Working outdoors can come with its fair share of risks, and one of the more dangerous hazards you and your team are facing is lightning. Although it's a hazard which is usually overlooked because we don't see it too regularly in Britain, it's something which needs highlighting because of the risks it brings. In the case you and your team are going to be working on a site where lightning can occur (very likely over the coming months), it's important you conduct a lightning risk assessment. Here's what you need to do.
Here's what to include in your risk assessment for lightning:
Identify the hazards Decide who might be harmed Evaluate the risks and record significant findings Implement and communicate emergency plans Review PPE and safety equipment Review the assessment and update Identify the Hazards
This is the vital first step when completing a risk assessment for lightning. Obviously, the main hazard is lightning but this also means that you need to walk around the site and make thorough checks of other potential hazards that could arise, making it a more dangerous place to work if lightning does occur.
Lightning protection concepts, such as earthing of metallic structures, are often inherent in the design of construction sites. The likelihood of a major accident being initiated by a lightning strike at a well-designed and maintained site is relatively low. However, that can only remain a low risk if you're focusing on every area where there could be a potential hazard.
This might include analysing the rooftops to see if they are safe to work on or whether they could be dangerous if there's lightning, especially since employees could be working at heights as anything that increases your height can increase the chances of being struck by lightning.
Along with this, check machinery and equipment such as cranes along with steel structures as materials that are made of metal also increase chances of being struck by lightning. If you have identified any risks, it's down to you to prioritise their safety by communicating these risks and telling them the areas on-site where they can and can't work.
Allowing them to continue working in such conditions can result in accidents which, again, can have fatal results.
Decide Who Might be Harmed
The obvious answer to this stage of the risk assessment is that it will be your employees who can be harmed as they can be struck by lightning. However, when you're identifying risks, you also need to take into account who else can potentially suffer from an injury because of lightning.
For example, if your construction site is in the middle of a busy city, then the chances are you could have lots of public walking around the site, even if it's hoarded off so nobody can enter. Here, it can be beneficial to ask your employees to help with this task because they might notice things that aren't as obvious to you or can come up with solutions on how to manage and control risks to the public and even inexperienced workers.
For each hazard you identify in the first stage, you need to be clear about who might be harmed. If an employee is on a structure at height and lightning strikes, they will be in danger. If there is equipment on a building which can fall from a height if lightning strikes, then the public or anyone else within its vicinity could be at risk.
When you have the answers to these questions, then you can begin to implement a solution to these problems, such as storing equipment away or not letting an employee on a roof etc.
Evaluate the Risks and Record Significant Findings
Evaluating the risks that lightning can bring involves determining how likely harm will come to each person both on and off-site. You won't be able to eliminate every risk, but you need to know about the main risks lightning can bring and the things you can do to manage them to maintain safety.
A good first step is to regularly check weather forecasts so that you can be best prepared if the chance of lightning does increase. By avoiding this, you could be placing your employees in more danger as they wouldn't be able to constantly check the weather alongside completing their normal duties.
Along with this, take necessary precautions yourself such as preventing access to dangerous areas or machinery on-site which shows that you're taking precautions. Also, as lightning is easily absorbed and carried by conductive materials such as metals, highlight all areas where this could be a risk on-site to warn your workers to stop using and move away from objects that can conduct electrical currents.
Although it's best to step away from conductive materials immediately, safety gloves can provide additional protection.
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If you're noticing that there are many risks you need to communicate, it's important that you organise lightning safety training so that employees aren't constantly relying on one individual to keep them safe, but they'll know the necessary steps to take to keep themselves and everyone around them safe.
Once you have evaluated the risks, you should record any significant findings. Your documentation needs to show that checks were made, you asked who the risks could affect and the precautions you took so that you can make your construction site a safe one to work at.
Implement and Communicate Emergency Plans
With lightning strikes a probability, planning, implementing and communicating emergency plans must happen during your risk assessment. This protocol is vital as your employees need to be aware of what should happen if lightning strikes, what they can and can't do along with having trained bodies on-hand should the worst happen.
An example of an emergency plan could include:
Train supervisors and employees to recognise the warning signs of thunder and lightning. Inform them to always take prompt action. Ensure everyone on-site is quickly notified about dangerous weather conditions and not leave it too late. Clearly identify the locations of the safe shelters. Specify when workers need to suspend outdoor work in the case of dangerous weather and when it's safe to resume. When putting your emergency plan together, account for the time required to evacuate all of your workers to the safe areas on-site. Have CPR-trained bodies on-site in case of emergencies. If somebody is struck by lightning, a trained person can administer CPR to revive someone.
By creating and communicating an emergency plan during your risk assessment, it shows that you won't be missing out any hazards because the knowledge and findings will remain fresh. This, in turn, helps keep everyone safe if lightning does occur.
Review PPE and Safety Equipment
On your site, your workers should be wearing PPE anyway because of the hazards they can face on a construction site. However, this is even more essential in lightning conditions. Not only should you be ensuring that everyone is wearing PPE and that you have extras on site, you also need to review the PPE your employees will be wearing to make sure it's still safe to use.
During this stage of the risk assessment, you can determine whether the PPE your workers are wearing is still safe to wear or whether there's damage which means it needs to be replaced. If this is overlooked, then your workers will be in additional danger as they have even fewer safety elements in place to keep them safe.
So check to see that hard hats are in good condition, that gloves can still be used, that glasses and their lenses are still durable enough to protect eyes, that you have waterproof equipment on hand and that earplugs still work. This gives you a better indication of which PPE can still be used and which you need to replace at the earliest convenience. This is also why it's a good idea to have extra PPE on-site should it be needed.
To make sure you're not missing out anything important when reviewing the condition of your workers' PPE, click below to see a checklist of the equipment you'll need so you don't miss anything important.
Review Assessment and Update
Not every site your employees work on is going to be the same or stay the same through different phases of the project. This is why it's important that you continue to conduct new assessments, review previous ones and update where necessary. As new changes are made or you work in new conditions - such as an area or season where lightning is more common - then policies need to be updated for optimum safety.
It also acts as a chance to continue improving your risk assessments and making it more seamless for future assessments so you know exactly how and what to check.
Statistics show that on average in the UK, two people are killed by lightning each year with a further 30 being injured. When you consider the type of work your employees will be conducting, they are at much greater risk of this hazard. So, conducting a lightning risk assessment is vital to keep everyone safe at all times.