a result of animals with horns, hedgehogs that roll up into a ball or any other reason they have become trapped. This varies for different animals and unfortunately can result in the death of the animal. Fortunately this is very rare and in my 30 years of working with electric fencing I know of 3 incidences where an animal has been killed.  For this reason, the HoriSmart energisers has been developed that are able to recognise what is touching the fence, treat it accordingly so increasing the safety accordingly.

What NOT to do!

  • Never Place your head near an electrified wire. Accidental head or neck contact can occur when pushing a voltage probe into the soil or when checking voltage. Be very careful when you do so to avoid head-to-wire contact!
  • Never allow anyone else to touch a modern electric  fence. It is not a game!

What to do!

  • Instruct all visitors and children to never touch electric fencing.
  • The legislation that applies in Europe to fences accessible to the general public stipulates that an internationally recognised warning sign be displayed at the beginning and end of a fence and at every 50 meters interval

Warning: In 1991 an accidental fatality occurred when a young child’s head contacted an electrified fence while the child was crawling on wet grass. The fence was correctly installed and functioning properly. The energiser was an approved unit. As a result, we strongly advise against allowing toddlers access to any electrified fences. Also, due to this incident and others, experts now suggest that human contact by an energised wire to the head and neck maybe the
most dangerous point of contact. We urge all to especially avoid this kind of contact.

* These figures vary between all the manufacturers.

27 thoughts on “Are Electric Fences a Serious Safety risk to Humans?”

  • [...] this was totally illegal and downright dangerous for these reasons outlined on this posting on the Safety of Electric Fencing. Despite attempts to establish if there was an energiser between the socket and the net I [...]

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  • Ginny

    Thank you for this post. I had a question regarding receiving a shock from an electric fence during pregnancy. I'm currently 20 weeks pregnant and we are on a vacation in Denmark. While we were on a hike today, I backed into an electric fence and received a fairly fierce shock to my bum, which then traveled down my right leg. Do you know if an electric fence shock can be harmful to a foetus? I can still feel my baby kicking, but not quite sure if I should make a visit to the hospital. Thank you for your help!

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    • admin

      Terribly sorry to read this, This is not something I have come across and strongly suggest you contact your doctor to put your mind at rest. Electricity does take the shortest route to earth so would go down your leg but it does stimulate contraction of muscles. I really do hope that you have the happy outcome you deserve.

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  • david cordes

    is accidentaly touching fence electrictape ,safe if you have a pacemakerfitted and over 65years of age . especially if you are 25 meters from any signs on fence

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    • admin

      If you have a pacemaker then extra caution should be taken at any point of the fence of the fence - distance from a warning sign has no bearing on the strength of the fence. It is not logical to have a warning sign every meter.

      There is no evidence to say an EF will be more dangerous to a PM wearer simply because no actual work has been done to show either way but patients with PM's have been subjected to cardiac electrical stimulation in emergency situations by medics with success. Saying that, a PM works on an electrical charge being administered to the heart muscles so it is logical to be cautious when applying additional electrical impulses.

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  • Lex

    Hi, I was walking in a field yesterday and tried to get pass under an electric wired fence. My head likely touched the wire and I assume I blacked out for half a second as I found myself on the ground on the other side without any memory of crossing it. My friends just thought I tripped.
    I was perfectly normal after and continued on with my day. Is this something I should be worried about, have you ever heard of delayed responses to head shocks? I'm 22 and in good health. Thanks.

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    • admin

      It has happened to me on numerous occasions, the first time, like you, I did not realise what had happened and stood up into the wire for a second hit. Fortunately before the days of video clips or it would be on Youtube. I'm OK - at least I think so. The very low amperages will have no effect on you.

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  • Daniel

    I was opening an electric fence this evening and my right arm touched the wire as my left was resting on star picket. The electricity went across my chest and now my muscles around heart ache and feel funny. My pulse is not racing but just dont feel 100%. should I worry or will this just pass.

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  • Christian MacKenzie July 11, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I can only say that I've been shocked ONCE and I now pay close attention when I see an Electric Fence.

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  • David

    Hi, Thank you for all the information,it is very helpful. My horse got caught up in a electric fence, he is very stiff when walking.Could this be the result of cramp

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    • admin

      Hi - if he was in the fence for a while then he would be a little stiff - it should wear off quickly. Any idea why he got caught up?

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  • Kim Haley

    Hello there, I have a neighbor who had an electric fence attached to the top of his vibercrete wall, this fence is about 3 m away from where I sleep. I have a window where I can constantly here the ticking of the fence and there is also an area where it is arching? My 7 year old son sleeps next to me. I have been suffering with insomnia, my son struggles to fall asleep, he has dark rings under his eyes and his concentration levels has diminished! I have endless health problems. Could this fence be causing these problems?

