Lightning, heavy rainfall, and high winds accompany the nearly 100,000 thunderstorms that occur annually in the United States. These storms can result in injuries, loss of life, and property damage. Storms can churn up quickly and there isn’t always time to send employees home before severe weather hits. It’s important for employers to be prepared for stormy weather and train employees on the appropriate actions should they get caught in a storm.
Every thunderstorm produces lightning, which kills more people every year that tornadoes or hurricanes. Avoid lightning strikes by taking these precautions suggested by the American Red Cross.
- Watch for storm signs like darkening skies, flashes of lightning, or increasing winds.
- Postpone any outdoor work activities. It does not have to be raining for lightning to strike. Many people who are struck by lightning are not where it is raining.
- Take shelter in a substantial building or a vehicle with the windows closed.
- If the wind is severe, shutter windows and close outside doors securely. If shuttering the windows is not possible, ensure that all employees move inwards and away from windows.
- Do not allow employees use locker room showers or plumbing.
Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be in danger from lightning.
Tornados and Severe Thunderstorms
Spring can be the peak season for tornado activity. However, tornadoes can occur anywhere, at any time of the year, at any time of the day. Tornados form quickly and their path is unpredictable. Employers should train employees on what to do if a tornado watch or warning is issued for the area.
A WATCH means that the potential exists for the development of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes. In the case of a tornado watch, this DOES NOT mean that a tornado has been seen or even indicated on radar. It just means that conditions are favorable for the formation of tornadoes in thunderstorms.
A WARNING, on the other hand, requires more immediate action and should be taken seriously. A severe thunderstorm warning indicates that severe weather is imminent in your area or is already occurring (based on either human observation or doppler radar). The term severe refers to hail greater than or equal to 1.00″ in diameter and/or wind gusts that meet or exceed 58 mph. Although these storms can also be associated with dangerous cloud to ground lightning or heavy rainfall that is capable of causing flash flooding, neither of these two items serve as criteria for a severe thunderstorm warning being issued.
Be prepared for these storms with the following tips.
- Know your community’s warning system.
- Pick a safe room in your workplace where employees can gather if a tornado is headed your way. This should be a basement, storm cellar or interior room on the lowest floor with no windows. Companies with a large number of employees may need to choose two different areas and keep track of which employees are designated to which area.
- Prepare for strong winds by securing outdoor equipment and tools.
- Secure furniture and trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile. Bring these things indoors if possible.
- Know the tornado danger signs – dark, often greenish clouds, a wall cloud, cloud of debris, large hail, a funnel cloud or a roaring noise.
Snow melt and heavy spring rains fill rivers and streams and flooding can occur. Flash floods occur suddenly when water rises rapidly along a stream or low-lying area. Employers should prepare an evacuation plan in the event the workplace needs to be evacuated at a moment’s notice. A thorough evacuation plan should include:
- Conditions to look for that would require employers to activate the plan.
- Chain of command and a procedure on how to contact decision makers in the company and communicate the evacuation plan with employees.
- Emergency functions and who will perform them.
- Specific evacuation procedures, including routes, exits, and meet up locations.
- Include procedures for accounting for personnel, customers, and other visitors in the workplace during and after the evacuation.
- Provide instructions on when and how to use special equipment.
- Always review the plan with workers and ensure everyone is trained on what to do.
Preparing the Office
Often times we assume the only workers who are at a threat of injury during a thunderstorm are those who work outdoors. There are several ways office workers and employees indoors can get hurt if severe weather strikes. Prepare your office or indoor work location with these tips.
- Unplug computers and other electronics throughout the building.
- Stay inside, and stay away from windows and any glass doors, skylights, etc.
- Avoid talking on the phone (including cell phones!) if you can hear thunder, and take off headsets.
- You can be injured by lightning inside the office too. Stay away from all electronics, appliances, and metal items like doors and window frames.
Using these tips will help everyone stay safe during these spring and summer months when storms are still very prevalent. What other tips do you have for staying safe in a storm while at work? Contact the Safety Pros to share your storm safety tips!