Lightning is an occupational hazard that can severely injure or kill workers in Nevada and it is important for employers to take steps to reduce the risks to their employees. Lightning can strike anywhere, during any time of the year. Employers should make checking the National Weather Service’s forecasts a part of their daily routines. They should also implement policies about outdoor work when storms are approaching as well as when they have just passed.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, lightning strikes happen in the U.S. about 25 million times per year. An estimated 300 people are struck by lightning every year. An average of 30 people are killed by lightning each year, and scores more suffer permanent disabilities.
Lightning occurs more frequently in the spring, but it can happen year round. Lightning strikes do not always occur in areas with the heaviest rainfall and may happen as much as 10 miles away from the edge of a storm. People who work outside on or near tall buildings, in open spaces, or close to conductive materials and explosives are at a higher risk of getting injured or killed by lightning.
Industries With the Highest Risks
While all outdoor workers are at risk of getting struck by lightning, those in the following industries have the greatest risk of lightning strikes:
- Heavy equipment operators
- Steel erectors and telecommunications employees
- Power utility workers
- Construction workers
Other workers who have a greater risk of becoming injured by lightning strikes include farmers, plumbers, landscapers, airport ground personnel and lifeguards. Employers in these industries, as well as others that have employees who work outside on a regular basis, should implement safety policies for their workplaces to protect their workers from lightning hazards.
Minimizing Lightning Strike Risks
Employers should check the National Weather Service’s weather forecasts every day. Many workers who are struck by lightning do not go inside promptly when storms are approaching. Employers should implement safety policies at their workplaces for handling inclement weather when workers are outdoors.
They should train their employees to seek shelter as soon as they hear thunder. If there is a building nearby, employees should promptly go inside and remain for at least 10 minutes after they hear the last thunder rumble. If there aren’t any nearby buildings, employees should take shelter inside vehicles that have hard metal tops and keep the windows rolled up.
Outdoor workers aren’t the only ones at risk. When workers hear thunder, they should refrain from using corded phones and only use cell phones to place calls. They should avoid computers and other electrical devices that put them in direct contact with electricity.
Emergency Action Plans for Lightning
Employers should have clear emergency action plans in place for how their workers should handle storms so that their risks of becoming struck by lightning will be reduced. The plans should be posted in conspicuous areas, and posted at all outdoor worksites. All workers and the supervisors should receive regular training on the action plans.
OSHA states that the emergency action plans should include several key provisions. Workers and supervisors should be told to act when they hear thunder or perceive any warnings of an approaching storm. The plan should also include information about notifying workers when storms are approaching. Safety shelters should be clearly identified, and information about how long it should take the workers to reach them should be included. Information should also be included about when outdoor work should be halted because of an approaching storm and how long workers should wait after it has passed before they resume their work.
Since it is impossible for employers and workers to predict the first strike of lightning, it is important for them to rely on the weather reports from the government.
Workers who are caught outside during a thunderstorm and who are unable to get to safety should remember that lightning tends to strike the tallest object. They should shelter in areas of small trees that are surrounded by taller trees or attempt to go to the lowest-lying area while watching out for flooding. People should avoid bodies of water when storms approach. While it may be impossible to protect against all lightning strikes, the risks to workers can be minimized by implementing safety policies and adhering to them.
Workers who are struck by lightning may receive workers’ compensation benefits including money for lost wages, medical bills, special equipment, vocational retraining, and more. When families of outdoor workers lose their loved ones to lightning strikes, they may be entitled to survivor’s benefits that can help pay for funeral expenses and more.