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Working Outdoors? Watch Out for Lightning

Outdoor construction work starts to pick up this time of year. However, along with the welcome arrival of warmer temperatures and extended hours of daylight comes increased risk for thunderstorms and for being struck by lightning. In the United States alone, lightning strikes kill an average of 53 people every year. They also severely injure hundreds more.

Lightning is attracted to tall objects. A construction worker standing on a roof or a ladder on the ground is a prime target for lightning. In fact, with work responsibilities that frequently require them to be outdoors, construction workers are among those most likely to be struck by lightning. And, because lightning can travel 10 to 15 miles from its originating thunderstorm, construction workers can be targets even if it isn’t raining at the jobsite and even if the sky overhead is blue. All thunderstorms produce lightning and that means all thunderstorms are dangerous. As a lightning strike in Florida last summer that left a construction worker dead makes clear, awareness of area weather conditions and acting promptly when a thunderstorm threatens is essential.

Lightning safety at outdoor construction sites includes:

  • Monitoring weather conditions for reports of impending severe weather. Weather apps and inexpensive portable weather radios can provide timely storm data from local weather forecasts.
  • Making sure there are safe shelters at the worksite and that you know where to go:
    • Fully enclosed metal vehicles with windows rolled up
    • Fully enclosed buildings
    • Low ground ditches
  • Knowing the signs of a pending lightning strike:
    • Feeling your hair standing on end
    • Hearing “crackling noises”
  • Knowing what to do if you are caught outside:
    • Immediately get off ladder, scaffold, roof, etc.
    • Immediately remove all metal objects including your safety harness and your tool belt
    • Immediately place your feet together, duck your head and crouch down low with your hands covering your ears

Lightning safety at home includes:

  • Closing windows, securing outside doors and keeping a safe distance from both.
  • Securing any objects outside that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Staying away from faucets, sinks, showers and bathtubs. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Avoiding use of a corded (landline) telephone. Cellular/mobile phones are safe to use.
  • Unplugging electrical appliances including televisions, computers and air conditioners. Power surges that occur as the result of lightning can cause severe damage to plugged-in electronics and appliances.
  • Keeping pets inside.

At work and at home:

  • Practice the 30-30 Lightning Safety Rule: If the time between a thunderclap and lightning flash is less than 30 seconds, the lightning is close enough to strike you. Find shelter immediately. Do not leave the shelter and resume outdoor activities until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder or last flash of lightning. Most lightning injuries and deaths occur after a thunderstorm has passed.
  • Further information about thunderstorm and lightning safety is available at these websites:
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • NOAA Watch
  • American Red Cross

The LHSFNA has a Health Alert on lightning that can be placed inside paycheck envelopes and also easily fits inside glove compartments and lunchboxes. Order this and other health and safety materials through our Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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