Recently in the news, four people working at a peach farm were sent to the hospital after being struck by lightning in South Carolina. One woman was struck by lightning while de-boarding a plane in Columbia. Lightning struck the Taqueria los Compadres restaurant in Murrells Inlet one Wednesday afternoon, sending three people to the hospital and causing minor injuries to the restaurant owner.
Every year lightning occurs 20 to 25 million times and over 300 people are struck by lightning in the United States alone. About 50 people, on average, have been killed by lightning strikes every year, and many more suffer permanent disabilities. For this reason, precautions should be taken to prevent worker exposure to lightning. Lightning is an occupational hazard to be taken seriously especially for outdoor worksites.
What is lightning?
Lightning is a giant spark of electricity! Lightning can occur:
- Between the cloud and the ground (cloud-to-ground lightning)
- Within and between thunderstorm clouds (intra- and inter-cloud lightning)
What are some precautions?
- Check Weather Reports.
- Prior to beginning any outdoor work, employers and supervisors should check NOAA weather reports (weather.gov) and radio forecasts for all weather hazards.
- When thunder roars, go indoors!
- If you hear thunder, even a distant rumble, get to a safe place immediately. Thunderstorms always include lightning. Any thunder you hear is caused by lightning!
- Stay inside until it is safe!
- 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.
- Vehicles as Shelter:
- If safe building structures are not accessible, employers should guide workers to hard-topped metal vehicles with rolled up windows. Remain in the vehicle for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder.
- Emergency Action Plan
- Employers should have a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP), as outlined in 29 CFR 1910.38 or 29 CFR 1926.35. The EAP should include a written lightning safety protocol for outdoor workers.
What should you do If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm?
First of all, there is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm but if you have no choice and can’t get inside the following might help lower the risk of a lightning strike.
- Lightning is likely to strike the tallest objects in a given area—don’t be the tallest object.
- Avoid isolated tall trees, hilltops, utility poles, cell phone towers, cranes, large equipment, ladders, scaffolding, or rooftops.
- Avoid open areas, such as fields. Never lie flat on the ground.
- Retreat to dense areas of smaller trees that are surrounded by larger trees, or retreat to low-lying areas (e.g., valleys, ditches) but watch for flooding.
- Avoid water, and immediately get out of and away from bodies of water (e.g., pools, lakes).
None of these recommendations work if employees don’t understand them. Translating safety information into languages understood by employees is very important. Also, making sure that they receive safety training in their language is an important and effective way to keep them safe.