When summer is in full swing, lightning season is too. The month of July is particularly known for its lightning strikes in the U.S., especially in states like Florida and Texas. FEMA estimates about 300 people are injured by lightning each year; about 10% of those struck by lightning die. While the risk of getting struck by lightning is small, those who work outdoors are at increased risk. Work activities at higher risk for lightning strikes include roofing, farming, construction, lawn services, lifeguarding, logging, airport ground operations, plumbing/pipe fitting, powerline repair, and work on telecommunication towers.
Outdoor workers, as well as those recreating outside, should be aware of the risks of lightning and how to protect themselves in a storm.
Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, or more, regardless whether it is raining. If you are outside and can hear thunder, you can be hit by lightning. While it is possible for people to be struck directly by lightning, it is also possible for them to be injured in other ways: they can be injured by lightning that hits an object they are touching; by lightning that bounces off an object and into them; by electrical currents that travel through the ground or water; and by bursts of energy (“streamers”) from objects near the ground. People can also suffer blast injuries from the intense noise of thunder or from being thrown to the ground by a nearby lightning strike.
Outdoor workers should:
- Monitor the forecast for hazards
- Pay attention to signs of a thunderstorm, including high winds and thunder
- Be prepared to stop work if inclement weather looks imminent (and abide by OSHA’s prohibitions for certain work activities during storms and high winds)
- Be aware of their surroundings and know where to seek shelter
- Follow their company’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP) lightning safety protocol
If you are outdoors during a thunderstorm, you should NOT:
- Be near explosives
- Be near tall structures, including roofs, scaffolding, utility poles, ladders, bulldozers, cranes, tractors, and trees
- Be in open fields or areas
- Be in or near water
- Touch conductive materials, including metal equipment, utility lines, fences, and water pipes
- Seek shelter in an open vehicle such as a golf cart
- Seek shelter on/in/under a porch, shed, pavilion, balcony, gazebo, picnic shelter, dugout, or sports arena
- Lean against or sit on concrete (metal within concrete walls and floors can carry electrical currents)
- Lie or sit on the ground (the ground can carry currents from a lightning strike 100 feet away)
If you are outdoors during a thunderstorm:
- Go inside an enclosed indoor shelter as quickly as possible. An enclosed indoor shelter is a structure with four walls, a roof, and interior wiring and plumbing, like a house or a grocery store. A hard-top vehicle with the windows rolled up is also a safe shelter. Stay in the shelter for at least 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder. People can be struck by lightning if they leave their shelter too soon following a storm.
- If you are caught outside in an open area, try to go to a low-lying area (but be careful to watch for flooding) or to an area densely covered with small and large trees. Crouch down low to the ground—but do not sit or lie down on the ground—tuck in your head, and cover your ears with your hands.
- If you are with a group of people in an open area, separate from each other and spread out prior to crouching down to minimize the number of injuries if lightning strikes the ground.
Remember that lightning strike victims are not electrified and are safe to touch without fear of being electrocuted yourself. Giving first aid to a lightning strike victim can save their life. Learn about lightning strike first aid steps.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ” Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Lightning Strikes,” https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/lightning/faq.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ” Lightning: Lightning Safety Tips,” https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/lightning/safetytips.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Lightning: Information for Workers,” https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/lightning/infoforworkers.html
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Lightning Safety When Working Outdoors,” https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3863.pdf