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Is It Safe To Operate a Skid Steer in Lightning?

When working outside during or near a storm, it is always a good idea to exercise caution. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, lightning can travel long distances through metal, which is an excellent conductor of electricity. Stay away from all metal objects and surfaces that can conduct electricity. This could include equipment like:

  • Metal scaffolding
  • Metal equipment
  • Utility wires
  • Water
  • Water pipes
  • Plumbing

How To Prepare for Storms

Employers with employees who commonly work outside should incorporate a lightning safety strategy in their emergency response plans. Of course general skid steer safety training is required as well. The lightning safety strategy should contain details on how workers will be notified about lightning safety alerts as well as the location of a designated safety shelter. Employers should also publish lightning safety information at outdoor work areas and instruct employees on how to follow the necessary procedures.

Employers should always consult weather forecasts before beginning outdoor work. When thunderstorms are in the forecast, it is important to not start anything that cannot abruptly stop. OSHA suggests postponing work to prevent hazardous weather accidents from happening. 

Supervisors and employees should pay attention to weather conditions when working outside. Watch for increasing wind speeds and heavy clouds, which can suggest an impending storm. If you hear thunder, get to a secure location immediately, even if the storm seems far away.

What To Do When Operating in a Storm?

According to the National Weather Service, there are approximately 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in the United States each year. In addition, more than 1,000 individuals in the United States are struck by lightning. On average, 50 people are killed each year, and hundreds more suffer from permanent neurological disorders.

If you find yourself outside during a thunderstorm, follow these recommendations laid out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): 

Even if rain hasn’t fallen, employees could still be struck by lightning, so employers must make it a point to remind their employees to seek appropriate shelter at the first sound of thunder.

In the event of a thunderstorm, any electrical equipment being used should be disconnected, and if any employees are traveling, they should exit their intended route safely and stay put until the storm has passed. Working with metal equipment during a storm is also prohibited due to the metal’s ability to conduct electricity.

ROPS Roll Cage | Operator Safety in a Storm

Skid steer loaders with an enclosed rollover system canopy or a rollover protective structure (ROPS) are safe during a lightning storm. The operator should turn off the machinery, close the doors, and sit still with their hands in their lap while the storm passes. Under no circumstances should the operator attempt to dismount the equipment to the ground during a lightning storm in order to find another shelter.

However, skid steers without a ROPS are not safe even if they have rubber tires. Rubber tires provide zero safety from lightning. In this instance, operators should abandon their machine and seek safe shelter from the storm. 

What Can Happen if I Am Struck by Lightning?

Lightning strikes carry more than 10 million volts of energy while only lasting 0.01 to 0.1 seconds. The consequences of a lightning strike can range from minor burns to brain damage and even death.

A lightning strike can cause cardiac arrest, which prevents the body from circulating blood and causes direct injury to the brain and neurological system, preventing the brain from sending the required signals to tell the body to continue breathing.

Strikes can potentially result in a cerebral hemorrhage or stroke, as well as tissue damage and significant thermal burns. Because a person’s bones are the most resistant component of the body to lightning, tissue around the bones can sustain the most harm.

Certain neurological and muscle injuries can have a long-term impact on a person’s life. Those who have had a muscle injury are at risk of getting rhabdomyolysis, a disorder in which the muscle begins to degrade, resulting in a toxic protein flooding the circulation and potentially causing kidney damage.

Indirect Strikes

Even if you are just nearby when a lightning strike occurs, you can still sustain damage. Ruptured eardrums can result from the surrounding strike’s tremendous sound waves. Minor thermal burns and nervous system injury can also occur as a result of an indirect strike, in which the body is only exposed to a fraction of the lightning’s intensity.

What If Someone Else Is Hit?

If you witness someone get struck by lightning, call 9-1-1 immediately. After someone is struck by lightning they do not carry an electrical current and are therefore safe to approach and touch.

  1. Check if the person is responsive by slightly shaking them, yelling their name, or checking for breathing.
  2. If they are unresponsive, start chest compressions immediately. It can actually be very hard to find a pulse unless you are specifically trained to do so. Therefore it is safer for the victim if you just start compressions instead of taking time trying to find the pulse.
  3. If you are capable and comfortable, you can do rescue breathing/mouth to mouth, but consistent compressions are the most important step

Mass Casualties

If a group of people are struck by lightning and you are trained in CPR, begin resuscitating first those who are unconscious; they are at the greatest risk of dying. It is important to remember that a person struck by lightning may appear dead, with no pulse or breath.

In a mass casualty event, medical professionals usually will prioritize the living first, since resources are scarce. An automated external defibrillator (AED) can also be used, if accessible, to treat cardiac arrest that can result from a lightning strike.