It’s true. You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than win a lottery jackpot.

For the record, your chances of being struck by lightning are slim. Still, Environment Canada says lightning kills roughly 10 Canadians every year and injures between 100 and 150 others. Your odds increase if you work outside. And they can soar if you find yourself in the wrong place when a thunderstorm rolls through.

Lightning can strike at any time of the year and even during a snowstorm (quite a sight!), but in Canada, its season is typically from April to October. Given the unpredictable and explosive storms that have swept across Western Canada this year, be prepared to see lightning right through the fall.

Meteorologists and safety groups from around the world will tell you this without being asked: There is no safe place outdoors during a thunderstorm –– whatever the season. And they’ll say: When thunder roars, go indoors.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) says lightning safety begins long before clouds clash. It recommends paying attention to the weather and giving yourself (and your co-workers) time to get out of its way.

The best place to go in a thunderstorm? Indoors, in a fully enclosed building with a roof and walls, and preferably with plumbing, a telephone line (land version), antenna and electrical wiring. The latter four will ground lightning if it hits the building.

Buildings without wiring or plumbing to ground the electricity are unsafe; these include covered picnic shelters, carports/vehicle ports, tents, baseball dugouts, storage sheds and greenhouses.

Put as many walls between you and the outside of the building as you can. Avoid windows, fireplaces and doors––lightning likes to break and enter. In fact, it will even try to sneak into a building by travelling along anything that conducts electricity: radiators, stoves, sinks and metal pipes.

If you can’t get indoors, an enclosed metal vehicle is good shelter. But avoid tractors, golf carts and topless or soft-top vehicles. The CCOHS also advises:

  • “Make sure the vehicle is not parked near trees or other tall objects that could fall over during a storm.
  • “When inside a vehicle during a lightning storm, roll up the windows and sit with your hands in your lap and wait out the storm.
  • “Don’t touch any part of the metal frame or any wired device in the vehicle (including the steering wheel or plugged-in cell phone). A direct strike to your car will flow through the frame of the vehicle and usually jump over or through the tires to reach ground.
  • “Be aware of downed power lines that may be touching your car. You are safe inside the car, but you may receive a shock if you step outside.”

If you absolutely, positively can’t get inside, stay away from anything tall. Trees, flagpoles and the like are literally lightning rods. You also want to stay away from water and anything that conducts: tools, pipes, golf clubs, bobcats, backhoes, lawn movers, metal fences, ladders and such.

If you’re the tallest thing around, get closer to the ground. Lightning seeks the highest “target” on the landscape. Take shelter in a low-lying area (think ditches, valleys and coulees) but watch for flooding. Spread out if you’re with others.

Environment Canada warns: “If you get caught in a level field far from shelter, crouch down on the balls of your feet immediately, with feet together, place your arms around your knees and bend forward. Be the smallest target possible, and at the same time, minimize your contact with the ground. Don’t lie flat.”

Lightning may only hit one person in a million, but it’s never a lucky strike.

Cool tool

The online Canadian Lightning Danger Map from Environment Canada predicts where lighting is most likely to strike in the next 10 minutes. The website includes links to lots of other eye-opening safety information and advice on lightning.

Lightning Map - Environment Canada

Photo credit: Environment Canada

Stay tuned

Stay tuned for our next blog post which will focus on drilling rig safety during a thunderstorm.