Lightning is a safety hazard that is often overlooked. This could be a result of not understanding how lightning works or believing myths rather than researching the facts. Some common lightning myths are:
- Crouching down in an open field reduces your risk of being struck;
- Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice;
- You’ll be electrocuted if you touch someone who has been struck by lightning;
- You are 100% safe from lightning if you are in your home.
It is important to be educated on lightning safety and understand how dangerous it could be to you, your home, and even the workplace.
Lightning strikes are unpredictable — it is near impossible to predetermine exactly when and where it will strike next. Being struck by lightning can be life-threatening, but it also can create fires and property damage.
One way to prepare for a lightning storm is to learn whether or not your area is under a lightning safety advisory. This can be done by visiting the NOAA Weather Radio website to see if there are any special notices specific to your location.
What to Avoid During a Thunderstorm
Because lightning is so sporadic, it’s important to know what areas and items to avoid when a thunderstorm is nearby.
Bodies of water like pools and hot tubs, lakes, rivers, and oceans should be avoided during a thunderstorm. While all water sources are dangerous, the ocean is certainly one place you do not want to be when lightning is present. What some may not know is how saltwater plays a role in lightning safety.
As explained by the USGS, free ions in water conduct electricity: “In chemical terms, salts are ionic compounds composed of positively charged ions and negatively charged ions.” This means that the ions found in saltwater conduct electricity and disperse it to sources that have oppositely-charged ions like, for example, people.
Even though it’s rare that lightning will strike the sea, it does happen. Rather than putting yourself in harm’s way and being willing to risk the low odds of being struck by lightning while swimming, you should instead take the necessary steps to remove yourself from the situation. To help reduce the odds of you being struck by lightning while around water, you should get out of the water and refrain from returning until the storm has passed.
To determine whether or not the storm has passed you can follow the 30-30 rule. Start counting to 30 as soon as you see the lightning. If you hear thunder after you’ve counted to 30, the storm is about six miles out and you can enter the water at your discretion. If you hear thunder before you can complete the count to 30, then it’s safe to say that the storm hasn’t quite passed over yet.
While this is a method many people use, it doesn’t mean that it is accurate 100% of the time. It is better to stay away from water until you are certain the storm has passed and have verified this with your local weather channel.
If lightning were to strike a powerline near your home, it could create an electric surge that your appliances and other electronic devices may not be able to handle. If they’re left plugged in, it increases the odds of being damaged.
Luckily, this type of damage is preventable by unplugging household items like appliances, TVs, computers, and even the water heater. Rather than waiting until the storm arrives to start unplugging, it is safer to do so before it reaches your location. Once you have verified that the storm has passed, you can start plugging your electronic devices back in. It is crucial to wait until the storm has completely passed to start plugging everything back in.
Sometimes storms hit when you aren’t home, making it difficult to unplug your devices. Investing in surge protectors is a great alternative for those who are unable to unplug their devices before the storm hits.
Even though corded phones aren’t as common, they’re still considered a hazard during thunderstorms. Similar to why you want to refrain from unplugging an appliance in the presence of lightning, you should refrain from using a phone with a cord to help reduce the chance of being electrocuted.
Corded phones are directly wired to power lines outside. Because of this direct connection, it is suggested that individuals with corded home phones refrain from using them to reduce the risk of being electrocuted.
Cellphones, on the other hand, are safe to use during a thunderstorm since they are not directly wired to the outside. If you find yourself in a situation where a corded phone is the only form of communication, then save the need for making a phone call unless it is an absolute emergency.
Windows and Doors
Lightning is just one of the many beautiful phenomena nature has to offer. It’s no wonder why people love to watch out the window when lightning is nearby — but what storm watchers may not know is that they’re putting themselves in harm’s way by standing near a door frame or window during a thunderstorm.
Your chances of being hit by lightning through the window are slim. Being around when a window is struck by lightning can increase the risk of being injured by glass shards and other debris that comes from a window being struck by lightning.
