Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!
Episode #: 144:† Lightning Safety:† Keeping Safe When Working Outdoors
Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Host:††† Thanks for joining us. Todayís episode shares tips on what safety measures to take when faced with a lightning storm while working outdoors.
Did you know that in Canada, lightning flashes occur about 2.34 million times a year and about once every three seconds during the summer months? Although the odds of getting struck by lightning are less than one in a million, Environment Canada says, on average, there are between nine and 10 lightening related deaths and up to 164 lightning related injuries in Canada each year.
Whether you fear lightning or consider it a natural wonder, itís a very real hazard that requires caution. Although thunder and lightning can occur occasionally during a snowstorm, in Canada, they happen most frequently from April to October, usually in the late afternoon and just before sunrise.
Lightning tends to strike higher ground and prominent objects, especially materials that are good conductors of electricity such as metal. Thunder can be a good indicator of lightning Ė a loud crackling means that itís close, whereas rumbling means itís further away.
A lightning bolt is a million times more powerful than a household current, carrying up to 100 million volts of electricity.† When someone is struck by lightning, an electrical shock occurs that can cause burns and may stop the personís breathing.
Many lightning deaths and injuries could be prevented by having a preparedness plan in place and by taking some basic safety measures. Itís especially important for people who work outdoors to be warned of the dangers of lightning. Employers should recognize the hazards associated with electrical storms and, where appropriate, have safe procedures and work systems in place to minimize the risk of injury or harm to employees. Employers should review these policies and procedures regularly, especially at the start of every season.
It is ideal to have individuals trained in first aid, including cardio pulmonary resuscitation Ė also known as CPR.† Lightning victims are safe to touch Ė so if breathing has stopped, a trained rescuer should be called to administer CPR. In all cases, you should call for emergency assistance when someone has been hit by lightning.
The best practice is to avoid being in a situation where you may be hit by lightning.† Because light travels faster than sound, youíll see the lightning before you hear the thunder. Each second between the flash and the thunderclap represents about 300 metres. As a rule, if you can count less than 30 seconds between the lightning strike and the thunder, the storm is less than 10 kilometers away. There is an 80 per cent chance that the next strike will happen within that 10 kilometers. Essentially, if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Go immediately to the nearest safe building or a fully enclosed, metal-topped vehicle.
The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is in a safe building Ė one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and a floor, and with electrical wiring, plumbing, telephone line or antennas to ground the lightning if it should take a direct hit. Even inside there are safety precautions to take. Keep as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Stay away from doors, windows, fireplaces and anything that will conduct electricity such as radiators, stoves, sinks and metal pipes. Avoid handling electrical appliances and telephones and use battery operated appliances only.
The next best source of shelter is an enclosed metal car, truck or van Ė but NOT a tractor, golf cart, topless or soft-top vehicle. Make sure the vehicle is not parked near trees or other tall objects that could fall over during a storm. When inside a vehicle during a lightning storm, roll up the windows and sit with your hands in your lap, waiting out the storm. Do not touch any part of the metal frame or any wired device in the vehicle, including the steering wheel or plugged-in cell phone. A direct strike to your car will flow though the frame of the vehicle and usually jump over or through the tires to reach the ground.
Be aware of downed power lines that may be touching your car. You are safe inside the car, but you may receive a shock if you step outside.
Covered picnic shelters, carports, tents, baseball dugouts as well as other small non-metal buildings, such as sheds and greenhouses are unsafe. Without electricity or plumbing to ground the lightning, they do not provide any protection from an electrical storm.
If you absolutely canít get to safety, there are areas that might be less dangerous and help reduce the risk of being struck by lightning outside. Stay away from things that are tall like trees, flagpoles or posts, and objects that conduct electricity such as water, tractors, metal fences, lawnmowers or golf clubs. You donít want to become a prime target by being the highest object in the area, so take shelter in low-lying areas such as valleys or ditches but watch for flooding.
If you are in a group in the open, spread out several metres apart from one another.† If you get caught in a level field far from shelter and you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to hit you. Crouch down on the balls of your feet immediately, with feet together, place your arms around your knees and bend forward. Be the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground but donít lie flat.
All of these tips can help you take shelter from lightning strikes.
And again, always remember the 30-30 rule:
If Environment Canada issues a storm warning, or you can already hear that dramatic rumble, remember to take shelter from the storm and be protected from natureís impressive but deadly dose of electrical voltage.
For more information about lightning safety, please visit www.ccohs.ca.† Thanks for listening everyone.