Lightning Safety for Outdoor Workers
September 22, 2017
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), lightning strikes over 25 million times in the U.S. every year. On average 300 people are struck by lightning annually, killing 40-50 and injuring dozens more. Employers are responsible for protecting their workers from lightning exposure and take other important safety precautions to lower the chances of these damaging and deadly workplace injuries.
Lightning can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and typically causes injuries in three ways: intense heat, electricity and/or mechanical energy generated by the lightning strike itself, which can cause overloads in energy storage systems. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that 9%-10% of people struck by lightning suffer fatal injuries. Although an average 90% of people will survive, many victims still develop long-term or permanent neurological damages caused by massive doses of electricity, which can require ongoing medical treatment and physical therapy. These services are expensive and bills for treatment can accumulate quickly.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), certain work activities put employees at a greater risk for sustaining lightning injuries. People who work with or near explosive or conductive materials (e.g. metal), in open spaces or near tall objects are especially at-risk for lightning strikes and injuries. Some other well-known risky work activities include:
- Farming and field labor;
- Construction – especially scaffolding;
- Heavy equipment operation;
- Beach/pool lifeguarding;
- Power utility field repair;
- Steel erection/telecommunications;
- Plumbing/pipe fitting, and:
- Airport ground personnel operations
In order to protect workers from being exposed to lightning during storms, employers and supervisors should require that everyone find a safe place to go and be careful to wait until the storm has passed which may mean staying indoors for up to 30 minutes after the last sounds of thunder. According to OSHA’s data, the majority of lightning strike injuries occur when people mistakenly return outdoors before a storm has passed.
Whenever there is a thunderstorm in the area, the NOAA urges employers to be particularly cautious and understand that nowhere outside is safe. As such, all employers should require workers to go inside right away if thunder is heard. Before starting any outdoor job, employers should check the NOAA’s weather forecast to ensure that no storms are moving in – because the weather can change without warning, it is important that employers continue to monitor it. Typical signs that a thunderstorm may be coming include darkening clouds and increased wind speeds.
If safe building structures are not available during thunderstorms, workers should seek shelter inside hard-topped, metal vehicles and make sure that the windows are rolled up. Although it may sound like a storm has passed, it is crucial to stay indoors for an average of 30 minutes after hearing thunder for the last time. Using corded phones during a thunderstorm can result in injuries, so it is best to avoid using them – if you need to make an emergency call, cordless phones and cell phones should be used instead.
As with many other work hazards, employers should create emergency action plans (EAP) so that individuals know how to respond in cases of a severe thunderstorms. Some tips from OSHA’s lightning safety protocol includes:
- Informing supervisors and workers to take shelter after hearing thunder, seeing lightning or any other sign of an approaching storm;
- Identifying the location of safe shelters, and:
- Accounting for the time required to evacuate the area and for workers to reach safety
To read more about how workers and employers can stay safe in thunderstorms and avoid being exposed to lightning, please visit: https://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/resources/OSHA_FS-3863_Lightning_Safety_05-2016.pdf.
Part of an employer’s legal responsibility to protect workers from foreseeable job hazards includes protection from lightning exposure. When any kind of work is going to be performed outdoors, the risk of lightning strikes increases greatly. To limit the number of preventable lightning strike injuries and deaths that occur in the workplace, it is necessary that employers fulfill their legal obligation to create lightning safety initiatives for all workers.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Pursues Recoveries for Workers Injured on the Job
If you or a loved one was injured or killed on the job from lightning, please contact our Philadelphia work injury lawyers. Galfand Berger has offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.