Adverse Weather Part 1: Lightning and Rain

The summer is officially in full swing and the weather across the nation is brutal. From the storms that come in fast and furious with wind, rain and lightning, to the endless heat and the threat of tornadoes, tropical storms and hurricanes—weather has a huge impact when working in the material handling industry.  In this multi-part series we will look at ways to keep workers and your equipment safe in adverse weather conditions.

Lightning and Rain

In the southeast, we have powerful thunderstorms that develop during the afternoons and other areas of the country experience similar conditions with strong winds, lightning, rain, and even tornadoes. If you are working outdoors, these conditions can be a challenge to keep operations safe.

While rain alone isn’t enough to necessarily halt work, once it’s combined with dark clouds and increasing wind speeds it can indicate developing thunderstorms which in turn means lightning. This should be enough to make you stop and take notice.

Lightning is an unpredictable force of nature. With over 300 people stuck by lightning annually, it is not something to fool around with. Lightning can strike without warning and up to 10 miles away from any rain fall. So how do you know if lightning is within striking distance and whether work should stop? There are several reliable methods:

  • Purchase an inexpensive, portable lightning detector that can sound an alarm when there is a strike within a 10 mile radius
  • Use a weather app on your smart phone to notify of a strike within a certain distance
  • Employ a commercial lightning detection system that monitors and notifies of lightning activity.
  • Listen for thunder, which is created when lightning’s high temperature explodes the surrounding air. If you can hear thunder then you are close enough to be struck by lightning. In other words from the National Lightning Safety Institute, “If you can see it (Lightning), flee it; If you can hear it (Thunder), clear it.”

When ceasing work, where do you go, and for how long should crane operations be suspended? We recommend following these best practices, modified from OSHA and NOAA guidelines for workers whose jobs involve working outdoors:

  • Shut Down Equipment – if working on a crane or any heavy equipment, land the load, lower the boom, shut off all electrical power, secure and leave the equipment.
  • Seek Shelter – go to a safe structure and remain inside. The preferred shelter is a fully enclosed building with electrical wiring and plumbing—small rain/sun shelters and gazebos are not considered a safe structure. If a permanent building is not accessible, workers should use hard-topped metal vehicles with rolled up windows.
  • Avoid hazardous objects/areas – Move away from any metal objects including fences, machinery and electrical equipment. Avoid solitary trees and open fields. Do not stand in water and do not use the telephone or touch appliances (portable radios and cell phones are safe to use).

After the storm passes, wait 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder. Once it is safe for operations to resume, do a thorough pre-use inspection of the equipment again to check for possible damage.  According to several crane manufacturers they refer to lightning strikes being the cause of problems with the electronic systems that control crane functions. If the LMI is not working or there seems to be other concerns that did not exist before, then lightning may have impacted the crane.

In ALL instances, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations prior to re-starting work.  An excerpt from a crane operation manual states: “An extreme form of heat damage is caused by lightning strike. The rope may heat up at the point of the strike to such an extent that the steel starts to melt. In all cases of exposure to high temperatures, the rope must be changed regardless of whether or not wire breaks have occurred.”

While waiting out a storm may not seem like an ideal use of time, neither is getting rushed to the hospital due to a lightning strike. Remember, Safety through Education is more than just our motto it is our guiding principal. Outlining and following procedures such as these are one of the key things an employer can do to create and make their work environment safe and help everyone go home by the end of the day. Stay tuned next week as we discuss the impact of Heat.

For more information on this topic, consult the OSHA and NOAA Fact Sheet: Lightning Safety When Working Outdoors.  If you want to know what the regulations say, check out the Hooked On Crane Tech Post, When the Thunder Rolls and the Lightning Strikes.


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