Did you know?
Not a day goes by on Earth without there being lightning. By allowing us to maintain the electric field of our planet, lightning is both essential to life and a source of risks. .
1) Why protect yourself?
Every year, millions of lightning-related incidents occur around the world.
Lightning can cause death even if this is not the case in the majority of lightning strikes, according to keraunopathologists. There are, however, often permanent physical and neurological after-effects as a result of the intensity of the current during a lightning strike.
Lightning also causes millions of damaging events, ranging from domestic appliances to industrial sites.
Over the past 30 years, the ARIA database has recorded 200 industrial incidents originating from lightning in France and abroad. These incidents have, or could have, affected public health, public safety, or the environment. (figure 1)
A fire and explosion in an oil depot, a tank fire in a refinery, voltage drops in a plant's power supply, a component of a wind turbine blade falling, and many other situations... all of these incidents caused by lightning within industrial environments prompt decision-makers to take precautionary measures and sometimes to make them mandatory.
Accidents occur even in areas with a low lightning density, as shown by this overlay. (figure 2)
In almost 90% of cases, thunderstorms have economic consequences, with material damage in 8 out of 10 cases and business interruption in almost a third of cases
In more than 30% of cases the consequences are environmental (air, water and soil pollution) and social (technical unemployment, deprivation of use such as electricity or gas).
Human-related consequences (death or injury) occur in almost one out of 10 cases. (Source: ARIA database, Consequences of lightning accidents, March 2019)
2) How can you protect yourself?
As an individual
Several organisations provide fact sheets, such as the AP Foudre, which offer general and topic-based recommandations.
Taking refuge in a permanent building is the only effective safety recommendation.
If this is not possible, here are some safety tips for dealing with thunderstorms, although they still do not ensure total safety:
- Do not take shelter under a tree and stay away from low trunks and branches
- Move away from metal structures (lamp posts, grates etc.)
- Stop all outdoor activities (fishing, boating, golfing etc.)
- Evacuate aquatic areas and playgrounds
- Do not stay in a group
- Do not carry any objects over your head (umbrella, selfie stick, etc.)
Once inside, it is recommended that electrical appliances are not used and that they are unplugged whenever possible.
In a work environment
In addition to individual protection measures, collective procedures should also be put in place.
In a work environment, use of a human observer becomes too unreliable when faced with a dangerous situation.
The best solution is to use storm warning systems that meet regulatory or normative requirements. For example, the IEC 62793 standard (Lightning protection – Thunderstorm warning systems) requires that warning systems have an efficiency of more than 90%1 so that companies can implement preventive measures against the dangers of lightning.
Prevention also involves post-storm checks, for example, to identify any possible weakening of installations. This preventive measure is also imposed on certain ICPEs in France by the amended decree of 4 October 2010.
The following are some of the procedures that can be implemented:
- the securing and containment of staff and customers
- stopping work in progress to ensure the safety of people
- evacuation of particularly exposed areas (water areas, scaffolding, wind turbines, cranes, etc.)
- halting industrial processes to avoid electrical disturbances
- switching to a power generator during the storm in order to continue activities without risk of electrical disturbances
- halting of loading and unloading operations (offloading, etc.)
- halting of any activity in the presence of flammable, explosive or dangerous products
3) When should you protect yourself?
Meteorological monitoring in Europe makes it possible to anticipate the risks sometimes identified within the coming week in respect of certain phenomena.
It is essential to get the right information before taking part in certain activities (for example, before going on a hike).
If there is a thunderstorm, empirical practices can be used to try to assess the distance of the storm. This method is based on the difference in propagation between light and sound. For instance, if there is a 15-second gap between seeing the light of the lightning and hearing the noise of the thunder, it can be estimated that the lightning struck 5km away.
The effectiveness of this method is less reliable than modern monitoring systems, which is why the latter have become widely used in all sectors in recent years
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