Thunderstorm Safety

Originally published on 04/11/2018

When there is thunder, there is lightning. Any outdoor job increases the risk of becoming a lightning victim. Dismissing the danger of storms when on a construction site can be detrimental. Lightning kills 10 percent of the people it strikes. The 90 percent who survive often suffer lifelong deliberating health consequences.

Here are a few guidelines for protecting workers from death and injury in thunderstorms:

  • Create a Lightning Safety Policy:  Add a section on lightning safety for construction crews to the safety manual. Construction workers may have a tendency to ignore the dangers of lightning, so insist they promptly follow the measures recommended when a thunderstorm approaches the jobsite.
  • Keep an Eye on the Sky:  Awareness of changing weather conditions is the first line of defense. Make sure your crew is aware of the person responsible for watching the weather reports before arriving at the job each day. Weather alert apps for smart phones keep workers advised of impending thunderstorms well in advance.
  • React Promptly to Weather Advisories:  Resist the temptation to finish the job in progress before taking shelter. Do not wait until you see lightning or rain. By the time you hear the thunder, you are already in striking distance of the lightning – even if the storm appears several miles away.
  • Unplug Equipment:  Have workers unplug any electrical tools, and stow them quickly out of the way.
  • Take Shelter in a Building:  Get all employees into a safe shelter. Close all doors and windows. Stay in the center of the structure, away from windows, exterior doors, electrical wiring and plumbing. NEVER take shelter in an open-sided building. Avoid small shelters, sheds and storage buildings. They provide little protection from lightning.
  • Take Shelter in a Vehicle:  If there is not a safe building at the site, have workers stay in their pickups or hard-topped cars during the storm. Do not park near trees, electrical poles, metal fences, scaffolding or other tall objects. Avoid rolling down windows, touching electronic equipment like the radio or leaning on the metal doors of the vehicle. Golf carts, ATVs, plastic or fiberglass body cars, convertible automobiles and open excavation equipment are NOT safe from lightning.
  • Remove Metal:  Contrary to myth, metal does not attract lightning. However, when struck by lightning, metal objects may cause severe burns. Have your workers remove tool belts, metal hard hats, safety harnesses and any other metallic objects they are wearing.
  • When Lightning Strikes:  Call 9-1-1 immediately if lightning strikes a crew member. If breathing or heartbeat has stopped, CPR-certified employees should give aid until professional help arrives. It is a myth that lightning victims carry a charge after the strike – they are safe to handle. Have fire extinguishers on the job site – especially if you’re working on a wood-framed structure.

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Thunderstorms and Lightening – A Dangerous Duo

Originally published 06/13/2017

Thunderstorms can be very dangerous. The National Weather Service (NWS) issues watches and warnings for severe thunderstorms. A watch means that conditions are favorable for the formation of a severe thunderstorm; a warning means that a severe thunderstorm has been sighted or has been indicated on NWS Doppler radar. Although they can occur at any time, severe thunderstorms are most common between the months of April and August.

Severe thunderstorms are defined by the NWS as storms with downdraft winds in excess of 58 miles an hour. They will also likely produce lightning and/or hail one inch in diameter or greater. A bolt of lightning can carry 30,000 to 500,000 amps of electricity of 15 million to 125 million volts. An average lightning bolt is 3 to 5 miles long and anywhere from 1/2″ to 5” wide.

What you can do before a storm strikes:

  • Know the county you work in and the names of the nearby cities and towns. Severe weather warnings and statements are issued by county and reference major cities.
  • Watch for signs of an approaching thunderstorm, which may include darkening skies, a sudden wind shift and drop in temperature. Keep a battery-powered weather and/or AM/FM radio with you.

When thunderstorms approach, consider doing the following:

  • Remember the 30-30 lightning safety rule: seek safe shelter if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Even if you don’t see it, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to a storm to be struck by lightning.
  • Wrap-up, pause or postpone outdoor work. Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Seek safe shelter inside a building or hard-topped vehicle (a car or truck). Heavy construction equipment with a Rollover Protection System, doors and windows is safe, but you should shut down the equipment and close the doors. Sit with your hands in your lap (don’t touch the metal) until the storm ceases. Rubber tires provide no additional protection from lightning; it is the metal vehicle body surrounding you that protects you.
  • Never get out of your vehicle or equipment if lightning is striking close by.
  • Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use. Use a corded phone only for emergencies.

What you should do during a thunderstorm:

  • If you are caught in the open, find a low area that is not near water. Stay away from trees, fences and water, as they attract lightning. Watch for flash flooding.
  • Remove your tool belt and don’t hold any objects in your hands. Avoid anything metal.
  • Crouch down with only the balls of your feet touching the ground. Do not lie on the ground, as current could flow through you, causing a heart attack, internal injuries and/or burns. Keep your head down and make yourself as small a target as possible.
  • Do not huddle in a group. Stay at least 15 feet away from others.

What to do if someone is struck by lightning:

  • Call 911 for medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • Check the victim’s pulse and breathing. If both pulse and breathing are absent, CPR should be administered at once.
  • If the victim appears only stunned or otherwise unhurt, check for burns, especially at fingers and toes and next to buckles and jewelry.
  • Give first aid for shock and do not let the victim walk around.

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