A recent news story about a 42-year old Bradenton, Florida carpenter who was killed by lightening is sad a reminder that this is the prime season to be on alert for electrical storms. Every year, workers, account for about one third of the total number of people struck by lightening.
Lightning strikes are most likely to occur between 2 pm and 6 pm from June to August. While lightning strikes can occur anywhere, this lightning fatality distribution map demonstrates that there is a greater risk in southern and midwestern states. According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, "eighty five percent of lightning victims are children and young men ages 10-35 engaged in recreation or work. Twenty percent of strike victims die and 70% of survivors suffer serious long-term after effects.
Outdoor workers (or anyone outdoors, for that matter) should take precautions at the early onset of an electrical storm (pdf). These include seeking appropriate shelter and knowing the steps to take as last resort safety measures when in immediate peril.
Workers who spend time outdoors should be trained in prevention. Employers should include lightning safety policies and procedures as part of their overall prevention program, and should review these policies seasonally.
Roofers, construction workers, road crews, and farm workers are examples of jobs at risk, but risk managers should be aware of the risks for inside workers and those in vehicles, too...every year, people are injured or killed by lightning traveling through telephone lines.
According to the National Weather Service, about 20% to 30% of the strikes result in fatalities. The medical conditions resulting from strikes can be complex and sometimes rather mysterious, differing markedly from voltage shocks. In an article entitled Disability, Not Death, Is the Main Problem With Lightning Injury (pdf), Dr. Mary Ann Cooper discusses some of the medical complexities that can plague those recovering from the aftermath of a strike. Lightning Strike & Electrical Shock Survivors International, Inc. (LS&ESSI) is a nonprofit support group for survivors and their families.
More lightning resources
Hazard alert - lightning protection - from the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health (In English and Spanish)
Human Voltage - What Happens When People and Lightning Converge - from Science @ NASA
Lightning's Social and Economic Costs and other extensive resources from the
National Lightning Safety Institute - an organization that consults and trains in lightning safety and lightning engineering issues.
Lightning survivor stories and lightening photos - from the National Weather Service