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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Winter Work Safety

Originally published 01/31/2018

When performing construction and other work during the winter season, be mindful of the weather, its effects on the body and proper actions to prevent serious injury, permanent tissue damage or even death. Employers should monitor the weather to keep track of forecasts.

Following are several tips to consider while working outdoors during the winter months:

  • Require proper gear. Workers need to have the right clothing for severe weather, including boots, heavy coats, gloves and hats. Employers should require all workers to wear clothing that will keep them warm and dry to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Also, shoes should have nonslip soles to prevent falling. Consider keeping extra clothing on hand should your clothing get wet.
  • Protect your head, neck and ears. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed.
  • Wear the right gloves for the work you are doing. They should have enough insulation to keep you warm and prevent frostbite, but thin enough so you can feel what you are doing if you are manipulating controls or tools. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets to reduce the risk of falling or losing your balance in case you slip while walking on ice or snow.
  • Keep your safety eyewear from fogging up in the cold. Use anti-fog coatings and wipes that are appropriate for your eyewear.
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and some medications that inhibit the body’s response to the cold and can impair judgement. These items can increase your heart rate and may cause your blood vessels to constrict. Encourage workers to drink water.
  • Warm up your vehicle to help reduce the moisture condensation on the inside of your car windows. Remember, though, not to warm up your vehicle in a closed area.
  • After a winter storm, immediately report any downed power lines or broken gas lines in your area or workplace.
  • Prepare and identify a warm break area for workers to retreat. It can be a heated trailer or a tent with portable heaters. Always follow proper safety procedures with heating devices.
  • Before work begins, review the area to ensure no new hazards have formed while you were away. Common hazards are snow and ice accumulations or downed power lines and trees.
  • Before work is started on a site, ensure that snow is removed, salt or sand is put down and large patches of ice are chipped away to greatly reduce the risk of injury.
  • All work vehicles should be inspected to determine if they are fully functioning. Winter kits should be added to every vehicle including an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, tow chain, flashlight with extra batteries, emergency flares, a blanket, snacks, and water.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. Prepare in advance, observe safety precautions and reduce your risk of weather-related injury. Safety is being prepared.

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