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Synopsis: Lightning casualties can be reduced with implementation of a lightning-safety policy and emergency action plan.
Source: Walsh KM, et al. National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: Lightning safety for athletics and recreation. Journal of Athletic Training 2000;35(4):471-477.
Lightning presents a significant risk for physically active people participating in both organized and recreational sports. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association has released a position statement on lightning safety for athletics and recreation that can serve as a model for sports medicine personnel. The purpose of the statement is to recommend lightning-safety policy guidelines and strategies for medical personnel and others involved with athletic or recreation activities about the hazards of lightning. The statement provides background and recommendations on lightning that are supported by 31 references from the scientific literature.
The background information includes lightning-flash development, lightning casualty demographics, and mechanisms and common effects of lightning. Also addressed are the components of a lightning-safety policy, safe and unsafe locations, criteria for postponement and resumption of activities, obligation to warn, and prehospital care of victims.
Heading the list of recommendations is the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive, proactive lightning-safety policy and emergency action plan. Included in this plan are an established chain of command, a designated weather watcher, a means of monitoring local weather forecasts, a listing of specific safe locations, use of specific criteria for suspension and resumption of activities, and use of recommended lightning-safety strategies. The primary choice for a safe location from lightning is a substantial building, or a fully enclosed vehicle with a metal roof and the windows closed the secondary choice. Participants should seek a safe structure at the first sign of lightning or thunder so that all individuals are safe by the time the flash-to-bang count approaches 30 seconds. Activities should be suspended and should not be resumed for at least 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder or lightning flash.
Sports medicine personnel assume responsibility for all aspects of an athlete’s safety. Included in this realm of responsibilities is protection from the lethal effects of lightning. Lightning kills approximately 100 people and injures hundreds more annually. Each year, we read of a tragic lightning event at some interscholastic or intercollegiate practice or game. These events are usually preventable, and failure to formulate and implement a lightning-safety plan represents negligence on the part of the sports medicine team.
Athletic events with a large number of spectators also present special challenges for the sponsoring organization. This statement discusses the importance of public address systems to warn about impending lightning danger. The warning should be commensurate with the age and understanding of the spectators and should include safety instructions.
For a complete reprint of the lightning safety for athletics and recreation statement, contact: National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Communications Department, 2952 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, TX 75247.