Protecting Outdoor Workers from Lightning Strikes

NOAAOSHA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have released a Lightning Safety When Working Outdoors Fact Sheet that provides employers and workers with information about lightning hazards and protective measures that can be taken to ensure workers’ safety.

Often overlooked as an occupational hazard, lightning strikes can severely injure or kill workers in occupations such as construction, logging, utility repair, agriculture, telecommunications, lawn services, airport ground operations, and pool and beach lifeguarding.

According to the NOAA, over the last 20 years, the United States averaged 51 annual lightning strike fatalities, placing it in the second position, just behind floods for deadly weather. In the US, between 9% and 10% of those struck die, for an average of 40 to 50 deaths per year (28 in 2008). The chance of an average person living in the US being struck by lightning in a given year is estimated at 1 in 960,000.

Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”

The courts have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. This includes lightning hazards that can cause death or serious bodily harm.

The video below explains the phenomenon of lightning strikes: