With Spring being upon us, now is the time to review your Emergency Action Plan and how it specifically addresses Spring weather hazards for your employees. We should assess for the types of hazards that Spring weather presents to the employees. Then review with our employees how these hazards and types of emergencies may develop including refreshing training for the employees on what to do during these Spring weather hazardous conditions and potential emergencies.
The Spring weather hazards to address in the northeast U.S. are thunderstorms, tornadoes, lightning, flooding, and heat.
The first thing to understand are the various advisories, watches, and warnings that the National Weather Service issues and that are relayed to people through alerts received on their phone or radio or TV. The “Advisory” which means specific weather is expected to cause a significant inconvenience, but not serious enough to warrant a Watch or Warning. The “Watch” is issued when severe weather is possible in and near the watch area because the conditions are favorable however it does not mean that the weather will actually occur, only means it is possible. The “Warning” indicates that severe weather is actually occurring or is imminent in the warning area. With each of the advisories, watches, and warnings for a specific type of weather, in the case of Spring weather hazards of thunderstorms, tornadoes, lightning, flooding, and heat, we need to make sure our employees are notified of these conditions by the employer. It is important that employees know what actions to take and how they are to react. More importantly, Management must know the actions to be taken to protect workers during the Spring weather hazards.
To review the Spring weather hazards, we start with the general hazard of thunderstorms which can produce many of the other Spring hazards of tornadoes, strong wind, large hail, and lightning. As part of the EAP, we need to have a plan on what the workers and Management should do that includes the need for a communications plan to contact employees, Supervisors, field crew managers, and employees. The actions to take including taking shelter in a sturdy structure away from windows, a basement would be a best option, or in the field, a vehicle is safer than being outside. Tornadoes can generate winds that can exceed 200 mph per the National Weather Service which can create dangerous flying debris. The best protection is to seek a sturdy shelter which means has four walls and a roof in the lowest floor possible, or in an interior space with walls on four sides such as in a stairwell.
Lightning is produced during thunderstorms and kills an average of 30 people every year. The protection is to take shelter inside a sturdy structure or a hard-topped vehicle would also be a safe location. There are many myths that surround lightning. This article is going to briefly review five common myths and then the associated facts to dispel the myth. The first myth is that “If you’re caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should crouch down to reduce your risk of being struck.” The fact is that crouching doesn’t make you any safer outdoors. It is better to run to the nearest substantial building or hard topped vehicle. If you are too far to run to one of these options, you have no good alternative. You are NOT safe anywhere outdoors. The second myth is that of “If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.” The fact is that lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm and can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm. One method to determine the distance that a thunderstorm is from a person’s location is the rule of thumb of measuring the time between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder using the ratio of for every 5 seconds after flash of lightning that thunder is heard, the thunderstorm is approximately 1 mile away. For example, if you see a flash of lightning and then counted 15 seconds to when the thunder was heard, the thunderstorm is 3 miles away. A third myth is that “Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.” The fact is that the metal roof and metal sides protect you, NOT the rubber tires because when lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground possibly destroying one or more tires as it passes through the steel belts to the ground with the potential to ignite a fire/destroy the vehicle. The fourth myth is that “If I am trapped outside, I should lie flat on the ground.” The fact is that lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter as previously discussed. The last myth to be discussed in this article is “If you are in a fully enclosed building, you are 100% safe from lightning.” The fact is that a fully enclosed building is a safe place however avoid anything that conducts electricity such as electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. While it may be appealing to stand at a window to watch the lightning display, windows are hazardous in that lightning could shatter glass or wind can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and injure the person. More myths and facts are discussed on the National Weather Service website.
The next Spring weather hazard is that of flooding caused by snow melt, ice jams, and/or heavy rain. As the ground thaws and snow melts the ground becomes saturated with nowhere for the water to go except to flow on the surface to a body of water or low-lying areas causing flooding. As many of us spend a lot of time staring through a windshield driving to various locations, we have a good possibility of coming upon a flooded roadway. Do NOT drive through standing water or around barricades as more than 50% of all flood fatalities are vehicle related. Remember, it takes only about twelve inches of rushing water to carry away a passenger vehicle so “Turn around, don’t drown!” Snow melt, along with Spring rains, cause the snow to melt and that water goes into streams and then rivers causing flooding. Ice jams cause flooding when chunks of ice build-up and prevent water from flowing downstream in a creak and/or river which may lead to rapid rises in the water level upstream from the ice jam.
The last of the Spring weather hazards to be discussed is that of heat. We all focus on heat injury prevention in the summer when it is hot and humid because of the toll they take on the body. It is best that workers and field supervisors know the signs of heat illness as well as the treatment of heat illnesses. Other things to do is, when possible, reschedule outdoor work and strenuous activities until the coolest time of the day and most importantly stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and sports drinks while eating small health meals and taking breaks as needed. One problem with heat in the Spring is that workers are not yet acclimated to the heat as our bodies are still in the cold weather mode. Typical Spring weather follows no schedule so it may be cool for 4 days in a row then have 1 day of heat then rain then snow then heat then cold, repeat this pattern. With this irregular pattern of weather, workers cannot become acclimated so it is hard to prepare for these conditions. It is important for workers and Supervisors to be aware of these working conditions and potential heat illnesses understanding that workers may not stay hydrated so addressing the potential for heat injuries as part of the job planning, during the pre-shift meeting, tailgate meeting, and/or JSA review is very important.
After reviewing the Spring weather hazards, it is now a good time to review the company Emergency Action Plan (EAP) asking specific questions and then answering the questions which may lead to updating your EAP. Questions to ask about your EAP include:
- Does your EAP even specifically cover weather emergencies?
- Do Supervisors/Management specifically monitor weather and receive alerts?
- Do workers know exactly what to do to protect themselves?
- Do they have stop work authority?
- Who do they specifically contact?
- Do your workers know specifically what to do and where to go in each weather situation?
Now that we have reviewed Spring weather hazards and how they should be addressed in your company’s EAP, it is very important to train workers and Supervisors on the EAP specifically reviewing the Spring weather hazards and what actions to take. As tempting as it sounds, we cannot rely on a worker’s “common sense” because common knowledge is not the same as common sense. Provide your workers and Supervisors with common knowledge so they do not need to rely on common sense.
Much of the information in this article was compiled from the National Weather Service website at www.weather.gov.
(This article is adapted from a previous Safety News article published on this website in February of 2022.)
For more information and/or assistance, contact:
Wayne Vanderhoof CSP, CIT
RJR Safety Inc.