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Summer and thunderstorms go hand-in-hand and that means lightning! For those who work in outdoor spaces, lightning safety is definitely something to keep in mind at all times. We’ve all probably have heard the phrase, “when thunder roars, go indoors.” Here are some common Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to outdoor safety and lightning:  


  • Check the weather forecast. Be aware of upcoming storms, and if the forecast calls for thunderstorms, make sure you have adequate safe shelter options.
  • Find a safe, enclosed shelter when you hear thunder. Safe shelters could be a home, offices, shopping centers or even a hard-top vehicle with the windows rolled up.
  • Seek shelter immediately if a thunderstorm is heading your way to remove yourself from the danger. If there is no shelter available, these actions may reduce your risk…but does not remove you from the danger completely:
    • Get off of any elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks.
    • Never lie flat on the ground (goal is minimum contact on the ground), but you can crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ear.
    • Do not shelter under an isolated tree – ever!
    • Do not use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
    • Get out of and away from any water immediately.
    • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, which as power lines, barbed wire fences).


  • Stay in open vehicles (convertibles, motorcycles, golf carts), structures (porches, gazebos, sports arenas), or spaces (golf courses, bodies of water, playgrounds).
  • Stay near tall structures – avoid leaning on concrete walls as lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls and flooring.
  • Venture out too quickly after a thunderstorm – it is recommended to shelter in place for at least 30 minutes.

Lightning can occur any time of year, but July is generally the month with the most lightning, and lightning casualties are highest during the summer with 2/3 of all lightning casualties occur between noon and 6pm. Take steps this summer to keep yourself and your team members safe while working outdoors when a thunderstorm is heading your way!

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

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Cloud-to-ground lightning occurs 20 to 25 million times a year in the United States! But what exactly is a lightning strike? As thunderstorms develop, many small particles of ice within the storm clouds collide, which create a positive charge at the top of the cloud and a negative charge of at the bottom.

As this continues, a second positive charge builds up on the ground beneath the cloud, and when the difference between the electrical charge in the cloud and on the ground becomes great enough to overcome the resistance of the insulating air between them…an electrical current flows instantly – a lightning strike! The electrical potential can be as much as 100 million volts!

During the past 30 years, about 50 people, on average, have been killed by lightning strikes every year, and many more suffer permanent disabilities, including memory loss, fatigue, chronic pain, dizziness, sleeping difficulty, and the inability to complete several tasks at one time. Worker activities at higher risk for lightning hazards include:
• Logging
• Explosives handling or storage
• Heavy equipment operations
• Roofing
• Construction
• Building maintenance
• Power utility field repair
• Steel erection/telecommunications
• Farming and field labor
• Lawn services/landscaping
• Airport ground personnel operations
• Pool and beach lifeguarding

Following these simple safety practices can help keep your outdoor workers safer during thunderstorms and lightning strikes:
• Designate a worker per shift to monitor daily weather forecasts, observe local weather conditions and alert all other workers when a possible lightning threat develops.
• When a storm moves nearby, don’t start or continue any work that cannot be stopped immediately
• Anticipate and take action early by moving everyone to a low-risk location. Don’t wait until you see lightning.
• Good motto: If you see it (lightning), flee it. If you hear it (thunder), clear it. Either one, get indoors and to a safe location!
• Remain in a safe location for 30 minutes after the last sight of lightning or the last sound of thunder. The safest location is inside a fully enclosed building. If that is unavailable, the second safest location is inside a full enclosed car, van, truck or bus with a metal roof and metal sides.

Posted by on in Uncategorized

Did you know in the United States that cloud-to-ground lightning happens 20 to 25 million times a year? Even with such frequency, for some reason, lightning is overlooked too often as an occupational hazard. It doesn’t get the attention of other deadly weather storms, such as hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, because it doesn’t result in mass destruction or mass casualties. But anybody working outdoors in open spaces, on or near tall objects or near explosives or conductive materials have a significant risk to being struck by lightning.

In a typical year, the central Ohio Valley, including Indiana, sees some of the most frequent lightning activity across the United States. Summertime is the peak season for lightning and a great time to educate your employees about lightning and what precautions should be taken to prevent worker exposure to this dangerous natural force.

Lightning 101 – When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

  • Lightning can strike as far as 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm – much farther out from the area of rainfall within the storm.
  • Thunderstorms always include lightning – any thunder you hear is caused by lightning.
  • Nowhere outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area.
  • If you hear thunder, you are within striking distance.
  • Seek safe shelter and stay there until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.
  • Don’t use corded phones as this is one of the leading causes of indoor lightning injuries – cordless and cell phones are safe to use as long as they are not being charged.
  • Stay away from windows and doors.
  • Don’t touch electrical equipment or cords as anything using electricity is susceptible to a lightning strike.
  • Avoid plumbing as metal plumbing and the water inside are both very good conductors of electricity.
  • Refrain from touching concrete surfaces – lightning can travel through the metal wires and bars in concrete walls and flooring, such as in a basement or garage.

Remember, there is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm, so seek full-enclosed, substantial buildings with interior wiring and plumbing as these will act as an earth ground. But what if workers are caught outdoors?  These are National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recommendations to decrease the risk of being struck:

  • Lightning will likely strike the tallest objects in the area, so make sure it’s not you.
  • Avoid such things as isolated tall trees, hilltops, utility poles, cell phone towers, cranes, large equipment, ladders, scaffolding or rooftops.
  • Avoid open areas, such as fields, and never lie flat on the ground.
  • If you must be near trees, find a dense area of smaller trees that are surrounded by larger trees or retreat to low-lying areas.
  • Avoid water – immediately get out of and away from such places as pools, lakes or oceans.
  • Avoid wiring, plumbing and fencing as lightning can travel long distances through metal.

Many people often wonder about the safety of their own vehicle during lightning. There have been enough reported incidences and injuries to know the myth of being completely safe in a car is just that - a myth. If you find yourself in your car during a lightning storm, it is best to pull off to the side of the road, turn on your emergency blinkers, turn off the engine and put your hands on your lap until the storm passes. Do not touch door or window handles, radio dials, CB microphones, gearshifts, steering wheels and other inside-to-outside metal objects.

On the other hand, heavy equipment, such as backhoes, bulldozers, loaders, graders, scrapers and mowers, which have an enclosed rollover system canopy (ROPS) are considered safe, so you should shut down the equipment, close the doors and sit with hands in lap until the storm has passed. Smaller equipment without ROPS, such as small riding mowers, golf carts and utility wagons, are not safe, and you should leave these vehicles for safe shelter.

Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees, which includes but is not limited to having an Emergency Action Plan that addresses lightning safety protocol for outdoor workers, posting information about lightning safety at outdoor worksites and offering safety training to their employees. Workplace Safety & Health Co. is here to help you keep your employees safer in thunderstorms and in all kinds of weather. 

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