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    • admin

      Where the fence is arcing there will be a flash of light and a click each time it arcs. I can visualise that this would be irritating and keep you awake. This is a clear indication that the fence is going to earth, most probably ineffective and definitely poorly maintained. Being a South African commenter, I think this application will be for a home security fence? As the voltage in the fence will be negligible due to the arcing the owner is not getting the benefit of the fence. Once the fence is properly maintained this arcing will cease as will the click. Get on your neighbour and tell him to carry out proper maintenance, a fault free fence is silent.

      If the energiser is close enough for you to hear the clicking sound that occurs as the energy is transferred to the fence then this again would be annoying and I can only suggest you ask the owner to move it further away.

      Endless health problems - sorry I cannot see how this could be caused by the electric fence when you consider that exactly the same effect is achieved by your cars ignition system.

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  • Alex

    I was very intoxicated last summer and I grabbed hold of an electric fence for roughly 2 minutes without letting go (yes I know it was stupid) and after that I touched my tongue to the wire (even more stupid)... Could this have caused any serious health problems?

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    • admin

      2 points - doubt if you held on for two minutes and any mental health problems were probably existing prior to playing with the fence. Worry not.

      Query - were you trying for a Darwin award?

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  • H Mayer

    April 15 2014 was a lovely day with hardly a breath of wind.My micro light was standing at the edge of the field not tethered and I was having a cup of tea with my friend.
    I decided to tether the aircraft against an increasing wind. I don't remember any thing else about the day except at the end of the day asking my wife why I was in the hospital without any injury. She believed I had a flying accident and so the hospital result which included ESG,EEG test and studies were given showing no results. Next day my friend who took me home and later put my aircraft away gave the clue. He said that a huge whirl wind passed over spinning me and it around. Later when on touching the aircraft he received a painful shock and had to disconnect the fence. So that was the reason. Several months later after carrying on as normal without any problems I asked my GP for a medical declaration to meet DVLA class 2 diving and was told that this could not be given as the results did not give any reason for my days amnesia, also that I should not drive for the remaining 2 months
    The result is that on January 12 2015 I hope to finish my second set of tests to prove I am as fit as a fiddle. I know my event is out of the ordinary but I will say that the medical profession even though I have told them what happened don't seem to know the result of prolonged electric shocks from an electric fence.
    I suppose that they can be similar to a stun gun if prolonged

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    • admin

      Not sure why you would be rendered unconscious for such a long period. Your friend indicates what is standard when he registered a painful shock. Even a shock to the head does not render you unconscious for any length of time and the instinctive response is to get away from the source of the pain.

      I do hope your tests are successful.

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      • H.J.Mayer

        Sorry
        I was not clear on what happened.
        I guess I was sitting in the microlight which was blown against the fence and tipped over trapping me. As soon as I touched the ground the circuit was completed and I received several shocks.
        Where these were applied I don't know, it is likely that my face and shoulder touched the ground and since I was not about to fly I was not wearing a helmet. The airframe was rendered alive and I would probably be hanging on to the control frame which would also be alive. I was rendered unconscious for a shorts while but soon recovered but suffered from amnesia for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
        I fully recovered the next day and have not had any ill effects since.

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  • Roz

    After being chased through a field (a public footpath) by a load of young bullocks today I tried to climb the gate to exit the field but failed to notice the electric fence next to it. The metal gate acted as an earth so I got quite a belt in both hands and one of my knees - I was wondering if I should go and get checked out but after reading your explanation of voltage and amperage I am reassured (I think!), my hands are still tingling a bit but no visible burns. Reassurance gratefully received.

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  • […] about Electric Fencing is whether it is safe or not. This is covered in some detail in an earlier posting on this blog and just to highlight the difference  between standard mains electricity and electric fencing […]

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  • amanda

    today i was feeding my cousions horses and she did not tell me there was an electric fencee and now 3 hours later my legs still hurt what do i do

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  • Anny

    If a horse was tangled in an electric fence unable to get free can it died ?

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    • admin

      If an animal is caught in a fence the continual shocks are debilitating and can lead to the death of the horse, this however does take time and varies between animals. Invariably when an animal is caught in a fence the conducting wires are pressed against the ground so shorting the circuit and the animal does not receive the shocks as electricity ALWAYS looks for the shortest route to ground. Animals do have a reasonably high resistance quotient (about 500 Ohms/metre) so the trapped animal is by-passed.

      It is for this reason of additional safety that the latest technology offered by us have intelligent technology that will recognise what is in the fence and adjust its response accordingly. These are the Horismart range of energisers.

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  • Tagg Rystephanuk
    Tagg Rystephanuk July 17, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Hi there, i was leaning on a gate that had a shorted out electric fence wire underneath it. I felt the shock go up through my arms,into my chest and down through my legs. I was shocked with (according to the owner) around 3000 volts. I am alright aside from feeling a little weird. Should i go to the hospital?

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    • admin

      I would expect you to be fine, many people experience the shock daily, either inadvertently as you did or deliberately and suffer no ill effects. You only have to search on Youtube to see all the antics many people get upto with electric fencing. In my 35 years of working with Electric fencing I've been shocked countless times and I'm OK.

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