Lightning safety for outdoor workers
Think those blue skies overhead mean all is well? The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) says: think again. Because lightning can travel sideways for up to 10 miles, blue skies are not an indication of safety. Lightning is unpredictable and can strike outside the heaviest rainfall areas.
OSHA says that employers should recognize lightning as an occupational hazard. Workers who are exposed to significant lightning risk include those who work outdoors in open spaces, on or near tall objects, or near explosives or conductive materials (e.g., metal) and those in:
- Explosives handling or storage
- Heavy equipment operation
- Construction (e.g., scaffolding)
- Building maintenance
- Power utility field repair
- Steel erection/telecommunications
- Farming and field labor
- Plumbing and pipe fitting
- Lawn services/landscaping
- Airport ground personnel operations
- Pool and beach lifeguarding
According to OSHA, many lightning victims are caught outside during a storm because they did not act promptly to get to a safe place, or they go back outside too soon after a storm has passed. If signs of approaching thunderstorms occur, workers should not begin any task they cannot quickly stop. Proper planning and safe practices can easily increase lightning safety when working outdoors.
Outdoor lightning safety tips from the ESFI:
- Go to a low point. Lightning hits the tallest available object. Get down low if you are in an exposed area.
- Stay away from trees.
- Stay away from water, including pools, lakes, puddles and anything damp – like grass.
- Don’t stand close to other people. Spread out.
- Avoid metal. Don’t hold onto metal items like bats, golf clubs, fishing rods, tennis rackets, or tools.
- Stay away from metal sheds, clotheslines, poles and fences.
- If you drive into a thunderstorm in your car, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do NOT leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm. A vehicle is considered safe during a thunderstorm if it is fully enclosed with a metal top such as a hard topped car, minivan, bus, truck, etc. While inside a safe vehicle, do not use electronic devices such as radio communications during a thunderstorm.
- If you feel a tingling sensation or your hair stands on end, lightning may be about to strike. Crouch down and cover your ears.