Thunderstorm & Lightning Hazards

Approximately 50 people, on average, are killed by lightning strikes each year and others suffering permanent disabilities, such as severe burns. Thunderstorms and lightning are most likely to develop on hot, humid days. Historically, lightning fatalities have occurred between April and September, with most of the strike events happening in June, July and August.

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors

If you hear thunder, even a distant rumble, get to a safe place immediately. Thunderstorms always include lightning. Lightning may occur up to 10 miles away from any rainfall.

Ways to Be Struck by Lightning

  • Direct Strike – A person struck directly by lightning becomes a part of the main lightning discharge channel. Most often, direct strikes occur to people who are in open areas.
  • Side Flash – A side flash (also called a side splash) occurs when lightning strikes a taller object near a person and a portion of the current jumps from taller object to the person.
  • Ground Current – When lightning strikes a tree or other object, much of the energy travels outward from the strike in and along the ground surface.
  • Conduction – Lightning can travel long distances in wires or other metal surfaces. Whether inside or outside, anyone in contact with anything connected to metal wires, plumbing or metal surfaces that extend outside is at risk. This includes anything that plugs into an electrical outlet, water faucets and showers, corded phones, and windows and doors.

Monitor the Weather

When working outside:

  • Continuously monitor weather conditions.
  • Watch for darkening clouds and increasing wind speeds.
  • Monitor the internet or weather apps for emergency notifications.

Seek Shelter

When a lightning storm threatens, take these precautions:

  • Seek shelter inside a building whenever possible. Avoid open shelters like pavilions or porches.
  • Once inside, stay away from open windows, sinks, toilets, tubs, showers, appliances, electric boxes and outlets.
  • If you’re in a vehicle, stay there and roll up the windows.

Stuck Outside?

If you’re caught outside, and there is no shelter or no time to seek adequate shelter:

  • Crouch down with your feet close together.
  • Keep your hands on your knees and lower your head.
  • Get as low as possible without touching your hands or knees to the ground, and DO NOT LIE DOWN.

Download the printable PDF and Recording Form here.

Members can download the audio version of this toolbox talk here.

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.

Download a recording form here.

Working Safely in Windy Conditions

Originally published 03/14/2018

Working outdoors can present a number of risks. One particular threat is extreme weather conditions such as wind. We are fortunate that we can look at weather conditions and make the necessary arrangements beforehand especially in an industry as risky as construction. Windy conditions can be a major risk factor for any outdoor worksite but especially construction sites because there are a variety of materials, equipment, and machinery that can become a cause of injury in windy conditions.

Working at heights is especially risky in high winds because the lack of shelter exposes workers to stronger gusts that can throw the worker off balance. The further the distance to the ground, the greater the likelihood that a fall will be fatal.

When working above the ground, unsupported structures can collapse. High winds can pick up sparks from fires or blow tools, loose materials and debris around, endangering workers as well as bystanders and pedestrians.

The following guidelines can help ensure the safety of those on your worksite.

  1. Monitor weather conditions continuously. Do not schedule work at elevations on days where high winds are forecast.
  2. Support partially built structures regardless of the weather conditions and make sure walls are adequately braced.
  3. Secure scaffolding and other temporary structures so they cannot be blown over.
  4. Secure traffic control devices so they don’t blow over.
  5. Keep a clean work site. Don’t leave cones, signage and other loose materials laying around and unsecured. A gust of wind could pick up a scrap of material and send it flying.
  6. Wear eye protection to keep dust, debris and other foreign particles from blowing into the eyes.
  7. Make sure that your hard hat is securely fastened and cannot be blown off your head.
  8. Use extreme caution when handling large signs and stop/slop paddles, as these can act as a sail.
  9. Use taglines when hoisting loads with large flat surfaces.
  10. Cease all crane operations until wind speeds return to acceptable levels.
  11. Conduct a site specific risk assessment and ensure adequate planning and preparation to ensure all hazards are controlled.

Weather is a major factor when determining when a task can or cannot be done on a construction site. When high winds are going to be present, plan accordingly. There will be some tasks you will need to avoid all together, and others that can be done if extra safeguards are put into place.

Download the recording form here.

Safety for the Changing Seasons

Originally published 11/08/2017

As the weather gets colder and winter draws near, it’s time to start thinking about taking extra safety precautions when outdoors – whether driving or working on the job site.

Prepare for driving in cold weather.

