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Working Outdoors During a Lightning Storm Risky

Photo courtesy of Robert Thompson via Wikimedia Commons

Lightning is not usually the first thing people think of when they consider occupational hazards. But if you are driving a forklift or another industrial vehicle outdoors during a lightning storm, it jumps to the top of the list.

Every year in the US, there are an estimated 20 to 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. And more than 300 people are struck by lightning, many of whom are on the job.

Not Usually Fatal

Lightning strikes are rarely fatal Only about 50 people in the US have been killed by lightning in the past 30 years.

But lightning can cause permanent, disabling injuries, including burns. Precautions should be taken by employers to protect their workers from exposure to lightning, a genuine occupational hazard.

When electrical storms roll into an area, workers whose jobs include working outdoors in open spaces, on or near tall objects, or near explosives or conductive metal or other materials should be evacuated to safe areas.

High-Risk Jobs

The risk of being struck by lightning are higher if workers are in high or open areas during an electrical storm. Some of the most high-risk jobs include:

  • Logging
  • Handling explosives
  • Operating heavy equipment such as forklifts
  • Roofing
  • Working on scaffolding
  • Building maintenance
  • Working on power lines or telecommunications towers
  • Farming or field labor
  • Plumbing and pipe fitting
  • Lawn care and landscaping
  • Airport ground operations
  • Lifeguards at pools or beaches

Signs of an Electrical Storm

One of the earliest signs of an impending electrical storm is thunder. Anytime you hear thunder, it's caused by lightning ... even if you can't see it.

Many people who are struck by lightning are caught outside during a storm because they waited too long to seek shelter or the went back outside too soon after a storm has passed.

Electrical storms can be fast-moving. And lightning strikes can occur even after the worst of the weather has moved on.

Protection from Lightning

The best protection against lightning is to leave outdoor open spaces before an electrical storm arrives. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that nowhere outdoors is safe when a thunderstorm is in your area.

Employers should regularly check weather reports prior to sending workers out into open areas. If there is a risk of thunderstorms, precautions should be taken, including continually monitoring weather conditions and calling in employees well before storms arrive.

If the risk for a lightning storm is high, employers should consider rescheduling jobs to avoid exposing workers to the risk of being caught outside in hazardous weather conditions.