Posts Tagged ‘lightning’

It’s Lightning Strike Awareness Week

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Here in New England, Lightning Strike Awareness Week kicked off with some drama. A Connecticut woman suffered second- and third-degree burns after being struck by lightning at a campground outside Norwich, the lift bridge between Maine and New Hampshire was closed for a few hours after direct lightning hit, and lightning was the likely suspect in a few house fires in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
On average, 54 people die from lightning strikes each year – that number of fatalities has been trending down in recent years (29 each in the past two years), the improvement credited partly to the massive public awareness and information campaigns. More than half of all fatalities involve recreational activities such as golfing and boating, but electrical storms are a very real hazard for workers, too. Some of the high risk workers include loggers, construction and building maintenance workers, lifeguards, farming and agricultural workers, lawn care workers, road crews, roofers, telecommunications and utility workers, plumbers and pipefitters, and heavy machinery/equipment operators. See NOAA’s Outdoor Safety tips and the eLCOSH Lightning Safety page.
It should be noted that in addition to lightning fatalities, hundreds more people suffer lightning strike-related injuries each year – about 80-90% of the people who are hit by lightning survive the ordeal. These survivors pose interesting case studies – many suffer from unusual and little understood medical effects that can clear up relatively quickly or linger for a lifetime. See Medical Aspects of Lightning and NASA’s fascinating Human Voltage page. This video also includes some interesting first-person accounts:

Lightning Safety Resources
National Lightning Safety Institute, which includes information on
Structural Lightning Safety
and Personal Lightning Safety
Lightning Safety Resources and Tool Kits from NOAA
The one in a million club you don’t want to join
Lightning Safety Guidelines
Lightning Strike and Electrical Shock Survivors

The one in a million club you don’t want to join

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

A restaurant manager taking out the trash in Virginia, a tree trimmer in Ohio and an Alabama school coach sitting inside at a desk are all workers who inadvertently joined a unique club this year: lightning strike survivors. In any given year, the odds of being struck by lightning are about one in a million, but the lifetime odds (over 80 years) are 1 in 10,000. About 90% of all lightning strike victims survive. About 25% of the survivors suffer major medical after effects.
This week is Lightning Strike Awareness Week – and the National Weather Service wants to remind you to be safe. Public awareness campaigns appear to be working because lightning-related fatalities have been trending down in recent years. While there are 55 fatal lightning strikes in an average year, in 2010 there were 29 fatalities, which occurred in 19 states in 2010; in 2009, there were 34 fatalities; in 2008, there were 28 fatalities.
There have been 5 lightning-related fatalities in 2011, one each in LA, MO, MT, NC, PA. Three deaths occurred during agricultural work, one was related to tornado search-and-rescue, and one occurred during golf. While lightning strikes can occur in any month, they spike in the summer months.
When it comes to geographical risks, not all locations are equal – some states are riskier than others. Florida has often been called the “lightning capital of the world,” and although NASA scientists have clarified that Rwanda actually holds this dubious title, Florida still holds the North American title. Rounding out to the top five states for lightning-related fatalities, we have Colorado, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Are lightning strikes compensable under workers comp?
The answer to that question is a clear and resounding “maybe.” As with so many issues in workers comp, the devil is in the details: state law, where and when the injury occurred, and the nature of the work involved all are factors that come into play. Injuries related to lightning and other weather-related events fall under the murky area of “acts of God” or “neutral risks,” which are generally not considered to be the responsibility or liability of the employer. However, if a worker is exposed to heightened risk due to the nature of their work responsibilities, an injury related to a lightning strike could be compensable.
Often, the burden is on the employee to establish a causal link between their injury and their work or to prove that their job exposed them to increased or heightened risk. Recently, however, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld benefits for a framer who suffered injuries related to a lightning strike that occurred while he was at work. The court established that he did not have to provide expert testimony to establish increased risk. “The court concluded that the description of the physical characteristics of the jobsite supported a finding that the framer was at an increased risk of a lightning strike.”
Employers certainly can’t insulate their workers from “acts of God” but there are steps that employers can take to mitigate risk. It’s a good idea to review weather-related hazards with your employees seasonally to raise their awareness about safety best practices both on the job and off. And it is important to take particular care with workers who have outdoor responsibilities or work that might put them at heightened risk. Here are some tools & resources:

