Safety watch: Keeping crews safe in a lightning storm

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Updated Aug 13, 2018
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Some of your crew members might be skeptical when it comes to the probability of being struck by lightning while on the job, but it’s actually more common than they might think.

Recently, a landscaper was hospitalized in critical condition due to a lightning strike, according to the Sun Sentinel.

The Sun Sentinel reports that Rico Eltine, 55, of Fort Lauderdale, was found lying face down in an open, grassy area of Oriole Gardens Phase One Condominiums.

“He is a family man, and has been with us almost 15 years,” Nina Potter, a co-owner of Potter’s Lawn and Landscaping, told the Sun Sentinel. “He’s a very pleasant, friendly, warm, good, hardworking person…Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

The Sun Sentinel reports that Eltine was injured around 11:41 a.m. while a severe weather system was moving through the region. He was taken to the hospital and was placed in the intensive care unit.

The Sun Sentinel says that Florida leads the country with fatal lightning strikes and injury-related strikes, according to meteorologist Larry Kelly, National Weather Service in Miami. With more than 2,000 lightning injuries over the past 50 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says Florida is considered the “lightning capital” of the country.

When it comes to working outdoors with impending lightning storms moving in, always make sure your crews understand the importance of practicing lightning awareness and safety measures.

Severe thunderstorms

While there are differences between severe and typical thunderstorms, it’s still a good idea to always exercise caution when working outside during or near the time of a storm.

According to the American Red Cross, a thunderstorm is considered severe if it produces hail at least 1 inch in diameter or has wind gusts of at least 58 miles per hour. The American Red Cross also says that lightning kills more people each year than hurricanes and tornadoes, and the CDC states that Florida, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado had the most lightning deaths in 2017.

Severe thunderstorms can be classified as watches or warnings, and understanding the difference could help you keep your crews safe.

When a storm is classified as a watch, the American Red Cross says it means that severe thunderstorms are possible and near the watch area. When a storm is classified as a warning, it means that severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar.

How to respond during a storm

According to the National Weather Service, there are an estimated 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes each year in the United States. Also, more than 1,000 people in the U.S. are struck by lightning. On average, around 50 people are killed and hundreds more suffer permanent neurological disabilities.

Regardless of whether your crews are in the field working or preparing to go out, knowing the plan of action in case of a storm could potentially save the life of one of your employees.

The old saying goes, “If thunder roars, go indoors,” and the National Weather Service recommends staying indoors for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

Even if rain hasn’t arrived, your crew members could still be struck by lightning, so be sure to stress to them the importance of taking appropriate shelter at the first note of thunder.

Any electrical equipment used should be disconnected in the event of a thunderstorm, and if your crews are traveling, they should exit the roadway safely and stay put until the storm passes. Interacting with metal equipment during a storm is also discouraged, as the metal can conduct electricity.

If crews find themselves temporarily stranded outside during a storm, advise them to avoid high ground, areas with water, tall or isolated trees and metal objects such as bleachers or fences. Picnic shelters, sheds and sports field dugouts are also unsafe during this type of storm.

For those trapped indoors during a lightning storm, there are still safety methods that need to be implemented. Be sure to avoid using water, as lightning can travel through plumbing. The use of any electrical equipment should also be put on hold, as lightning can also travel through electrical systems. The CDC says that concrete floors and walls should be avoided during lightning storms.

If a member of your crew or other pedestrians get struck by lightning, immediately call 911, as they will require professional medical care. The American Red Cross recommends checking the person for burns and other injuries, and if the person has stopped breathing, call 911 then proceed with administering CPR. Those struck by lightning will not retain an electrical charge and can be safely handled.

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