Lightning Safety When Working Outdoors
August 14, 2018
Outdoor workers are exposed to various hazards throughout the year, but summer lightning is a major threat. Each year, approximately 50 people suffer fatal injuries from lightning strikes, and hundreds of others will suffer permanent harm. Many fatalities and disabilities are avoidable if proper precautions are taken. During the summer months, workers and their supervisors should check weather reports regularly, so that if lightning is predicted, they can reschedule jobs that are outdoors. Always remember that lightning is unpredictable, and rainfall is not necessary for lightning to strike.
Basic precautions can save lives. Workers should finish their tasks as quickly as possible or leave them if that is the safest thing to do, and head to shelter. Workers should stay in shelter until 30 minutes after the last roll of thunder is heard, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
While buildings are the best form of shelter, if there is no building in the vicinity that workers can use, they should stay inside a vehicle with a hard roof and the windows up. Do not use a phone with a cord during a lightning storm, unless an emergency occurs and there are no cellphones or cordless phones available. Cordless phones are safest to use during a lightning storm.
If caught outside during a lightning storm, workers should avoid tall objects in the area. For example, taking shelter under a single tall tree is not safe. Neither is it safe to lie on the ground during a lightning storm. Instead, take shelter under a group of smaller trees, or in a ditch or another low-lying area. Move away from water, whether it be a pond, stream, lake, or a swimming pool. Stay away from any metal objects, including fencing or wiring, as metal conducts electricity.
Employer Action Plans
Employers must have a written action plan for protecting workers during lightning storms. Such plans should include how workers are informed about lightning danger, the locations for safe shelter on job sites, how to determine when to stop and continue outdoor work, and the response times needed for every worker to obtain safe shelter. These plans require posting at every outdoor job site. Action plans should also include the type of lightning detection system used, even though no current system is 100 percent accurate in detecting when a lightning strike will initially occur in an area.
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