Avoid leaning in a doorway to reduce the chances of you getting electrocuted. Similar to why you should avoid swimming in saltwater, electricity can be conducted in the materials that make up your door and doorframe.
Porches and Concrete
Avoid leaning/lying on walls, beams, and flooring made of concrete. Even though concrete seems sturdy enough to withstand the impact, it does take on damage if struck by lightning. Lightning can travel through concrete, putting individuals who are in contact with it at risk of electrocution.
If you are in an area that allows you to go indoors, do so. However, if you’re at a location where going inside isn’t an option, you can at least move away from concrete and any other lightning conductor. What’s important is to keep making your way towards shelter of any kind and to avoid leaning against objects that, even though you think are safe, can increase your odds of being injured during a thunderstorm.
What to Do When Lightning Strikes
On average, lightning kills about 49 people and injures hundreds more annually in the United States alone. On the other hand, property damages caused by lightning are more common. According to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I), “More than $900 million in lightning claims were paid out in 2019 to nearly 77,000 policyholders.”
James Lynch, Chief Actuary and Senior Vice President of Research and Education at Triple-I, states in those same findings that “homes are more susceptible to lightning damage because electronic systems have become more interconnected… which have an easy gateway to much of a home’s electronic network, damaging scores of devices and appliances at once.”
The odds of you being struck by lightning are slim, but it can happen. This is why it’s important to know what to do if you find yourself face-to-face with a lightning bolt.
If you are struck by lightning: When an individual is struck by lightning they may suffer from cardiac arrest — chances are, if you are ever struck, this would happen to you. Because of this, it is more difficult to take personal action yourself if you’ve been struck.
If someone around you is struck by lightning: Timing is everything when you witness someone being struck by lightning. If you happen to witness this rare incident keep the following steps in mind:
- Call 911 immediately;
- Wait until it is safe — meaning the lightning has passed — and then begin CPR;
- Do not remove any of the burnt clothing, save this step for medical staff. The clothing could be burned into the skin, without professional supervision, removing the clothing could cause more pain;
- Wait for medical staff to arrive before leaving the victim.
If your home/property is struck by lightning: First things first is to make sure everyone in the home is okay. If needed, call 911 immediately to report any injuries. Then take a moment to look for any signs of fire i.e. smoke, burnt electrical outlets, and/or heat from your attic. If you notice any signs of fire, call emergency personnel as soon as possible and evacuate your family and pets. If you don’t notice a fire or electrical damage, assess the area for any other property damages. Take pictures as you go — insurance may request them later on.
No matter who or what has been struck, it is important to stay safe. Unless it’s an emergency, refrain from going outdoors to assess the area until the storm has passed over to prevent any other chances of getting struck. Once the storm has passed, you can take action and implement preventive measures, like the ones listed below, to help ensure the safety of yourself and your home when the next storm comes.
Lightning Safety at Home
The safest place to be during a storm where lightning is a factor is indoors. However, the safety measures don’t stop there. There are still steps to take to ensure you are capable of embracing the storm and ensuring safety for you and your loved ones. For example:
- Avoid bathing, showering, washing dishes, or doing anything else that requires you to use water;
- Unplug electronic equipment and appliances as soon as you hear there is a storm on its way. Do not unplug electronics during the storm, since this can increase your odds of being electrocuted;
- Avoid using corded home phones;
- Stay away from windows, doors, concrete floors, and patios;
- Find a spot in the home away from windows and doors and bunker down with your family and pets.
Creating an emergency preparedness kit is a great way to prepare yourself for storms and any other scenario that may require you to stay indoors. Examples of what to include in the emergency kit are:
- Can opener;
- Cell phone charger;
- Dust masks;
- Duct tape;
- First aid kit;
- Garbage bags;
- Local maps;
- Non-perishable foods (enough for each person/pet in the household to have a three-day supply);
- Moist towelettes;
- Water bottles;
Children and Lightning
Learning that lightning strikes can be fatal can be an intimidating fact for children to comprehend. However, it’s important that they know what can happen if they don’t take lightning safety seriously. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when teaching children about lightning safety:
- Make it fun: Most children love games or being creative. Finding educational, yet fun ways to tell children about lightning safety will help keep them engaged in the conversation while still obtaining vital information.
