We have often been warned to stay away from tall metal structures, trees and other kinds of lightning attractors during a thunderstorm, but many of us do not think about it seriously enough. If you are amongst these non believers in such warnings- be warned. An industrial accident was reported on 26th June 2009, when a man who was working near a tower crane during a thunderstorm, caught fire! Apparently, the lightning charged the entire tower crane with a high enough voltage and electrified the surroundings through the air (air is a dielectric only at low voltages, but at high enough voltage levels it breaks down and conducts electricity). This effect set him on fire, but luckily he was rescued by co-workers and is reportedly still alive but burned and battling for his life in a hospital.
The incident happened in East Greebush, Vermont and was reported in CBS06 of Albany here
So what does actually happen in a thunderstorm? AS lightning and other high voltage static electrical phenomena happen, they induce large currents in metal and other conducting structures in the area. As per the Faraday effect these induced electromagnetic fields are strong enough that they can cause a lot of destruction like blowing up electronic circuitry and causing fires. Remember, this is still one of the suspected causes of the recent Air France disaster.
So take lightning, static electricity and induced currents seriously enough or you’ll get into trouble. Ensure that lightning and surge protection is operating everywhere in your industrial plant to avoid the large damages that can be caused by these hard to predict events.