Lightning Casualties On The Rise In Recreational And Sports Settings

Provo, Utah (May 4, 2001) -- Due to a societal trend towards outdoor activity and an alarming rise in lightning casualties in recreational and sports settings in recent decades, the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) has released a position statement on Lightning Safety. The statement includes guidelines to follow when participating in athletic or recreational activity, says George Curtis, Head Athletic Trainer at BYU and President of the Utah Athletic Trainers Association.

On average, lightning kills approximately 100 people each year in this country, while hundreds more are injured. In addition, lightning imposes an enormous and widespread threat to the physically active population, due in part to the prevalence of thunderstorms in the afternoon to early evening during the late spring to early fall.

Katie M. Walsh, EdD, ATC-L is chair of the NATA position statement on Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation.

"Lightning may be the most frequently encountered severe storm hazard endangering physically active people each year," commented Walsh. "Each person must take responsibility for his or her own safety during thunderstorms. However, because people are often under the direction of others, whether they are children or adults participating in organized athletics, athletic trainers, coaches, teachers, and game officials must receive education about the hazards of lightning and become familiar with the proven lightning-safety strategies."

While at BYU, Curtis has worked with others on implementing a safety plan for the school during sporting events. "It's our hope that every high school and college in the state of Utah has a plan in place for such emergencies," adds Curtis.

The NATA has provided lightning safety guidelines to educate the physically active and others about the dangers of lightning, define safe structure and locations, and advocate pre-hospital care for lightning-strike victims. The recommended guidelines are:

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

* Name a designated weather watcher. (A person who actively looks for the signs of threatening weather and notifies the chain of command if severe weather becomes dangerous.)

* Have a means of monitoring local weather forecasts and warnings.

* Designate a safe shelter for each venue.

* 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 be already inside a safe structure.

* Once activities have been suspended, wait at least 30 minutes following the last sound of thunder or lightning flash prior to resuming an activity or returning outdoors.

* Avoid being the highest point in an open field, in contact with, or proximity to the highest point, as well as being on the open water. Do not take shelter under or near trees, flagpoles, or light poles.

* Assume the lightning safe position (crouched on the ground, weight on the balls of the feet, feet together, head lowered, and ears covered) for individuals who feel their hair stand on end, skin tingle, or hear "crackling" noises. Do not lie flat on the ground.

* Observe the following basic first aid procedures in managing victims of a lightning strike:

a) Survey the scene for safety.

b) Activate local EMS.

c) Lightning victims do not 'carry a charge' and are safe to touch.

d) If necessary, move the victim with care to a safer location.

e) Evaluate airway, breathing, and circulation, and begin CPR if necessary.

f) Evaluate and treat for hypothermia, shock, fractures and/or burns.

* All individuals have the right to leave an athletic site in order to seek a safe structure if the person feels in danger of impending lightning activity, without fear of repercussions or penalty from anyone.

The National Athletic Trainers' Association was founded in 1950 and today serves more than 28,000 members, including 21,000 certified athletic trainers. The American Medical Association recognizes athletic training as an allied health care profession, and its practitioners are the leading experts in health care for athletes and those engaged in physical activity. For more information on the NATA's position statement on lightning safety visit the NATA web site at www.nata.org.