Five Elements of Lightning Safety Contractors Must Understand
1. Lightning is a Regulated Hazard
Lightning strikes can severely injure or kill workers whose jobs involve working outdoors. Employees working in the construction industry are uniquely susceptible to lightning hazards due to the industry’s outdoor working conditions. This is especially true for roofing contractors’ employees who are required to work on elevated surfaces which may serve as conductors for lightning strikes.
2. Obligation to Protect Employees from Lightning Hazards
Because lightning is a recognized hazard that is likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970 (the “General Duty Clause”) requires employers to protect their employees from lightning. This obligation requires employers to both: (1) protect employees from being injured by lightning, and (2) protect employees from merely being exposed to lightning within the course of their duties.
3. When to Halt Work and Instruct Employees to Seek Shelter
Contractors must halt work before inclement weather is sufficiently close to present a hazard to employees. OSHA recommends that employers continuously engage in on-site monitoring and monitor NOAA weather reports throughout the workday to identify lightning in the proximity of their worksites. According to OSHA, lightning can strike up to ten (10) miles away from any rainfall. As such, OSHA recommends employees move indoors any time thunder can be heard and remain indoors for 30 minutes after the last audible thunder. If no indoor shelter is available, OSHA recommends employees shelter in hard-top vehicles.
4. OSHA Requirements for Written Emergency Action Plans
Employers are subject to multiple procedural requirements intended to reduce the risk of known hazards. For example, employers with more than 10 employees must implement written emergency action plans (“EAP”) addressing potential emergency scenarios. At a minimum, OSHA regulations require that an employer’s EAP outline topics, such as emergency escape procedures, procedures for employees designated as non-evacuees, and procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation. However, this list is not exhaustive, and employers should review the specific requirements of the regulation with the help of their safety advisor.
5. OSHA’s Training Requirements for Lightning Safety and EAPs
OSHA also requires employers to conduct extensive training with their employees. An employer’s failure to train its employees can serve as an independent basis for an OSHA citation. As such, all employees must be trained regarding the procedures set forth in the employer’s EAP, and those with emergency duties must be trained to fulfill those duties. All construction workers should be trained regarding lightning hazards generally, as well as on each worksite in order to familiarize employees with worksite-specific conditions (e.g. shelter locations). Finally, employers should carefully document all training efforts for review by OSHA.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.