- Educate them on the basics: This includes telling them what lightning is and how to protect themselves.
No matter what method you use to get this information across, there are main focal points that must be discussed regardless. The safety tips that you will want to be sure to mention to your child are:
- Knowing how to spot out lightning;
- To head indoors as soon as they see the storm coming;
- Stay away from windows and doors;
- Don’t lay on the concrete;
- Stay out of water;
- Avoid touching metal of any kind;
- Wait at least 30 minutes after the storm has passed to continue playing outside;
- Don’t use electrical equipment during a storm (including any electronic mobile devices that are plugged in — unplugging the device is safe to use).
Pets and Lightning
Pets being scared of thunderstorms is very common. Luckily there are ways to help de-stress your pets and keep them safe during these types of events:
- It is natural for pets to try and flee when they hear loud sounds like thunder. This is why it is important to gather your pets indoors if you see a storm is heading your way;
- Make sure your pet is microchipped and has its collar on. This way, if for any reason they do escape, it is easier to have them returned home;
- Products like thundershirts, blankets, and even medication are made available for animals that suffer from storm anxiety;
- Keep calming music playing from an unplugged mobile device to help soothe your pet’s mind;
- Create a safe space for your pet to go. This can be a kennel, under the bed, or their favorite hiding spot;
- Just like with waiting to continue to play, wait approximately 30 minutes after the storm has passed before allowing your pet to return outside.
In more severe cases, you will want to make sure the area that you are taking shelter in is pet-friendly. This means removing anything the pet can get into that may be harmful to them (i.e. rat traps, chemicals, etc.).
Seniors and Lightning
Lightning safety tips are the same across the board — all of which should be followed by all demographics. With that being said, seniors should take extra precautions when it comes to using their electronic devices in their homes during a storm.
Some individuals use various medical devices and/or implants that need to be plugged in. It is important to make sure any implants are charged before the storm makes its way to your location. If the device isn’t charged, plugging it in during the storm should be avoided.
To prepare your loved ones for a thunderstorm, you can:
- Keep a stash of emergency supplies on hand;
- Have an emergency kit made with the same supplies mentioned earlier;
- Assign someone the task of checking in on them to make sure everything is okay. This should be done by calling their cell phone or doing physical checkups; calling their cord phone should be avoided until the storm has completely passed.
Individuals With Disabilities and Lightning
As mentioned above, following the basic safety tips is encouraged for all demographics and abilities. What is different about educating individuals with disabilities on lightning safety is ensuring they get the proper care they need, while still being mindful of the objects to avoid.
When securing your home before a thunderstorm, make sure there are no obstacles in the way of individuals that use a wheelchair to maneuver. Similar to safety for seniors during a thunderstorm, people with disabilities will want to ensure any electronic medical device that can be unplugged and is charged ahead of time.
Construction Techniques and Resources to Mitigate Lightning Hazards
There are lightning protection systems and equipment that were created specifically for thunderstorms. Lightning rods or main conductors “are designed to protect a house or building from a direct lightning strike and, in particular, a lightning-initiated fire.” These rods aren’t meant to prevent lightning from striking a structure; rather, it lessens the blow by providing a conductive path for the electricity.
Another construction technique is to build a grounded electrode lightning protection system. This grounded structure can be made up of ground rods, perimeter bare wire, radials, plates, and concrete, and is used to diverge the lightning’s energy.
Bonding is another technique that “assures that all metal masses are the same electrical potential.” Bonds should be inspected frequently because they are subject to physical damage.
Transient voltage surge suppressors are devices installed on power lines and act as a “cutoff” to a surge of electrical power. Similar to basic household surge protectors, these large-scale suppressors are recommended to help protect against power surges caused by lightning.
Lightning protection systems aren’t just for buildings; they can be installed in homes as well. If you live in an area where lightning is common and are wanting to install a lightning protection system, applying for a home improvement loan or construction loan can help you finance these changes, along with any other home improvement project you want to do to protect your home from storm damage.
