Here’s something you already know: Lightning is dangerous. No, it’s not something that happens all the time, but you still have to take the threat of it seriously, especially on the job site. 

Generally speaking (and you’ve probably seen this or read this before now), the best advice to avoid getting struck by lightning is “get inside.” When working outside, or when you’re managing an unfinished building project, that may not always be do-able. What can you do and what are the best practices for staying safe from lightning and storms when working outside or on an unfinished building? 

What Do the Stats Report?

According to OSHA, only 50 people get killed every year from lightning. Granted, that’s not many, but if one of those 50 people works for you, it suddenly becomes a very personal tragedy.

Who is at risk? Construction professionals top the list of those most at risk of lightning strikes because, as we mentioned, they work outside nearly all the time. Other construction professionals (per OSHA) who are in direct danger of injury or death from lightning include:

  • Roofers
  • Electricians 
  • Utility workers
  • Steelworkers 
  • Framers
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
  • Lawn and landscaping professionals

Keeping those critical professionals safe is vital to our trade. So, how do we do it in the long term? 

Watch the Weather Forecasts

We know that professionals who go on rooftops or work outside already do this very thing, but we’ve learned over the years never to take anything for granted. Therefore, we’re going to repeat this: Don’t schedule any big jobs outside when there’s serious weather in the forecast. Back in the day, that meant checking or waiting for the weather guy to show up on the morning news. Today, there’s literally an app for that. So, plan around rain showers. Your clients and partners will understand and appreciate that you’re doing everything you can to keep the crew and your subs safe. 

Most reasonable people who work in regions like ours with more than the occasional major thunderstorm or tornado warning will be forgiving of scheduling shifts to accommodate bad weather. So, what happens when a storm appears out of nowhere?

Seek Immediate Shelter

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the number one worst place to be during a storm is outside. The minute you hear thunder, look for the closest indoor area. Shelter in this case includes “modern shelters with interior wiring and plumbing” as that wiring and plumbing act as a ground. Any building is considered shelter “as long as you are not in contact with anything that can conduct electricity (e.g., electrical equipment or cords, plumbing fixtures, corded phones). Do not lean against concrete walls or floors (which may have metal bars inside).” 

Yes, a hard-topped vehicle counts as shelter. Stay within the shelter for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder. 

PRO TIP: The worst place of all to be during a storm? A construction crane. They’re basically a giant grounding rod, so make sure that the skies are going to be clear when you have your crane op on site for the day. Also—and trust us when we say this—a good, reliable, well-trained crane op won’t come near your site or do anything if they see any weather coming. Plan accordingly.

What If You’re Caught Outside Anyway?

Even when you’ve trained your entire staff to stay safe, you could still find yourself in a remote spot during a storm. Here are some quick tips to follow if that happens. 

Get away from the tallest object. Lightning usually strikes the tallest thing in the area, so as tempting as it is to huddle under the tallest tree you can find during a storm, you’re better off getting a little wet. 

Avoid bodies of water. If you’re an electrician or work in any construction trade and this is the first time someone has told you that a body of water is the worst place to be during a thunderstorm, maybe it’s time for a career change. But, if you’re working on a boat or on water, get on dry land until the skies are clear.

Find “low” ground. Stay away from hills, tall trees, phone poles, utility poles, cell phone towers, and, as we said, cranes. In emergency situations, you want to find the lowest spots you can, like ravines and other low-lying areas. 

What’s Your Plan?

Every job site should display a hard copy of an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). That plan needs to highlight your lightning safety protocol that: 

  • Informs the team (supervisors and crew) what action to take after they hear thunder, see lightning, or notice the obvious signs of pending nasty weather (dark skies, heavy winds, local weather warnings)
  • Indicates how to notify workers about lightning warnings 
  • Identifies how to define a safe shelter
  • Clearly states when to suspend and when to resume outdoor work
  • Details how to allocate the time needed to evacuate any members of the public or the employees, as well as how long it will take to reach safety
  • Include what specific areas on the job site could be more dangerous than others (scaffolding, rooftops, girders, etc.) 

Most importantly, always work with your managers to train all your staff about your EAP and what the procedures are. 

Ask a Pro for Help

If you have questions about what your project will need, we work with vendors who can design the right lighting protection products for your job. Whether you need an advanced lightning detection and warning system, or lightning protection products for your building (rods, connectors, surge protection, grounding tools), contact your HOLT rep today and we’ll put a plan together.

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