National Lightning Safety Awareness Week began in 2001 to call attention to this underrated killer. Greater awareness of the dangers of lightning have dropped their fatalities by about 40%, from 50 a year to about 30.
When thinking about workplace safety and lightning, there are definitely some occupations which are more at risk. People who work outdoors in open spaces, on or near tall objects, with explosives or with conductive materials such as metal have a much greater risk to being exposed to lightning dangers.
Employers should have a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP), which includes a lightning safety protocol for outdoor workers. Some items which should be included in this plan are as follows:
• Inform supervisors and workers to check the daily forecast throughout the workday and take action after hearing thunder, seeing lightning, or perceiving any other warning signs of approaching thunderstorms.
• Indicate how workers are notified about lightning safety warnings.
• Identify locations and requirements for safe shelters.
• Indicate response times necessary for all workers to reach safe shelters.
• Specify approaches for determining when to suspend outdoor work activities, and when to resume outdoor work activities.
• Account for the time required to evacuate customers and members of the public, and the time needed for workers to reach safety – don’t start a project you cannot finish quickly if a storm is approaching
• Post information about lightning safety at outdoor worksites. All employees should be trained on how to follow the EAP, including the lightning safety procedures.
When caught outside in a thunderstorm, the only completely safe action is to get inside a safe building or vehicle. This should be prefaced as the only safe option. But if there could be a chance a safe location onsite is not nearby, be proactive and include some safer outdoor options including the following:
• Stay off and away from anything tall or high, including rooftops, scaffolding, utility poles and ladders
• Stay off and away from large equipment, such as bulldozers, cranes, backhoes, track loaders and tractors
• Do not touch materials or surfaces that can conduct electricity, including metal scaffolding, metal equipment, utility lines, water, water pipes and plumbing
• Leave areas with explosives or munitions
• Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top
• Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects – in a forest, stay near the lower stand of trees
• If you are in a group, spread out to avoid the current travelling between group members
• Stay away from water and wet items as they are excellent conductors of electricity