Safety alert issued after worker killed by lightning strike

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 5 December, 2021 - 12:30
Policy & legislation
Northern Territory

NT WorkSafe recently issued a safety alert reminding businesses and workers of the inherent dangers of lightning strikes in the Top End and the need to manage the risk of serious injury or death to outdoor workers.

The alert was issued following an incident on 23 November 2021, when three workers working on a mango farm were injured (one critically) after lightning struck a nearby mango tree.

At the time of the incident, the three workers were fertilising trees while standing on a metal flatbed trailer being towed by a tractor through the mango orchard.

The three workers were transported to Royal Darwin Hospital, where unfortunately one of the workers succumbed to his injuries later in the week.

Preliminary findings indicate that during an approximate one-hour period that afternoon, 38 lightning strikes were recorded within a 50km area of the incident scene.

The safety alert noted there is an increased frequency of thunderstorms from the months of November to April in the Top End.

The alert recommended a number of actions, and said businesses and workers operating outdoors, especially those in the Top End, must have procedures in place to manage the risks associated with lightning strikes:

  • Monitoring weather forecasts and conditions to determine the possibility of a thunderstorm forming or if there is an approaching thunderstorm.
  • An established method of warning supervisors and workers working outdoors of an approaching thunderstorm.
  • An established set of actions workers should take if they see lightning or hear thunder before a warning is received.
  • Specified, documented and communicated (to workers) procedures of when to stop outdoor work and seek shelter, including the timeframe workers have to reach shelter; and when it is safe to resume outdoor work.
  • Identify locations to safely shelter within close proximity of the worksite. Safe shelters include:
    • Fully enclosed large permanent structures or substantial buildings; or
    • Enclosed ‘hard-top’ (metal-bodied) vehicles.
  • Check-in with all your workers after the thunderstorm has passed.

The alert also recommended a number of actions for workers:

  • Alert your supervisor or fellow workers if you see lightning or hear thunder and seek shelter according to your established procedures.
  • Never seek shelter in temporary structures, sheds, buildings with unearthed metal roofs, or under trees.
  • Avoid bodies of water and metal objects such as fencing that may conduct electricity.
  • When sheltering (including inside a vehicle), avoid contact with the external surfaces, metal objects such as pipes, wiring, metal parts of the vehicle, and avoid using plugged in electrical equipment.
  • Workers who are caught away from shelter should:
    • Avoid being on the highest point in an open area or near tall objects, but do not lie flat on the ground.
    • Crouch (alone) with your feet together, preferably in a ditch or hollow so you are not the highest object.
    • Remove all metal objects from your body.