  • You may find frost and ice on roadways and bridges in the morning. Give yourself some extra time for that drive to work. Keep in mind that bridges and overpasses freeze first.
  • Drive defensively. Watch out for other drivers who may be driving too fast for conditions or have lost control of their vehicles.
  • Make sure your vehicle’s antifreeze is adequate for the temperature.
  • Keep an ice scraper; a shovel; jumper cables; some sand, kitty litter or traction mats and a blanket in your vehicle.
  • Check the tread on your tires. If it’s less than 1/8 of an inch, consider replacing the tires.
  • Check the air tanks on your truck and make sure liquid isn’t building up. Over the winter, air brake lines can freeze if the air tanks aren’t drained.

Dress for working in cold weather.

  • Wear layers of clothing. Many layers of thin garments trap heat better than a few thick ones. You can always discard a layer if it gets warmer.
  • Consider wearing a liner in your hard hat.
  • Consider wearing headbands or hooded jackets to protect your ears.
  • Keep clothes clean and dry.
  • Wear water-resistant boots.
  • Wear windproof outer layers.
  • Wear cotton close to the body.
  • Wear gloves with liners if possible.
  • Consider wearing an extra pair of socks for added warmth.
  • Make sure your safety vest is clean and in good repair. As the days get shorter, early, low-light conditions make it very difficult for passing drivers, equipment operators and other co-workers to see you.

Take additional precautions against cold weather.

  • When possible, take breaks in warm areas.
  • When possible, use approved warming devices. Be cautious of carbon monoxide build up when indoors.
  • Use the buddy system and check on each other regularly.
  • Be cautious of ice buildup on the jobsite. Slip and fall injuries can occur suddenly.
  • When possible, schedule work to avoid being exposed to high-wind conditions.
  • When possible, consider working with your back to the wind.

The best time to prepare for the cold is before you are exposed. Think ahead and be prepared for conditions.

Download the recording form here.

Driving on Snow and Ice

Originally published 01/20/2016

The best advice for driving on snow and ice is to avoid it if you can. If you can’t, it’s important to make sure your vehicle is prepared, and that you know how to handle the road conditions. The following tips will help make your drive safer on snow and ice.

Driving safely on icy roads:

  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding.
  • Turn on your lights so that other drivers can see you.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads. These areas will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas.
  • Don’t pass snow plows and sand trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind them.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your vehicle starts to skid:

  • Remain calm.
  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump them, but apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse; this is normal.
  • Steer to safety.

If you get stuck:

  • Use a light touch on the gas to ease your car out.
  • Don’t spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • You may want to try rocking the vehicle. Give a light touch on the gas pedal and then release it. Repeating this action will start a rocking motion and could free your vehicle.
  • If necessary, use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the vehicle.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels to increase traction.

Keep in mind that winter brings adverse weather conditions. Be prepared to operate your vehicle in a defensive manner, and watch out for other vehicles on the road. Driving on snow and ice can be tricky, but can be done safely. Remember: Think safety and act safely.

Download the recording form here.

Cold Weather Hazards

First published on 01/13/2016

Several potential hazards exist when winter temperatures fall below zero. This Toolbox Talk addresses three of them.

Frostbite is damage to skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. It can cause loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It can affect any part of the body; however, the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are most likely to be affected. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissue and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased when individuals do not dress appropriately for the weather conditions.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness; tingling or stinging; aching; and bluish, pail or waxy skin. If you think you are suffering from frostbite, get into a warm location as soon as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet. This increases the damage. Warm the affected area using body heat. For example, place a frostbitten hand under your arm. Do not rub or massage the affected area, because doing so can cause more damage to the skin. Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is caused from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit if the feet are constantly wet. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Therefore, to prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Symptoms of trench foot include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain and bleeding under the skin. If you are suffering from trench foot, you should remove shoes/boots and wet socks, dry your feet and avoid walking, as this may cause tissue damage.

Chilblains are caused when the skin is repeatedly exposed to temperatures ranging from just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. This damage is permanent, and the redness and itching (typically on cheeks, ears, fingers and toes) will return with additional exposure.

Symptoms of chilblains include redness, itching, possible blistering, inflammation and possible ulceration in severe cases. If you have chilblains you should avoid scratching, slowly warm the skin, use corticosteroid creams to relieve itching and swelling and keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered.

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