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Take 5 for Safety: Lightning safety

July 19, 2023

Take 5 for Safety is a monthly article designed to give equipment and event rental stores the information they need to conduct a five-minute safety meeting on a particular topic. Below are talking points for this month’s meeting. Click hereto download the Take 5 for Safety signup sheet. This can be used to take attendance during the meeting.  


Lightning strikes can severely injure or kill workers whose jobs involve working outdoors, but it is often overlooked as an occupational hazard. Every year in the United States, cloud-to-ground lightning occurs 20 to 25 million times and more than 300 people are struck by lightning. During the past 30 years, about 50 people, on average, have been killed by lightning strikes every year, and many more suffer permanent disabilities. 

Reducing lightning hazards  

Employers, supervisors and workers should understand lightning risks, characteristics, and precautions to minimize workplace hazards. Lightning is unpredictable and can strike outside the heaviest rainfall areas or even up to 10 miles from any rainfall. 

Many lightning victims are caught outside during a storm because they did not act promptly to get to a safe place, or they go back outside too soon after a storm has passed. If signs of approaching thunderstorms occur, workers should not begin any task they cannot quickly stop. Proper planning and safe practices can easily increase lightning safety when working outdoors. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommend the following for lightning safety best practices for workers whose jobs involve working outdoors: 

  • Check NOAA weather reports: Before any outdoor work, employers and supervisors should check NOAA weather reports on and radio forecasts for all weather hazards. OSHA recommends employers consider rescheduling jobs to avoid workers being caught outside in hazardous weather conditions. When working outdoors, supervisors and workers should continuously monitor weather conditions. Watch for darkening clouds and increasing wind speeds, which can indicate developing thunderstorms. Pay close attention to forecasts and emergency notifications about severe weather. 
  • Seek shelter in buildings: Employers and supervisors should know and tell workers which buildings to go to after hearing thunder or seeing lightning. NOAA recommends seeking out fully enclosed buildings with electrical wiring and plumbing. Remain in the shelter for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder. 
  • Vehicles as shelter: If safe building structures are not accessible, employers should guide workers to hard-topped metal vehicles with rolled up windows. Remain in the vehicle for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder. 
  • Phone safety: After hearing thunder, do not use corded phones, except in an emergency. Cellphones and cordless phones may be used safely. 

If caught outside in a thunderstorm 

If someone is caught outside during a thunderstorm, there may be nothing they can do to prevent being struck by lightning. There simply is no safe place outside in a thunderstorm. This is why it is very important to get to a safe place at the first signs of a thunderstorm. 

For those who are outside during a storm, NOAA recommends the following to decrease the risk of being struck by lightning: 

  • Lightning is likely to strike the tallest objects in an area — you should not be the tallest object. 
  • Avoid isolated tall trees, hilltops, utility poles, cellphone towers, cranes, large equipment, ladders, scaffolding or rooftops. 
  • Avoid open areas, such as fields. Never lie flat on the ground. 
  • Retreat to dense areas of smaller trees that are surrounded by larger trees, or retreat to low-lying areas — such as valleys or ditches, but watch for flooding. 
  • Avoid water, and immediately get out of and away from bodies of water. Water does not attract lightning, but it is an excellent conductor of electricity.  
  • Avoid wiring, plumbing and fencing. Lightning can travel long distances through metal, which is an excellent conductor of electricity. Stay away from all metal objects, equipment and surfaces that can conduct electricity. 
  • Do not shelter in sheds, pavilions, tents or covered porches as they do not provide adequate protection from lightning. 
  • Seek fully enclosed, substantial buildings with wiring and plumbing. In modern buildings, the interior wiring and plumbing will act as an earth ground. A building is a safe shelter as long as you are not in contact with anything that can conduct electricity — such as electrical equipment or cords, plumbing fixtures and corded phones. Do not lean against concrete walls or floors which may have metal bars inside. 

Sources: OSHA and NOAA