Mechanisms of Lightning Injury


Lightning is the most consistent and significant weather hazard that may affect athletics.According to the United States Weather Service, the annual number of lightning-related injuries in this country has been estimated to vary between 200 to 1000 people. Also, approximately 100 fatalities as a result of lightning strikes in the United States occur each year. Although the chance of being struck by lightning is very low, the odds are significantly greater when a storm is in the area of athletic events and the proper safety precautions are not followed. Few people really understand the dangers of thunderstorms. Many people do not act promptly to protect their life and the lives of others because they do not understand how lighting strikes occur and how to reduce their risk. The most important step in solving this problem is for athletic trainers, who make decisions regarding health and safety issues, to educate coaches, athletes, and parents about the risk of lightning strikes during outdoor athletic activities.

Mechanisms of Lightning Injury

Injury from lightning can occur via five mechanisms :

1. Direct strike: most commonly occurs to the head, and lightning current enters the orifices.

2. Contact strike: most commonly occurs when the lightning victim is touching an object that is in the pathway of the lightning current.

3. Side flash: most commonly occurs when the lightning strikes an object near the victim and then jumps from the object to the victim.

4. Ground current: most commonly occurs when the lightning current flowing in the ground radiates outward in waves from the strike point.

5. Blunt injury: most commonly occurs when the lightning current causes violent muscular contractions that throw victims a distance from strike point.

Guidelines on Lightning Safety

The following guidelines on lightning safety were developed as part of a position statement from the National Athletic

Trainers’ Association :

1. Establish a chain of command that identifies who is to make the call to remove individuals from the athletic field.

2. Name a designated weather watcher to consider and then communicate possible threatening weather to the chain of command.

3. Have a means of subscribing to a weather monitoring system to receive forecasts and warnings. This is best done through a lightning detection device, a computer link to weather radar, or television or radio announcements from the National Weather Service.

4. Designate a safe shelter for each outdoor venue. A safe shelter should be a building with four solid walls, electrical wiring, and plumbing, all of which

aid in the grounding of the structure. A secondary shelter would be an enclosed vehicle with a metal roof and windows completely closed.

5. Use the flash-to-bang count to determine when to go to safety. By the time the flash-to-bang count approaches 30 seconds, all individuals should

already be inside a safe shelter.

6. Once the activities have been suspended, wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash before resuming an activity.

7. Avoid being, or being near, the highest point in an open field. Do not take shelter under or near trees, flagpoles, or light poles.

8. For those individuals who are caught in the open and who feel their hair stand on end, feel their skin tingle, or hear “crackling” noises, assume the lightning safety position. This position includes crouching on the ground, with weight on the balls of the feet, feet together, head lowered, and ears covered . An individual should never lie flat on the ground.

9. Observe the emergency first aid procedures in managing victims of a lightning strike.

10. All individuals have the right to leave an athletic site to seek a safe shelter if the person feels in danger of impending lightning activity—without fear of penalty from anyone.

11. Blue sky and the absence of rain are not protection from lightning. Lightning can, and does, strike as far as 10 miles away from the rain shaft. It does not have to be raining for lightning to strike. Lightning is the most consistent and significant environmental hazard that may affect athletics. There is no absolute protection against lightning. However, the risk of

being struck by lightning can be substantially reduced by  following general safety rules that apply to athletic events.


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