This type of project is not one that you can do yourself because it requires specific installation requirements that must be met. Instead, you should hire a professional to ensure the project is accomplished efficiently.
Lightning Safety Outdoors
Seeking cover in a building or home is ideal — no place outdoors is considered “safe” during a thunderstorm. However, sometimes this isn’t possible. Here are some lightning safety tips to keep in mind if you are stuck outdoors during a thunderstorm:
- Stay away from elevated areas such as hills, mountains, and peaks;
- Avoid open areas if possible;
- Stay low to the ground but never lie down flat, especially on concrete;
- Do not seek shelter under a tree, cliff, cave, or rocky overhang;
- Stay out of water;
- Stay away from objects that are known to conduct electricity (i.e. wire fences, powerlines, etc.);
- If you’re in a group of people you need to spread out;
- Distance yourself from tall objects.
If you find yourself in need of emergency assistance, immediately contact your local authorities such as officers, fire department, or even forest rangers.
Lightning Safety on the Job
Some jobs over others are at a higher risk of being exposed to lightning and the hazards that come with it. These jobs include, but aren’t limited to:
- Airport ground personnel operations;
- Building maintenance and repair;
- Explosives handling or storage;
- Farming and field labor;
- Heavy equipment operator;
- Plumbing and pipe fitting;
- Pool/beach lifeguarding;
- Power utility field repair;
- Steel erection/telecommunications.
Staying safe while on a job site is crucial. Taking preventative measures will help ensure your safety, but it will also help to salvage the quality of your work as well. Tips employees and employers can use to reduce lightning hazards are as follows:
- Keep the work area clean and clear of equipment, debris, and tools (especially those made of conductive material like metal);
- Make sure there is a set path that employees can access to safely get out of the work area;
- Wear the right safety gear and make sure it fits properly.
If you are injured on the job, whether it’s caused by lightning or not, you will need to discuss with management whether you qualify for workers’ compensation and what you need to do to file a claim.
Lightning Safety Training
Educating employees on workplace safety is a must if you want to run a successful business. Not only does this help keep everyone safe, but knowing there is a plan set in place that addresses safety can help improve the overall mental and physical health of staff in the workplace or on a job site.
As a supervisor, there is no need to stress over exactly how you are going to educate your staff on lightning safety practices. There are multiple programs and tools that can help you. If you are in a field that requires people to work outdoors, investing in a lightning warning system can help notify you if there is a thunderstorm on the way.
Having access to the OSHA Lightning Safety Fact Sheet and printing it off for all to see is another great way to educate others on safety training in the workplace. Lightning safety training is required for every outdoor worksite — having this fact sheet in a place that is easily accessible by all can help employees keep up to date with current practices.
Emergency Action Plans
Emergency action plans should be set in place by homeowners and business owners. Common emergency plan best practices include:
- Identifying safety routes that allow for an easy escape out of harm’s way;
- Packing an emergency kit;
- Having a list of emergency contacts.
Homeowners should once again make sure their electronics are unplugged before evacuating. Additionally, those in a business or construction setting should discuss with their manager what their emergency action plan is. It is one of the many duties of a construction manager to ensure the safety of their employees, including educating them on emergency practices and protocols.
Additional Lightning Resources
There are additional lightning safety resources that are easily accessible at all times. These resources include:
- The National Lightning Detection Network: A resource that allows users to see what areas of the United States are expecting lightning.
- Blitzortung: An interactive map that lets you see in real-time what areas of the world are currently experiencing lightning.
- LightningMaps: This is another interactive map that shows what areas of the world have lightning then.
- Red Cross Lightning Safety: A go-to guide that has everything there is to know about preparing for thunderstorms, how to respond to a storm that’s heading your way, and how to recover after the storm has cleared.
No matter if you’re a business owner, homeowner, or even going for a hike, understanding the dangers of lightning and what to do when it is near is vital. This information can help save your life and the lives of those around you.
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