With warm weather comes, thunderstorms and of course lightning. We all enjoy spending time outside either participating or watching outdoor activities and sports. Many times when a storm approaches we all fail to proceed safely. Many assume that only sports that involve metal implements, ie. golf, softball and some track events, need to have lightning safety policies. In Canada there are an average of 10 deaths per year from lightning strikes and around 164 injuries. Most occur between June and August with a whopping 94% of deaths and 74% of injuries occurring this time. Those aged between 16 and 45 and male are the most prone to suffer a lightning related death or injury. The activities that are most common are camping/hiking and work, golf and baseball rank third and fourth.
We can not prevent thunderstorms from occurring, so to prevent lightning related injuries we must have a thorough lightning emergency action plan.
1) Have a designated person who is responsible for suspending play.
2) Have a designated weather watcher, who's job is to watch for incoming weather systems.
3) Have pre set safe zones for each venue in case severe weather does occur.
4) Have a set of criteria as to when it is safe to resume activity.
When deciding when to suspend play paying attention to the incoming weather is key. As soon as there is a approximately 9.25 km from the edge of the storm and the area of activity, if you can hear thunder then there is lightning near by. You must allow for everyone involved to be able to reach the safe area prior to the storm hitting. The safe area must be indoors, places like shelters and picnic canopies are not sufficient. When it is time to resume your activity the standard rule is 30 minutes after the last lightning strike and sound of thunder is heard.
Having a well thought out EAP for lightning is important for all outdoor activities. Being prepared to suspend play and stick by your actions is beneficial to all. As with all safety initiatives lightning safety needs full team buy in to be successful. Be proactive and set out your plan, do not rely on the officials or other team to make the call. Research within your league as to who's responsibility it is to suspend play and if there is already a lightning policy in place. Though lightning strikes are not as common as other injuries the damages from them are much more devastating and tragic.
For more information on lighting safety in sports check out the NATA Position Statement on Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation and for general lightning information in Canada go to Environment Canada - Lightning Safety.