If you work in the maritime industry, you know that lightning poses a serious risk for maritime injuries. With hurricane season officially beginning in June, weather – and particularly lightning – becomes an even greater risk factor if you work offshore. With storm season here, it is important that you know how to protect yourself from the devastating effects of lightning and not underestimate its power.
Lightning Risk for Offshore Workers
Any job that requires you to work outdoors places you at risk when dangerous weather occurs. Lightning is one of the most significant dangers for outdoor workers, and is a very real concern for maritime workers. Even if the platform or rig you work on is considered to be “grounded”, do not assume that you are immune from the dangerous effects of lightning. While lightning strikes on open water are less frequent than those occurring on land, when they occur, the damage can be extensive.
Offshore platforms and rigs are generally considered grounded because they connect to the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately, oil, rust, and decay can impede the direct path that energy would travel to the ground, making offshore structures extremely susceptible to electric failure, surge effects, and fire. Due to the nature of offshore work, there is the extended risk of lightning striking cranes or tall metal structures, helicopters, pipelines, and even ships. In contrast to the open water, offshore structures are excellent electricity conductors due to their prominence and metal composition.
Lightning and Maritime Injuries
In general, lightning is considered one of the top three weather-related causes of death in the United States. It is important to remember that lightning does not necessarily have to strike the direct surface you are working on in order to cause injuries. According to MedScape, there are six primary types of lightning strikes that can affect humans, which are:
- Direct strike – Where lightning hits you directly
- Side splash – Where lightning splashes from a nearby object
- Contact voltage – Where electricity is conducted from an object to your skin, such as through a pipe, wiring, or plumbing
- Ground current – Where lightning strikes and the electricity travels over the ground
- Upward leader – Where lightning channels are incomplete
- Blunt trauma – Where lightning strikes forcefully enough to cause an explosive blunt force reaction
Depending on which type of lightning strike you suffer, the injuries you sustain may range from mild discomfort to permanent injury or death. Maritime injuries caused by lightning may include:
- Brain damage – Including headaches, nausea, seizures, sleep disturbances, and personality changes
- Autonomic nervous system damage – Including GI problems, blood pressure irregularity, dizziness, impotence, and pain syndromes
- Peripheral nervous system damage – Including chronic pain and sensory problems
- Blunt force, concussive trauma, or crush injuries
- Cardiac arrest
- Spinal cord injury
In addition to these injuries, there are numerous injuries that may occur as a result of lightning striking a structure and causing debris-related injuries.
How to Prevent Lightning-Related Maritime Injuries
You may be familiar with the saying that “lightning never strikes the same place twice”. The fact of the matter is that it only takes one strike to change your life. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends the following basic strategies to protect yourself from the dangers of lightning:
- Use the “30-30 Rule”: Count the seconds that elapse between a lightning strike and the sound of thunder. If less than 30 seconds elapse between the two, you should move indoors and take adequate measures to protect yourself. Before returning to outdoor activities, wait 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder to be sure that the storm has passed.
- Lightning can travel a long distance, and is visible even if the storm is several miles away. As a general rule, if you see lightning but do not hear thunder, the strike occurred at least 15 miles away. Once you hear thunder following the lightning strike, it is important for you to begin safety measures.
- If you are working offshore and there is a tropical storm or hurricane approaching, do not hesitate or wait until the last minute to evacuate. Tropical storms can be extremely dangerous to offshore structures, and can complicate standard safety protocols.
- If you are an owner, manager, or safety official working on an offshore structure, consider utilizing specific programs and strategies to assess risks, protect your assets (physical and human), reduce downtime, and improve overall safety.
- Always know the risks of the environment you are working in. When storms roll in, stay away from danger zones with:
- Heavy machinery (cranes, tractors, and open vehicles)
- Electrical current and conductors (plumbing, utility lines, water, and metal)
- Tall structures (scaffolding, utility poles, ladders, cranes, etc.)
- Explosive or flammable materials
Getting Help with Maritime Injuries
If you have been injured while in the course of your job as a maritime worker, it is important that you understand your legal rights. Maritime workers are not covered under the same workers’ compensation laws that cover many other industries, which makes it crucial that you know what your options are to protect your financial security and livelihood.
Let our knowledge and experience help guide you through the process of managing a maritime injury claim. Contact our office to schedule a free case review, and to learn more about maritime laws that may help you get the compensation you deserve after an on-the-job injury. To learn more about maritime injuries and your rights, fill out our online form to get started today.