Lightning is an occupational hazard that's often overlooked, but it shouldn't be because it can severely injure or even kill outdoor workers, particularly if they're working at height. Here are some tips on how to protect your workers in spring and maintain lightning safety outdoors.
What are the Risks Associated with Working Outdoors in Lightning?
There are many hazards associated with working outdoors and one of them is adverse weather conditions - lightning being one of them. According to TORRO (the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation), analysis of lightning fatalities over the past 25 years showed that on average, in the UK, two people are killed by lightning each year and around 30 people are injured. And last July, the country was hit by more than 100,000 lightning strikes in one night, causing power cuts and flash floods.
Outdoor workers who are often in open spaces, work near conductive or explosive materials or on or near tall objects are at higher risk for lightning hazards. The risks include:
- The ground absorbing electrical currents and creating ground currents
- Objects, such as trees, vehicles and buildings, setting on fire
- Being hit by lightning, which may cause the heart to stop, burns, muscle spasms, brain, nerve and organ damage
- Blindness if you're hit by lightning or stare too closely at the flashes
- Ruptured eardrums
- Being hurled into the air if hit, which can cause traumatic injuries such as broken bones
- Death if directly hit by lightning or a side flash as the current is usually so strong
How to Keep Your Outdoors Team Safe During Lightning
The British spring weather, is notoriously unpredictable and sometimes, you may find that you and your team are caught in a thunderstorm when lightning strikes. If that happens, precautions should always be taken to make working in lightning conditions as safe as possible.
be prepared to stop working or take it to safer levels
Weather plays an important role in deciding what tasks can or can't be done on certain days. Ensure that you stay up to date with weather reports so you're always one step ahead and can make working conditions safe for your outdoors team.
Weather reports can be easily checked via social media, mobile apps or the internet. You could even invest in battery-powered weather radios, which broadcast a continuous stream of weather information specific to your area.
If thunderstorms and lightning are predicted for the whole week (or longer) and there's absolutely no way you can postpone your work, try and schedule work that your team can quickly stop in the case of sudden lightning storms. When the signs of approaching storms appear, your workers can then promptly stop their tasks and head for safety. Always try to take your tasks indoors where it will be much safer to work and ensure that your team know which buildings to seek out after hearing thunder or seeing lightning.
If safe building structures are not available, guide your workers to hard-topped metal vehicles with rolled-up windows. Remain in the shelters or vehicles for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder.
STAY AWAY FROM CONDUCTIVE MATERIALS
Lightning is easily absorbed and carried by conductive materials. Not only can these materials remain electrically charged which can electrocute anyone who touches it, but they can also be extremely hot and cause thermal burns. Ensure that your workers immediately stop using and move away any tools or objects that can conduct electrical currents.
The best approach will always be to stay away from conductive materials during lightning, but safety gloves can help to provide additional protection from electrical currents and heat.
use specialised ppe and safety workwear
Your outdoor workers should already be wearing and using the appropriate safety equipment and workwear, but this is even more essential in lightning conditions. When working at heights, workers should always be wearing safety harnesses that are securely fastened so they can quickly and efficiently move down if a lightning storm should start.
Safety glasses and ear plugs are especially vital in thunder and lightning weather conditions. Invest in glasses to protect your workers' eyes from the lightning flashes and ear plugs to keep their eardrums safe and intact in case of the accompanying thunder sounds. Ensure that your workers know to always wear them when there are weather alerts for thunder and lightning storms.
However, make sure that the ear plugs don't distract your team - they should still be alert and on the lookout for lightning signs.
stay warm and dry
When lightning strikes, it's often accompanied by a storm. Ensure that your workers stay warm and dry, which not only prevents them from becoming human-sized conductive vessels, but also keeps them happy and healthy (and productive). Invest in waterproof coats, jackets and trousers made from quick-drying fabrics.
have an emergency plan in place
Always have an emergency action plan in place and ensure that all of your workers are aware of it. This protocol should include:
- Training supervisors and workers to recognise warning signs of thunder and lightning, and inform them to always take prompt action.
- Ensure all workers are quickly notified about dangerous weather conditions.
- Clearly identify the locations of the safe shelters.
- Specify when workers need to suspend outdoor work tasks in the case of dangerous weather and when it's safe to resume them.
- When putting the emergency plan together, account for the time required to evacuate all workers to the designated safe zones.
- Have CPR-trained managers and workers in case of emergencies. The most dangerous thing that can happen if you're struck by lightning is that the heart might stop beating. In this case, always be ready to administer CPR as it is one of the few situations where you might be able to revive someone without needing advanced life support.
Keep Your Outdoor Workers Safe in Spring
Lightning isn't the only weather condition that you need to watch out for in spring. For more tips and information on how to prepare your outdoor team for this season, download our FREE outdoor workwear guide for spring. It outlines the average temperatures for that season, the potential weather conditions and how best to clothe and equip your team against the risks and hazards of the outdoors.