By: Bob Blair

Each year in the United States an average of 58 people are killed by lightning and hundreds more are seriously injured.   People struck by lightning may suffer from such symptoms as: memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.

While we cannot control when and where lighting may strike, we can take measures to protect ourselves from being struck.  The National Lightning Safety Institute sets forth some guidelines for lightning protection which we will briefly overview.

The first step, as in most things we do, is to make a plan.  The plan should include evacuation procedures and safety measures, and should be communicated to all employees.  This should be part of your Emergency Action Plan.  Remember, for companies of less than 10 people this may be communicated orally; if there are more than 10 employees then the plan must be in writing and readily accessible by all employees.

So what should this plan include?  First of all we need to look at whether the employees are outdoors or inside when the lightning strikes.

  1. Outdoors: Avoid water, high ground, and open spaces.  Avoid metal objects and all sources of electricity (power tools, power lines, etc.).  Do not seek shelter under canopies or trees; if possible try to find a substantial building or vehicle with all windows shut.  If lighting strikes while you are outside, crouch down with your feet together and stay at least 15 feet away from other people.
  2. Indoors:  Avoid water, stay away from windows and doors, do not use the telephone, and take off head sets.  Turn off, unplug and stay away from all appliances, computers, power tools and televisions. 

It is also recommended that you suspend all activities for 30 minutes after the last observed lightning or thunder as the storm system may not have completely passed in this time frame.

If an employee is injured by lightning it is safe to transport him or her as the body will not hold the electrical charge after initial contact.  Have a qualified individual perform any necessary first aid on the victim and call 911 immediately.  The sooner the victim receives medical attention the lower the risk of that person sustaining debilitating or fatal injuries.

Finally, know what all of the applicable emergency phone numbers are and communicate these to employees in your Emergency Action Plan.

Remember that lightning is a real work hazard just like any other hazard and should be treated as such.  Protect yourself and your employees from lightning by following the guidelines set forth here.