In the lead up to the summer storm season, the Outdoors NSW & ACT Incident Response Committee has been reviewing the issue of lightning and outdoor activities, and the Severe Weather Guidance Note that currently forms part of the AAAS Standard.
Australia has an Australian Standard in Lightning Protection (Australian Standard: Lightning protection AS 1768:2021), which is currently the guiding principle the Outdoor Industry should be aware of. Australian Standards can be obtained through purchase from the Australian Standards website or borrowed from various libraries.
The standard indicates that after taking all necessary mitigation and if caught outdoors during a storm, there is research to suggest that procedures can minimise the risk of being a victim of lightning strikes. It must be noted that the majority of incidents from lightning is not direct strike, but from other factors including ground currents, conduction, fire or falling items including trees, trips and falls.
To prevent incidents while outdoors during lightning storms, follow the Australian Standard: Lightning protection AS 1768:2021; Clause 6.4.2.
Below is a summary of some of the recommendations:
Seek Immediate Shelter
In a Substantial (plumbed) Building
Do not touch metal
Fully Enclosed Stopped Vehicle
Do not seek shelter under trees
Crouch into the smallest ball you can
Do not elevate yourself
Seek out a dry ditch, gully or depression in the ground and crouch
Not under elevated structures
Exit any waterways immediately
Do not enter any water bodies
If in a group, spread the group apart
Do not huddle together
Non-absorbing material in footwear, plastic sheeting, sleeping mats can provide protection from earth voltages.
Do not carry / touch / wear metal objects
Resuming of Activity
Wait 30 minutes until after any thunder is heard before resuming of activities in the outdoors.
Remember that lightning is unpredictable and can pose serious risks to outdoor activities.
Taking precautions and making safety a priority can help reduce the likelihood of incidents during lightning storms.
How is this different from the 30:30 rule?
The main difference between the advice in this standard and the 30:30 rule relates to what triggers the guidance. In the 30:30 rule, if the time between seeing a lightning flash and hearing a thunder clap is less than 30 seconds, all outdoor activity should be stopped immediately and seek appropriate shelter. The advice in the standard is that all outdoor activities should stop once thunder is heard, or in the event of weather tracking devices, the storm is 15 kilometres away regardless of the timing of the thunder and lightning.
Next Steps for ONSWACT
The ONSWACT hope to propose to the Outdoor Council of Australia a change to the Severe Weather Guidance Note relating to lightning in the outdoors, ensuring that it more closely aligns with the Australian Standard. The ‘Severe Weather Guidance Note’ was created as part of the AAAS framework as the key document for Adventurous Activity Providers to guide their risk management processes when planning activities in the outdoors when faced with weather adversity.
It is important to remember, as stated in the standard, compliance with the recommendations of this Standard will not necessarily prevent damage or personal injury due to lightning but will reduce the probability of such damage or injury occurring. This advice should always be used in conjunction with consideration of other risks, as per section 2.1 of the Core Good Practice Guide in the Australian Adventurous Activity Standard.