Last week I wrote a tongue in cheek article about why more men are killed by lightning while on the job than women. It prompted a polite and informative email from John Jensenius, a Lightning Safety Specialist at the National Weather Service, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), providing me with a study he had completed that included data on work related lightning deaths. It appears I may have erred in my analysis. I had conjectured that more men die from lightning because women are smarter and know to come in out of the rain. That might not be entirely accurate.

I know. I am as surprised as you are.

According to his study, for the years 2006 thru 2012 work-related activities account for 13% of the total lightning fatalities in our nation. Mr. Jensenius reports that:

Farming/ranching-related activities contributed most (34%) to the work-related deaths. Other activities included roofing (9%), lawn care (9%), construction (9%), military work (6%), barge work (6%) and other (25%). Included in the other category were deaths related to loading trucks, surveying, door-to-door sales, logging, mail delivery, tornado rescue, utility repair, and work at an amusement park.

The report does confirm that more men die on the job from this phenomenon. Approximately 88% of the fatalities were male. Interestingly, of all the categories listed, only the military had more female deaths than male deaths. There were 2 female military personnel killed by lightning for the study period, and no male deaths.

At the risk of sounding like a pig-headed chauvinistic misogynist, which is something I am accused of from time to time, it appears the positions associated with these deaths are mostly in male dominated industries. That certainly would explain the wide variance.

And it lets the Sheepherders know they are largely off the hook.

I was a little surprised as I read the detail relating to the types of jobs. Knowing that door to door salespeople are at risk somehow did not bother me as much as the thought of the endangered amusement park worker. I mean, door to door salespeople are frankly a nuisance, while no one wants to traumatize children when Mickey takes a million gigawatts to the noggin. Ouch. That would not be the finest day at the happiest place on earth.

I live in Sarasota, FL, on the Florida Gulfcoast. This area has long touted itself to be the “lightning capital of the world”, with more lightning deaths per capita than any place on earth. It is likely this way due to our intense afternoon thunderstorms, coupled with the availability of our many outdoor recreational activities. Jensenius reports that 64% of overall deaths are attributable to leisure activities.

But since many women partake in outdoor leisure activities, that does not wholly explain the wide disparity between genders when it comes to lightning fatalities overall (82% are male).

So, we delve deeper into the report, and in the Discussion section, find our answer. The report states:

Based on the statistics for gender, the vast majority of lightning victims are male. Possible explanations for this finding are that males are unaware of all the dangers associated with lightning, are more likely to be in vulnerable situations, are unwilling to be inconvenienced by the threat of lightning, are in situations that make it difficult to get to a safe place in a timely manner, don’t react quickly to the lightning threat, or any combination of these explanations. In short, because of their behavior, males are at a higher risk of being struck and, consequently, are struck and killed by lightning more often than females.

I’ll be damned. I was right after all. We really are too stupid to come in out of the rain.


You may access the full NOAA report here.

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