Lightning! Safety precautions for work and home

July 22nd, 2008 by Julie Ferguson

This week here in Massachusetts, ten people were struck by lightning when a flash storm suddenly disrupted a soccer game. At this writing, one victim is fighting for his life and four others are in intensive care. Just a few days before and about 80 miles to the northwest, two people in Maine who stepped outside to chase a dog that had run off with a pair of eyeglasses were killed by a lightning strike. At least 17 people have been struck by lightning so far this month, and seven of those people have died.
Over the last 30 years the U.S. has averaged 62 reported lightning fatalities per year. But only about 10% of those who are struck by lightning die from the incident – about 90% survive, often with serious injuries and after effects that continue for years. NASA has produced an interesting page entitled Human Voltage that discusses what happens when people and lightning converge. It includes a list of typical medical disorders associated with lightning strikes.
NOAA estimates that your odds of being struck by lightning in any given year range from 1 in 400,000 to 1 in 700,000. Your lifetime risk is about 1 in 5,000. The chance that a lightning strike will affect someone you know is about 1 in 500. Men are struck by lightning four times more often than women. Lightning strikes are most likely to occur between 2 pm and 6 pm from June to August. About one third of all injuries occur during work, another third occur in recreational activities, and the remaining occur in a variety of life activities.
Is lightning safety a part of your organization’s safety plan?
Industries with a preponerance of outdoor workers, such as construction and farm workers, often have safety policies and procedures dealing with work during electrical storms, and some distribute lightning safety safety materials to workers. But it’s a safety topic that should concern all organizations, regardless of the nature of the work.
While NOAA issues recommendations for lightning safety on the job (PDF) the best and most current advice for both work and home safety during electrical storms is encapsulated in Five Levels of Lightning Safety (PDF). The fundamental principle is that no place outside within six miles of a thunderstorm is safe:
1 Schedule outdoor activities to avoid lightning
2 ’30-30 Rule’ (If less than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder, go inside. While inside, stay away from corded telephones, electrical appliances and wiring, and plumbing. Stay inside until 30 min after last thunder.)
3 Avoid dangerous locations/activities (elevated places, open areas, tall isolated objects, water activities).
Do NOT go under trees to keep dry in thunderstorms!
4 Lightning Crouch (desperate last resort)
5 First Aid: Call 9-1-1. CPR or rescue breathing, as appropriate.
More lightning resources

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