When lightning strikes

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Summer brings extremes in weather that pose dangers to workers and challenges to employers who must plan for worker safety. This week, four construction workers were hit by lightning in Michigan. A quick Google search demonstrates this is not an anomaly – refinery workers, airport workers, firefighters, farmers and other working people all have too-close encounters with lightning, and a surprising number live to tell the tales of their harrowing lightning encounters.
In a recent MSNBC story, survivors share their experiences and stress the importance of safety. The article highlights 9 myths of lightning safety – including the common misconception that it’s unsafe to touch a lightning victim, a myth that often delays critical assistance, and the faulty idea that you are safe from lightning if you are indoors. As for your odds:

“Nearly 25 million cloud-to-ground strikes occur in the United States each year, according to the National Lightning Detection Network, with Florida topping the list with more than 1.4 million flashes a year and about 25.3 flashes per square mile. By contrast, Washington state is at the bottom of the list, with less than 20,000 flashes per year and about .3 flashes per square mile.”

While experts put your odds of being struck by lightning in any given year at 1 in 700,000, your lifetime odds narrow to 1 in 5,000, and your odds of knowing or being affected by someone who is struck by lightning are 1 in 500. And while it is not totally understood why, some people are struck more than once, such as this unfortunate Oklahoma plant worker who has been hit by lightning 4 times.
The National Weather Service (NWS) keeps track of annual lightning fatalities by state. This year, there have been 25 fatalities, with 4 of those occurring in Florida.
NWS also offers this breakdown of casualties by location or activity:
45% – Open Areas (including sports fields)
23% – Going Under Trees To Keep Dry
14% – Water Related Activities (swimming, boating, and fishing)
6% – Golfing (while in the open)
5% – Farm And Construction Vehicles (with open exposed cockpits)
4% – Corded Telephone (#1 indoor source of lightning casualties)
25 – Golfing (while mistakenly seeking “shelter” under trees)
1% – Using Radios And Radio Equipment
Experts estimate that about a third of all injuries occur during work. Survivors often face daunting medical after effects, which can include personality changes, seizures, memory lapses,fatigue, and depression. Victims are also often are left with permanent scars and markings that are sometimes referred to as lightning flowers or lightning trees, or arborescent erythema.
For help in learning about or coping with lightning strike after effects, survivors and their families can turn to the non-profit support group Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International, Inc. (LS&ESSI, Inc.).
The National Lightning Institute issues a fact sheet on Lightning Safety for Outdoor Workers. For more information, see NWS’ page of Factsheets, Publications, Statistics, Policy Statements, Lightning Strikes, More Links. Also, see our past posts on the topic: Lightning safety precautions for work and home and Lightning strike prevention and survivor resources

Fresh Health Wonk Review; Safety resources

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Glenn Laffel has a a new edition of Health Wonk Review posted over at Pizaazz – the “US Health Care Carousel of Progress” edition. Glenn is one of our newest contributors to HWR – check out his blog, too.
Coal Mining – Check out Coal Tattoo, a blog by Ken Ward Jr. award-winning reporter at The Charleston Gazette who has been covering the Appalachian coal industry for nearly 20 years. We’ve previously featured some of his reporting in our post The sad, quiet death of Bud Morris – father, husband, motorcycle afficianado. Unfortunately, he is reporting on sad, quiet deaths all too often. He talks about the interesting origen of his blog name on his bio page.
Good asbestos resourceThe Mesothelioma Cancer Center is a valuable resource. The site has more than 3,000 pages of information on asbestos, mesothelioma, and other cancers that are caused by asbestos exposure (lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, etc.).
Substance abuse – OSHA reminds employers that April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Safety Advisor offers us a look at some sobering facts about alcohol and employee health. OSHA offers various tools addressing workplace substance abuse and Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace Programs.
Lightning safety – With the good weather coming, Eric at The Safety Blog offers some good seasonal safety advice: Lightning Safety Guidelines.

Lightning! Safety precautions for work and home

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

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