Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

 

August 14, 2012

Lightning

Lightning awareness: What are your chances of getting zapped?

There haven’t been any recent work-related incidents in Oregon caused by lightning strikes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t happen. In North Stonington, Conn., for example 15 golf course workers were “affected” by a lightning strike in June. And in July, emergency workers rushed two construction workers to the hospital in Northland, Kan., after they were apparently struck by lightning.

Unless you’re playing golf, standing on an exposed ridge, flying a kite, or running around in an open field during a thunderstorm, your odds of being struck by lightning by your 80th birthday are slim: about 1 in 10,000 – assuming something else doesn’t kill you first. Still, it’s good to know how a lightning strike might affect you if you become a statistic. According to Dr. Elisabeth Gourbière of the Electricité de France, Service des Etudes Médicales, only 20 percent of lightning victims are immediately struck dead. But what about the other 80 percent? If you survive a strike, don’t assume that a basic emergency room doctor knows how to treat you. That’s because lightning shocks are not the same as industrial electrical shocks.

What are the differences? Glad you asked:

  • The contact voltage of a typical industrial electrical shock is 20 to 63 kilovolts, while a lightning strike delivers about 300 kilovolts.
  • Industrial shocks typically last no longer than half a second, while lightning strikes last only a few milliseconds.
  • Most of the current from a lightning strike passes over the surface of the body in a process called “external flashover.”
  • Both industrial shocks and lightning strikes result in deep burns at the point of contact, but for industrial shocks, the points of contact are usually on the upper limbs, hands, and wrists, while for lightning, they are mostly on the head, neck, and shoulders.
  • Industrial shock victims sometimes exhibit deep-tissue destruction along the entire current path, while lightning victims’ burns generally center at the entry and exit points.

And the similarities?

  • Both industrial shock and lightning victims may be injured from falling down or being thrown down.
  • The leading cause of immediate death for industrial victims and lightning victims is cardiac or cardiopulmonary arrest.

Have a nice day and watch out for thunderstorms.

 

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